Saturday, December 04, 2004

Gummo (1997)

The world of Gummo has been described as "bleak," but that doesn't nearly do it justice; this film makes Roger and Me look like Oklahoma!. Set in the small town squalor of Xenia, Ohio, the movie features the progress of sullen teens Tummler (Nick Sutton) and Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) as they bike their way through town, killing stray cats with their air rifles. In an ever-expanding circle of perversity, they sell the dead cats to a restaurant-supply middleman, use the proceeds to buy sexual favors from what appears to be a mentally retarded woman, and eventually murder the grandmother of their teenage rival in the cat-killing business. All part of an average day in writer/director Harmony Korine's version of Xenia. Along the way we are also presented with the casual racism of a bunch of shirtless beer-swilling hicks, an arm-wrestling contest that degenerates into a drunken brawl with the kitchen furniture, and Solomon taking a bath in water that looks like untreated sewage. Bon appetit.

Try as I might, I can't find any real ideas beneath all of this willful perversity, except perhaps that all people in small towns are poor, ignorant rednecks who deserve the lives of cultureless filth in which they find themselves. This message is colored in part by the fact that liking Gummo (and films like it) is a kind of badge of hipster credibility - it you liked something this unusual and shocking to middle-brow sensibilities, you must be cool. To some perhaps, but just because something is outside the mainstream doesn't make it good. The real reason I think it works for hip urban types is because it represents a kind of aesthetic nightmare. The mullets! The baggy sweatpants with holes in them! That horrible floral print sofa! These people are evil not for any real moral transgressions, but for their unforgivable ugliness.

Finally, going into this I didn't realize that Xenia, Ohio was a real town. The "City of Hospitality" describes itself as "a church community" (strike one against them is the hipster ledger right there) that offers "a wholesome, enjoyable atmosphere to live, work, and grow in." The town recently celebrated its bicentennial, though one imagines mentions of its claim to cinematic fame were few.

5 Comments:

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ever see a movie called "Castle Keep"

Burt Lancaster

Peter Falk

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