(2001) - Fine Line (New Line)
by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
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
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
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
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!"