If you're not already a fan of Harmony Korine's work, you shouldn't read this article, and you probably shouldn't see his latest film. He called it Trash Humpers because he wanted to be straightforward. The title is literal but the message, while veiled in grime, seems relevant.
Harmony Korine has been scandalizing me since I was a teenager. In the '90s, he made Kids with photographer Larry Clark when he was only 19. Kids felt like a safe sex class taught by cool kids from New York. Then there was Gummo (1997), which I saw in college. The only thing I remember about it was images of skinned rabbits and disturbing Appalachian folk. Korine's made a couple of other films I haven't seen, so I guess Trash Humpers gets the honor of mentally scarring me this decade.
Harmony Korine and other actors (two men and a woman) are wearing old people masks in the film, which was shot on VHS in the filmmaker's home state of Tennessee. The masks were really believable to me for some reason, especially with the low film quality. The old people traipse around town being gross and weird, smashing TVs and peeping through windows. They were partly inspired by a few elderly peeping toms Korine remembers from his old neighborhood. There is minimal dialogue, and the trash bin humping isn't graphic, just silly, as you'd imagine. I read that the crew spent long nights living like their characters, sleeping under bridges, and being total creeps. They really got into it. In a rare monologue, Korine's character starts out, "Sometimes when I drive through these streets at night, I can smell the pain of all these people living in here. I can smell how all of these people are just trapped in their lives, their day-to-day lives. They don't see much." I sensed the manifesto was coming from his personal feelings about suburban culture, but what the hell do I know?
I had to find some deeper meaning in the film, so I made something up: first of all, in a culture where a video of a smoking toddler can go viral as it did last week, is trash humping any worse in terms of what fascinates us? Secondly, everything is available in HD now, but we also consume media on YouTube, where everything is grainy, like VHS. I hear using outdated technology is popular in film, like a gimmick. But I still like thinking about the filmmaker editing on two VCRs, and the blown out night shots were quite beautiful to look at. Korine sees streetlights as a symbol of American culture, and he pays a lot of attention to them in the film.
Speaking of American culture, I believe some regular, non-actor rednecks made cameos in Trash Humpers. I wish they were actors because they say horrible things. Then again if they were actors, someone would've had to write that stuff. And that brings me to my warnings for this film: Be prepared for absurd and/or lewd imagery, foul language, and murder, which will all seem mild to any desensitized American accustomed to higher budget filmmaking. Also, you'll hear endless screeching and cackling from the cameraman and director. He chants something like "Make it, make it, don't fake it," incessantly. Also, the drawn-out ending might haunt your dreams. All I'm going to say is that I watched the film, wrestled with the shock value for awhile, and then didn't think about it for the rest of the night. Until I tried to sleep. I don't know if it was the acting, or the make-up, or the all-around creepiness, but those characters had become so real in my mind, I was sure they were lurking outside my window.
Trash Humpers plays June 3-6, 2010 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. On June 3 there will be a post-screening conversation with Harmony Korine via Skype. For tickets and information visit ybca.org.