Thursday, 1 January 2009

FILM REVIEW - Gummo...

...

Gummo is like a really gorgeous girl in a bikini who's been dragged along a gritty concrete path littered with glass at 60 miles per hour. It's like a tornado blew a pile of home-videos to pieces and scattered the pieces for miles, then some bored, lonely, outcast teenager discovered them and decided to piece them together, adding his own little videos to it. In short, Gummo is both beautiful and moving, and horrible and depraved. It all depends on the viewer, and how he/she looks at it. It's a grotesque collage, a nihilistic chaos caused by some natural disaster...

Harmony Korine's Gummo begins with images of life in a small American town; Xenia, Ohio. It shows life before and during a tornado that hits and devastates the town, as Solomon, one of the anti-heroes of the film, provides a haunting and sad voice-over. The images in this scene are like little snippets of memory; of nightmares, newscasts; dreams, paradise. One second we see a small girl smiling at us, the next minute we see things flying through the air as Solomon tells us he looked up the skirt of a girl he saw fly through the air. As shocking as some of this is, it's never graphic, indeed it's totally suggestive, coming only from blurred and grainy bits of image and Solomon's description of the event. This opening sequence, both vague and vivid, sets the mood and tone for the entire movie. Then we are introduced to Bunny Boy, a mysterious skate-boarding kid who wears rabbit ears and never talks. He is caged in a filthy bridge above a freeway; urinating and spitting on the traffic below, smoking and kicking at the fencing that separates him from the outside world. Far from being random and pointless, this scene symbolizes his loneliness and alienation from the rest of the world. The rest of the world speeds away while he is trapped in the boring, timeless Xenia. Indeed he is lonely throughout the film, wandering the streets and skate-boarding. He is rejected and "shot" by two foul-mouthed youngsters in cowboy costumes in a junkyard; only really finding love in the form of the two blonde sisters after he kills their beloved cat without them knowing and falls into their arms in a swimming pool in the pouring rain in the haunting final sequence. The sisters wander around the town talking about random things, like attracting boys, and the cat. One of them is played by Korine regular Chloe Sevigny, who demonstrates to her sister a method of making your nipples look bigger; putting duct tape over them. They have a little sister who tags along with them. In one scene she puts a large image of Burt Reynolds over her face and proclaims -
"I wanna moustache dammit! I wanna look like Burt Reynolds!"
She's not the only character to mention a famous celebrity. In one sequence an albino woman talks to the camera about her attraction to Patrick Swayze. There are several such odd tangents in this film. And last but definitely not least there are the two main characters, those who we follow through most of the film; Solomon and Tummler. Solomon is a young boy who lives with his mother. His father died in the tornado. Tummler is much older. He lives with his father. Tummler and Solomon travel around town on dirt-bikes and kill stray cats by drowning them or shooting them with BB guns, selling them to a man who in turn sells them to restaraunts. They also enjoy talking, having sex, sniffing glue and drinking milkshakes. The people in this film also seem to live in abnormally cluttered houses, piled high with junk. From this brief description they may seem depraved and sick, but in the film they are portrayed as free spirits doing the best they can to make a living under the circumstances, and the activities are never graphic, in fact they are never seen save for the drowning of a cat near the beginning. There are some tender moments between the pair, as when high on glue Tummler talks to Solomon about his homosexual brother, who apparently moved away. Jacob Reynolds and Nick Sutton give fantastic performances as the shameless yet charming pair.

It's a very complex and often incoherent film, with too many ideas to digest in one viewing. Yet while at first it seems random, and it certainly is in parts (like a Tornado-stricken wasteland), Gummo does in fact have a deliberate if very loose narrative structure. The lives of certain characters sometimes impact off one another, and this is not made apparent at first, but unfolds before the viewer's eyes, as after Bunny Boy is embraced by the sisters, we see that it is he who killed the cat they spent so long looking for. So they adopt a new pet, a bunny instead of a cat. This is both funny and absurd. Near the start of the film, Tummler is about to shoot the cat belonging to the sisters, only to be stopped by Solomon, because it's a house-cat (apparently they only kill stray cats). If Tummler had killed the cat, things might have gone differently in the film. So what at first seems random and pointless is in fact important and consequential.
So what meaning can I uncover from three viewings of the film. Well I think it's ultimately a film about nature, and the sometimes incomprehensible, unneccessary and pointless destruction it can cause, from the tornado to the whipping of a cat hanging from a tree by Solomon and Tummler. The film asks what the point of morality and order is when it can be completely blown away in a second by something humans can't control or stop; mother nature, or God. It's also about alienation, boredom, isolation and death. In one particularly difficult scene Tummler disconnects the life-support machine of the grandmother of a rival cat-killer, claiming she's "been dead for ages." Perhaps she has. It's as if from the moment the film starts we've been swept up in a whirlwind and taken to Oz, only it's not full of lions and tin-men, it's a harsh yet beautiful place full of death and decay. As we follow the stray cats who kill the stray cats there is revealed a face, the distorted face of a sad, decaying society that molests and casts out it's children. This is a film about people desperate to find a point to their lives, to find a jewel among the rubble. It's disgusting, painful, nihilistic, beautiful, funny, fascinating, meaningful, pointless, random, and it's also a masterpiece. Bernardo Bertolluci called it "the one revolutionary film on the nineties." A film critic famously called it "the worst film ever made." It could be both, it all depends on how you look at it...







9 comments:

steven 559 said...

Phew, that was a long one!

Jackpot said...
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Anonymous said...

Fuck Frank Sinatra. Fuck him right in his stupid fucking asshole !

cheap viagra said...

I think the girl looks really funny with the accordion but she looks like if she would act for an pornographic movie.

Anonymous said...

that's not a girl. it's a little boy. watch the movie. do it do it do it.

Anonymous said...

Best movie ive ever seen. Watch it

Anonymous said...

Wow

Anonymous said...

i did really like your review,mainly when you write about the meaninless part played by morality and order in human lives when all of that can end in only seconds by unexpected events such as a tornado.

Anonymous said...

This movie is so deep and moving and philosophical - if you're a hopelessly white teenage suburban hipster. It's self-indulgent trivial shite.