Gummo (Harmony Korine / U.S., 1997):

A glue-sniffer's reverie and an aestheticized episode of Beavis & Butthead, explicitly and bracingly set up as an act of cinematic vandalism. The location (Xenia, Ohio) fuses Kansas and Oz, or perhaps the twisters are meant to be Rimbaud's vortexes: Harmony Korine in any case plunks his camera in Mulletville and turns on the mélange of stocks and styles, gags and limericks. Skinhead brothers pummel each other laughingly, a whispery voice recounts child abuse, a reverse tracking shot guides a retarded girl clutching a plastic baby doll and singing "The ABC Song" -- the presiding image is the family portrait that reveals a nest of insects, the unifying strands are guerilla juveniles (Jacob Reynolds, Nick Sutton) who sell burlap bags of cats to butcher shops and treat themselves to milkshakes. Vaudeville is Korine's format, he names it after the only Marx Brother who never made a film and finds his Harpo in the ethereal Bunny Boy (Jacob Sewell), the rest flows like Twain vignettes ("Junkyard Cowboys and The Hare," "The Wrestling of the Chair," "The Bacon on the Wall"). Visions are everywhere: Chloë Sevigny is made into a grimy, iridescent Dietrich with taped nipples to Buddy Holly's "Everyday," and some kind of zenith is reached when Linda Manz tap-dances in a grotty basement while Reynolds lifts weights made out of cutlery. Is Korine the "volcano of ideas" from Fists in the Pocket, or a kid smelling his fingers? The answer may (or may not) lie somewhere in his joke-monologue here ("I was born to a lesbian midwife..."), which is nearly as comprehensive a snapshot of his put-on provocation as his talk-show appearances. No matter, the God overseeing these characters is "dyslexic but cross-eyed, so everything came out right" -- the grotesque and the lyrical become one, and what could have been a Jerry Springer special becomes America Year Zero, scabrous and beautiful. With Lara Tosh, Max Perlich, Darby Dougherty, Carisa Glucksman, and Bryant Crenshaw.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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