Really loving a film but really hating its DVD artwork is the motivation behind this series of unprompted DVD packaging redesigns, usually performed over the space of an average lunch break. Quick and fun. More nerding out here.
It’s a bombastic first film from a 24 year old Harmony Korine that has tunnel vision focus – forget about conventional narrative structures, only keep the good parts you’ve filmed and put them together. It reminds me of John Zorn talking about his musical block structures (they both use a similar cue card system). Taking independent ideas and imposing that they fit as a whole. Stravinsky did the same – and the overall effect it has for me with Gummo is the feeling of a structure that allows for endless cinematic possibilities. Its best moments are when Korine indulges in mixing images with music. When I think of movie moments that have resonated with me, they are often telling a story with only those elements.
A favorite scene of mine is the introduction of the main character, a boy Korine found in a Dunkin Donuts commercial. He has a new face – one I’ve never seen in cinema before. The camera swoops down and a perfectly placed metal song by Dragonaut crashes in to give the mood a sense of false empowerment. Two boys are driving their bikes around the neighborhood, their BMX’s crisscrossing as they methodically scan the area. On the prowl, looking for cats to kill with their BB guns. A perfect moment happens when the music and lyrics sync up with the smaller boy slightly turning at the camera and looking at the viewer.
Following in the footsteps of his mentor Werner Herzog, Korine also uses a mix of real actors and non actors. While he claims that 75% of the film was scripted, many scenes seem improvised. It’s as if he wants to set up situations with the non actors that will surprise him and capture genuine moments, on the spot. I’ve noticed that he will often introduce an element of tension in these exchanges, and that sometimes actors will look off screen, or at at the crew when pushed into corners they didn’t expect or don’t want to follow.
A good example of this is when 2 brothers are filmed fighting. Even Kubrick, in a film like Barry Lyndon uses overly dramatic audio effects when designing the sound in fight scenes – in Gummo all is shot in one take, no sound manipulations.
Did it just happen, or were they instructed to start fighting? Was one brother told to start while the other was unaware – or does he seem to anticipate something when crossing his arms before it starts, to protect himself? The scene is one shot, no edits, real punches (one brother seems to look at the crew at one point to indicate that it’s possibly passed his level of comfort). “I’ve seen them fight each other way worse. I’ve known those brothers since I was a kid” – Korine. The result is of genuine tension, the camera getting closer when curious and moving back when afraid.