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One of the TRASH HUMPERS (Photo: The Film Society of Lincoln Center)

Written & Directed by Harmony Korine

Produced by
Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Amina Dasmal and Robin Fox
Released by Drag City
USA. 78 min. Not Rated
Rachel Korine, Brian Kotzur, Travis Nicholson, Harmony Korine & Chris Gantry

Somewhere between anarchy and Nietzsche lies the art (and the heart) of Harmony Korine. Through a punk ethic and a consistent and righteous appropriation of the loaded images of impoverished white America, Korine’s work deals mainly in non-meaning. This isn’t to say his work is meaningless, but that it explores those lifestyles that are not beholden to a greater cultural norm. Gummo (1997) and Julien Donkey-Boy carve out two niche cultures in all their weird splendor—inbred families that some you and I might know or at least have seen on COPS. Yet they are without the usual angst of American cultural conformity as they go about their weirdness by routine (examples include but are definitely not limited to whipping dead cats, spontaneous free-form chanting, and wrestling a kitchen chair).

Korine has been very successful in breaking down cinematic language—the tactile sights and sounds of it, as in Gummo’s deep focus cinematography and its delicately decrepit scenic design or in JD-B’s adherence to the restrictions of the Dogma 95 collective. But in breaking down cultural language, the one from which the tactile draws its meaning, his films are all the more memorable. Many of his peers have not had as significant cult recognition, as in the case of Vincent Gallo, whose formal experimentation far outweigh his interest in any of the details that make us human, or Todd Solondz, who provides shock value but who is also left behind when it comes to interesting visuals. Korine fuses the wildest of sights, sounds, and human behavior to chilling effect.

His third feature, Mister Lonely, finally completed in 2007 after an eight-year drought, was maudlin if cute, only tolerated by his fans as would be the most pitiful of desert oases. Trash Humpers is a return to effective material. Shot on VHS (!) by Korine himself (Anthony Dod Mantle or Marcel Zyskind may have been unavailable this time around), we follow a gang of four crazed anarchists on romp after romp through the public and private spaces of suburban America. They wear old-person masks, yet they move (and hump) like teenagers, and generally cause a great ruckus. In terms of plot, that sums it up. Like JD-B, the camera places us directly in the action, but like Gummo, we’re so far removed from the details of this place and these people, it’s as if we’re seeing some cousin species on a similarly looking planet.

It’s a planet that still has dogs, though, which are the only things that seem real in the film. The dogs scare easily at the strangely motivated Humpers and reject their unearthly cackling and stupidly repetitive singing (and chanting). Though the Humpers destroy (and hump) most of the property they find and intimidate (and sometimes abuse and kill) most of the people they encounter, they don’t mess with the dogs. It’s typical of Korine’s brand. The Humpers are bullies, and like bullies they watch out for those who take themselves too seriously. Dogs seek no greater meaning from anyone or anything. When the Humpers meet an impassioned street poet, on the other hand, they respond to his performance at first with delight, but upon noticing his greater commitment to the art form, he is killed off. To accept one’s station is to be safe around Korine’s bullies, however weird or without meaning it may be. Michael Lee
May 7, 2010



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