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review added: 3/29/02



Gummo
1997 (2001) - Fine Line (New Line)

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Gummo Film Rating: F

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/C-

Specs and Features

89 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, animated photo gallery (with commentary by director Harmony Korine), cast and crew filmographies, film-themed menu screens, scene selection (27 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Gummo is a film that is so lost in its own absurdity that it ceases to retain any artistic value, or greater intellectual purpose. And perhaps the word "retain" is inaccurate, as that would imply that the film had value and purpose to begin with. I can understand how someone might see the film as a list of bullet points, and foresee some potential interest as a cinematic endeavor. It's taboo-less, it's gritty, it focuses on a cinematically-ignored segment of poverty level America that functions in a societal vacuum. And save for two recognizable actors (Max Perlich and Chloë Sevigny), the film is stocked with players literally hired out of factories and fast-food restaurants. Quite an experiment, eh? Well, the whole endeavor ends up a twisted, flaming, high-speed derailment that proves that masochism can exist if you force yourself to sit through certain films.

Set in the small blue-collar town of Xenia, Ohio (more on this in a bit), Gummo follows several very bizarre characters through day-to-day life over the span of a couple of days. There are two adolescent boys who brutally torture and kill cats, which they in turn sell to the local grocery store to support their glue-sniffing habit. A pair of teenage girls (one of whom is portrayed by Sevigny) experiments with ways to make their nipples appear larger when they're not looking for their lost cat... hmm, wonder where it could've gone? Max Perlich plays a sleazebag who prostitutes his mentally retarded sister. Director Harmony Korine makes a cameo as a desperately lonely, very drunk homosexual who wants nothing more than to make out with the midget sitting next to him. Then there's the group of buffoons who enjoy an evening of beer swillin' and arm wrasslin', and even get their jollies by wrestling kitchenette furniture. Just stop and let that one soak in for a moment. A couple of shirtless wonders that Jerry Springer would be embarrassed to be associated with are caught on film wrestling a chair, as their friends cheer them to victory over the evil piece of furniture. Folks, as far as plot goes, that's it.

The main problem with Gummo is that it follows no narrative, nor is it functional as a documentary, or anything else. The film contains a vast array of characters, each "threatening" to become fleshed out for some hope that the audience will somehow connect with a story or be drawn into a personal, emotional parallel. But that never happens. A variety of film stocks are used, along with liberal hand-held camera work, and static one- and two-shots, which lend certain segments a documentary feel. But a documentary about what? I dunno. Looking at it from a third perspective, could this be a simple character study; a film you should just get lost in? Maybe, but the characters are all so absurd, and the situations so completely obtuse that it becomes difficult to concentrate. There's a long segment near the end in which one of the cat killers/glue sniffers is bathing in, what looks like, coffee (Afghani refugees wouldn't go near this water), while his mother serves him the most rancid looking spaghetti in the world and then proceeds to wash his hair while he eats. She gives him a chocolate bar, which he then begins to wolf down only after accidentally dropping it in the "water." This isn't artsy. This isn't meaningful. It's just gross.

From where I grew up, Xenia, Ohio is only a 20-minute drive south down Ohio State Route 68, and my fiancée's parents live just outside of the Xenia area. This is a place I have some level of knowledge about. Yes, Xenia has a history of devastating tornadoes (which seems like it will be a set piece early in Gummo, but is soon ignored). The most notable, in April 1974, killed 33 and injured over 1,200. Yes, Xenia is as blue-collar and prototypically Midwestern as pick-up trucks, country music and Wal-Marts. But, Gummo paints this town - which I find to have generally friendly folks - to be the anus of America. I obviously don't know every single person in the town, nor do I know what happens behind the closed doors of every home, but my feeling after watching this film is that if I were the mayor of Xenia, I'd be a bit upset (note that the film was actually shot in Tennessee).

And that brings up another point (take heart, I'm almost out of "points"): despite all of the negative things I have to say about Gummo, director Korine did one thing right, in my eyes. At first, the film seems to serve up all of the red neck/trailer trash stereotypes we've come to know. It seems that the director would have us believe that people in this income bracket/IQ level are all child molesters, animal torturers, alcoholics, pimps, prostitutes, mentally retarded… take your pick. I began to grow somewhat angry about half-way through the film because of this tired stereotyping. At least when the child molesting/newspaper columnist character (driving his Lincoln Towncar) revealed himself, I took that as a sign that an anti-social way of life can be shared by rich and poor alike.

On DVD, Gummo looks quite nice. There are several source blemishes apparent in the print, but overall the transfer is smooth, detailed and accurately colored. Several scenes even have a very dimensional quality that shows off nice depth of field. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is sufficient for the film - never flashy, nor exciting - but then, neither is the film. The track is front and center oriented, but vocals are always intelligible. As far as extras, look for cast and crew filmographies, as well as an eye-roll-inducing 8-minute production photomontage featuring commentary by director Harmony Korine. Korine discusses his style and talks about shooting the film. If I said anything more, you wouldn't believe me.

The Digital Bits' own esteemed Mr. Todd Doogan once told me that he believes that every film - whether he personally loves it or hates it - has some value in it somewhere. Well, Todd, I'll be damned if I find any here. And this is coming from someone who really digs the works of off-kilter filmmakers such as David Lynch and Terry Gilliam. Gummo is not the voice of this country's underprivileged white population, because frankly it paints such a brutal, nonsensical image that even the most P.C. of folks would just run the other way rather than try to understand the diversity of this particular subculture. I'm sure that this film will affect different people on different levels, but if you were to ask me, I'd say, "View at your own risk!"

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com




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