I wonder what I would think of this film if I didn’t live 25 minutes from Xenia, where it is set but not filmed. I have a really hard time getting past that single fact: this is filmed in a place that bears little resemblance to Xenia.
As I struggle with my most open mind to get what this film is going for, I find too often that I can’t, or at least, that what I think it is going for doesn’t connect with me. Perhaps it would have had its intended effect had I seen it when I was younger, but at that time, Gummo was just something you heard about, a rumor of a truly disturbing movie that takes place in Xenia and which is indescribable in its unpleasantness. It wasn’t something you could just see. The secondhand DVD was prohibitively expensive, and Harmony Korine was too far from a common name to have one of his earliest, most obscure films easily found on file sharing sites.
I love art which is grotesque or which tries to bring to the surface things which we all sort of know about but don’t want to discuss. Indeed it is probably my most favorite sort of art. But there is a layer of try-hard, arthouse pretense to Gummo that feels to me far more stylish than substantive.
I love the idea of this movie, and I believe there are a half-dozen better versions which can be imagined based on all its component parts: its awkwardness, its guerilla camerawork, its awkward amateur actors, its grit and grain, its hideous yet believable subject matter. But there’s no angle here.
There’s no point that I can find. Even pointlessness, which can be a point, is no point here. It seems like something intended to shock the late-90s monoculture, a piece of art with no identity beyond that intentional shock value.
If I’m wrong about any of this, I’d love to hear about it. I want to think that I ‘get’ Gummo. I want to be in on the club of elevated consciousnesses which claim to understand and appreciate this film. I’m glad Harmony Korine is out there doing what he does. But this? In spite of my hopes and years’ worth of expectation, this does not do it for me.