Gummo (Harmony Korine, 1997, USA)

  Arriving on the heels’ of Kids’ commercial success, Harmony Korine was granted a $1 million budget for his debut feature Gummo. Korine was something of an enfant terrible at the time, and the film was met with a lukewarm commercial reception and mixed critical reception. In recent years, the film has seemed to take on a life of its own, being referenced in the popular culture. The film’s plot - to the extent that it has one - tells the story of the inhabitants of Xenia, Ohio, in the wake of a tornado that killed many residents.

The film, which was shot in Nashville, bears no resemblance to the actual Xenia, Ohio. Korine uses the film more as a palette to explore the nihilism and despair of middle America. Korine’s antecedents are clear - Werner Herzog clearly serves as an inspiration, and he himself was a fan of the film. Likewise, Linda Manz from Days of Heaven makes an appearance, linking the film to the work of Terrence Malick. But Korine’s cinematic voice is quite unique, and there is a vaudevillian quality to much of the proceedings. 

While Gummo is amateurish at times, it is one of those film’s that truly deserves the label “poetic.” The film operates almost like a fever dream - even the two main characters, Solomon and Tumbler, feel imagined. The film also has an incredible sonic palette, switching between primitive home recordings of rhymes, and metal. The film’s use of Sleep’s Black Sabbathesque track “Dragonaut” is iconic. Likewise, the film makes interesting use of ambient black metal.

While Korine has made six feature films since Gummo, it is unlikely that he will ever top his achievement with his film. Good or bad, it is a film that is unlikely to ever be forgotten, and destined to have a life beyond itself. 



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