Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Trash Humpers

After having viewed Larry Clark's Kids about four years ago, I had hankering for more. I perused Clark's Wikipedia and IMDB pages, seeing such titles as Wassup Rockers and Bully. Strangely enough, it would be another two years before seeing another Larry Clark film. I found Bully on recorded on DVR at my parents house and I could not pass it up. Why wait two years to see another Clark porno? Because Kids writer Harmony Korine caught my eye, and I found the descriptions of his body of work (as of 2007) a bit more fascinating. His style of filmmaking blurs the lines between art and exploitation, not unlike early John Waters' films.

Korine's directorial debut, Gummo, was quite the introduction, as I had never seen anything like it. Where Kids was a portrait of teenage debauchery on overdrive, Gummo took it to a more nihilistic and bleak level, following the lives of teenagers in a small town in Ohio that was left in ruins by a tornado. Despite the fact that I find most people hating this movie, I'm not ashamed to say this film definitely makes my top 20 favorite films. His next effort, Julien Donkey-Boy, was an intriguing study of a mentally disabled man with schizophrenia, and had a macabre beauty in its ugliness. It was a Dogme95 production (some have put this up for debate), and Korine makes the film wonderfully surreal despite the limitations. Mister Lonely was a major departure from Korine's depressing realism, as it had a bigger budget and a concept that could not rely on Korine's knack for creating narratives out of barely outlined scripts. Mister Lonely is two stories; one is about a Michael Jackson impersonator that finds a home on a commune populated by other celebrity impersonators, and the other is about a priest (played by legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog) and his nuns on a mission in a Third World country. It is not his best work, but still a worthy addition to his body of work.
And in 2009, there was Trash Humpers. In what you could call a 'return to form' for Korine, the realism is accentuated by his use of a VHS camcorder. Humpers is about a gang of vandals in 'old people' masks (one of them actually looks like the bastardized version of Freddy Krueger in the recent remake) that roam the alleyways and disenfranchised streets of Nashville, busting television sets and fluorescent lightbulbs, setting off firecrackers, and yes, humping trash cans, among other things. From all this comes some what of an "accidental narrative", as the characters find a bit of redemption in the end, going from almost completely free individuals living on the fringe to finding a little bit of domestication. Not unlike the idea behind the visual style of August Underground, the film is made to look like someone's home movies that is found lying in the gutter and discovered by a curious person. It works on this level, as even the film's credits are produced by the title function on those old VHS camcorders.
With that said, I must admit that Trash Humpers was a minor disappointment. It had all the right factors going for it: realism, a gritty aesthetic, a group of people that have no boundaries, and Korine's unique direction and improvisation. But what weighs it down is its repetitiveness and lack of structure. Most of the scenes are comprised of breaking shit, high-pitched laughter, humping a stationary object or masturbating a long cylindrical object, and the camera man singing the same jingle ("Three little devils jumped over the wall, chopped off their heads and murdered them all"). Even though a lack of structure has worked for Korine's films in before, it works to both advantage and disadvantage here. It serves the aesthetic well, but this also makes scenes awkward, with the camera capturing gaps in conversations when the scene's purpose has been fulfilled and the actors don't know what else to say.

Despite its flaws, it is not a bad film. There are some amusing moments, and watching people that just don't give a fuck and enjoy mayhem always serves some degree of catharsis for the viewer. And there are moments that you don't see coming. But three-minute scenes of 'old men' humping trees and simply laughing at the camera bring it down. So much more could have been down with this premise, but it doesn't go as far as it should. Still, it has a nightmarish quality to it, with a nihilistic and foreboding undertone to it not unlike Gummo. The world these deviants live in is an American landscape that has been left in ruin and the disenfranchised live on the existing pieces. Like his other films, they are most likely only to be appreciated by his already existing fan`base, and hated by everyone else. I just hope that Korine's next film will embody his potential more than this one did.

See the trailer.

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