Review: Proof that kids should not play with cameras
November 7, 1997
Web posted at: 6:35 p.m. EST (2335 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
Hey everybody -- look at Harmony! Ooooh, gross! Look what Harmony did!!
(CNN) -- Back in 1995, Harmony Korine, a fledgling writer who was barely out of high school, got to play minor celebrity for a few weeks as the country debated the difficult-to-find merits of his first screenplay, the Larry Clark-directed atrocity known as "Kids." It was an endurance test to watch Clark and Korine's supposed dissection of the hedonistic tendencies of a group of urban teen-age jackasses, but, at the very least, they were trying to tell a story.
It's now time, of course, for the enfant terrible to spread his wings and journey out on his own. Hold on to your hats, folks. Our little Harmony has written and directed his first movie. It's called "Gummo," and I'd like to warn you of what you're getting into should you decide (for whatever inexplicable reason) to fork over the money to see it. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Korine's m.o. as a director closely resembles that of the hollow-chested kid who sat in the back of your geometry class. You know, the one who tried to nauseate everyone in a desperate attempt to establish an identity. Far from the brave new vision that some people want to believe they're seeing (model Helena Christensen recently called Korine a "genius"), "Gummo" is the cinematic equivalent of Korine making fart noises, folding his eyelids inside-out, and eating boogers. Since his outlook is so proudly adolescent, tonight the part of the jock who gives him a wedgie will be played by Paul Tatara.
The events unfold in Xenia, Ohio, a town that some of you may remember as being totally wiped out by tornadoes in the early '70s. Korine may be dumb, but he's not a complete idiot. Opening with shots of the tornado-wracked town implies some sort of post-apocalyptic thesis, perhaps an essay on the survival tactics of people who have endured the very wrath of God. Nothing that follows, of course, can be traced to anything having to do with the tornadoes or the psychological aftermath, but Korine wants to pretend that he's thinking. Because I'm expected to write something about the result, I'll just pretend that he's a filmmaker.
What will you see if you happen to venture into a theater that's projecting "Gummo"? Let's do the "Gummo" roll call. You'll get endless profanity, adolescents torturing and killing cats, a kid wearing fuzzy rabbit ears peeing on top of cars off of a highway overpass, young girls licking their lips and twiddling their nipples for the camera, a make-out scene in which a boy discovers a lump in his girlfriend's breast, insinuations of parental sexual abuse, Korine himself making drunken gay advances towards an unenthusiastic dwarf, a young woman (who may actually have Down's Syndrome) being pimped by her husband, and a (real-life) mentally ill girl who's been convinced to proudly shave off her eyebrows for the camera.
In other words, what you're getting here is Harmony Korine advertising just how simple and pathetic he is for fun and profit. Regardless of how blatantly hateful it all is, this is every bit the teen exploitation flick that something like "Bikini Beach" was 35 years ago. Annette and Frankie would lie in the sun, surf, and make out, far from the uncomprehending mores of their "square" (and seldom seen) parents. These movies made money -- audiences were there because Mom and Dad thought it was useless, so it had to be good.
"Gummo," like those Annette and Frankie pictures, lives and dies by the assumption that the first contrary thought that enters your barely post-adolescent noggin is a guideline for a "truer" life. Thinking too hard is for grown-ups, the ones who don't get the joke. Well, I get Korine's so-called "joke" loud and clear. He's right, and every other breathing creature on the planet is wrong.
C'mon, Harmony. Mano a boyo. What are you really trying to prove here? I know, I know. I'm such a toady to the straight-laced mass media, I couldn't possibly get the gist of anything as perceptive as a movie where kids shoot a comatose old woman in the foot with a BB gun and (gasp!) sweet little kitties get drowned and shot. I suppose you want to prove that audiences can still be shocked. Well I'm shocked all right. I never could have imagined it would get this bad. You've actually invented contrived pointlessness.
At the risk of sounding like I'm taking this as a work of art, I'm going to venture a guess that you, Harmony, are trying to display some nihilistic "punk" leaning. Well, good try. Take it from someone who was around when the original punk explosion hit. The punks of the '70s were railing against an economic and social oppression that kept their families down for generations. Those were instantaneous, disposable outbursts, incendiary bombs aimed at very specific, button-down targets. What you, on the other hand, are doing is "making fun of people."
Barely-educated drunks who live in squalor and arm-wrestle for entertainment are not telling us anything that we don't already know. Daytime talk shows have given everybody ample opportunity to feel superior by mocking poor white trash. Your tendency towards using unschooled, amateurish performers (who, for purposes of future non-reference, shall remain nameless) only heightens the impact of your self-perceived superiority. (Were you amused to turn a camera on a free-associating, mentally unstable young woman? Did it make you feel less burdened by life?) Go ahead and keep calling yourself a director. What you are is Jenny Jones with a distribution deal.
And you can't act. I will not list this film as the worst of the year when I do my December wrap-up, for fear of giving a little creep yet another cheap thrill.
See "Gummo" if you feel like you just have to, but your measurable IQ and sense of human decency will almost certainly ruin it for you. Cognizant beings will be offended, which is the entire point. Rated NC-17. 95 long, long minutes. And remember what the Sex Pistols said: "Blind acceptance is a sign of stupid fools who stand in line."