The Polarizing Cinema of Harmony Korine

Harmony Korine is a polarizing filmmaker. One either finds his films — Gummo (1997), Julien Donkey Boy (1999) and Mister Lonely (2007) — intriguing pieces of art or complete rubbish, the work of a jerk-off provocateur who represents the “end of cinema.”—-

Proof can be found in this dichotomous reaction to the Dogme 95-informed Gummo, which told the coming-of-age tale of two teenage delinquents in rural Ohio: Bernardo Bertolucci, the Italian director of everything from Last Tango in Paris to The Dreamers, called it the one revolutionary film of the late 20th century, whereas New York Times' critic Janet Maslin said it might be the worst movie ever made. On a local level, former CityBeat critic Steve Ramos gave Gummo an A grade, while former Enquirer critic Margaret McGurk gave it zero stars.

My opinion rests somewhere amid the vast gulf in-between — I admire its minimalist aesthetic and willfully subversive white-trash hijinks, but it's not a film that generates in me any sort of emotional investment.

Now comes Trash Humpers, which makes its local premiere with a one-time free screening 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Southgate House in Newport. I've yet to see Korine's latest, but it appears the title is a pretty accurate description what one should expect. Per its press notes, which were likely penned by Korine, we get this synopsis: “A film unearthed from the buried landscape of the American nightmare, Trash Humpers follows a small group of elderly 'Peeping Toms' through the shadows and margins of an unfamiliar world. Crudely documented by the participants themselves, we follow the debased and shocking actions of a group of true sociopaths the likes of which have never been seen before. … Bordering on vandalism, it is a new type of horror — palpable and raw.”

A friend who was lucky — or unlucky, depending on your point of view — enough to view the film describes it this way: “Trash Humpers follows a small cast of aged miscreants who vigorously fornicate with inanimate objects such as dumpsters and garbage cans. … It strikes me as an American version of Lars Von Trier's The Idiots mixed with The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. Appealing to a generational nostalgia for velcro sneakers, low-fi production and auto tracking, the movie looks like a found VHS tape from the early ’90s.”

Sounds like vintage Korine — a “palpable and raw” film designed to polarize and repel.

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