Some films are hailed at film festivals as the greatest thing ever. Some deserve it, others, in my humble opinion, do not. I looked forward to viewing Gummo for two reasons. First, it stared Chloe Sevigny, an actress whose work I have always greatly enjoyed. Second, it was written and directed by Harmony Korine whose powerful script for the Larry Clark film, Kids blew me away. Unfortunately, the film did not live up to my expectations. The main focus of the story, what there is of it, is two boys, Tummler (Nick Sutton) and Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) who torture and kill cats, sell them to a grocery and use the proceeds to finance their glue sniffing habit. Then there are the girls, Darby (Darby Dougherty) and Dot (Chloe Sevigny). Dot teaches Darby how to increase the size of her nipples by taping the nipples with black tape and ripping it off. This small town is one that the Jerry Springer show would look down upon. There is even a black, gay little person. Next there is bunny boy (Jacob Sewell) who runs around in his underwear with a bunny rabbit ears on his head. This town bemoans the tragedy some twenty years prior that swept through the town. Unfortunately, it did not completely destroy the town. The tale meanders through the hour and a half-running time. The only thing the townsfolk have in common is the depth of perversion they seem to embrace.
Ms Sevigny with out a doubt star grade talent. As I mentioned before I have enjoyed every other film I have seen her in. She was nominated for an Oscar for supporting actress for her work in Boys Dont Cry, she has taken smaller roles in films like American Psycho and started her career with a powerful performance in Kids. Here she has absolutely nothing to work with. Apparently she was involved with Korine and the relationship lasted long enough for two ill-fated films. Gladly she has moved on with her life and career. Korine found Sutton on a talk show about troubled teens. His performance is frightening because it was so real, too real. I admit that I have a person that enjoys the company provided by pets and personally believe that no animal should be mistreated. The part of Tummler showed just a disregard for life, such a callous indifference to an animals pain that I found it difficult to watch. There was no redeeming social commentary here, no underlying plot to explain these actions. What was truly upsetting about the scenes with Sutton was how accepted his deviant behavior was to the others in the film. The rest of the cast was a mixture of amateurs and young actors. While they provided realism it was not presented in any manner that would showcase potential talent.
Harmony Korine is a minimalist director. His approach to Gummo takes this trend several steps further than Larry Clark, the director of Korines screenplay for Kids. Where Kids had a documentary style, Gummo seems more like a home movie. Here, the lack of polish actually works with the visceral impact of the film. He uses the technique of cinema veritae , literally a film of life. The movie is a series of often disjointed vignettes that often shock and repel the audience in the brutal way the characters are presented. While Korine garnered several film festival awards Gummo is not the type of film even the most avant guarde American audiences are accustomed to viewing. Filmed in several stocks of film, frequently Super 8, there is a grainy texture given to the film. While this film works as an exercise in film techniques it falls short of the cohesive qualities required to hold a wider audience. You will most likely come away from this film feeling more like a voyeur or someone embarrassed for stopping to rubber neck at a horrible accident.
The disc is bare bones. There is a rather cryptic commentary by the director that seems to be more self-promotion than a realistic guide to the film. The 2.0 sound is muddy and the dialogue often difficult to understand. I had to put the sub titles on in several sections of the film to understand what was being said. The video is anamorphic 1.85:1. It is difficult to rate the picture since the rapidly changing film stock and grainy nature of much of the film masks the overall quality. While this is not a film for everyone it does have a market. If you enjoy unusual film school faire you will find this interesting. If you enjoy the works of Ms Sevigny write this off as something she did while involved with the director.