“I just wanted to make a sequel to Caddy Shack (1980).” That was the explanation Harmony “Harmful” Korine offered David Letterman and his audience for why he wrote the screenplay for the controversial film Kids (1995). Anyone who has seen Kids knows that clearly Harmony was pulling a fast one on the Late Show viewers. Kids follows twenty-four hours in the lives of a few teenagers in New York City as they have unprotected sex, consume copious amounts of alcohol and drugs, and commit various acts of anti-social behavior. Suffice to say both films share the common trait of having people in them, and that is about it. It is fifteen years later and Harmony is still perplexing us with his bizarre, groundbreaking films; in fact his latest feature, Trash Humpers (2009) could be his most notorious, and yes the title is to be taken literally, just watch the trailer. Before we dissect Trash, let’s take a look at what makes Harmony the unique filmmaker that he is and why his work has caused so much debate in film circles.
Harmony Korine’s career began as a screenwriter for the cult classic Kids (1995); the film was simultaneously praised and condemned for its brutally honest portrayal of urban life in America. Harmony depicted a side of America most folks would rather avoid, this trend was further augmented in Harmony’s next film, his directorial debut, Gummo (1997). Gummo was an altogether new kind of film with images and sounds coming from everywhere. The movie has no real linear plot, but rather serves as a collection of highly impressionable and memorable scenes/vignettes. What we see and hear is almost always unsettling and more often than not downright vile. Like Kids Gummo was extremely controversial and most critics walked away from the film feeling deeply shocked and offended. Most viewers criticized Harmony for exploiting his (non) actors as well as the issues of mental illness and poverty, amongst others.
With Harmony’s past film Mister Lonely (2007) he pulled back a little bit and made a somewhat more conventional film. This time there was a narrative, in the traditional sense of the word, and more professional actors participated. Do not worry though, Harmony still maintained his peculiar aesthetic as the story followed the life of a Michael Jackson look-alike living in Paris. Now, with his new film Trash Humpers he is in some ways returning to his old form. Mister Lonely was a bigger budget production and visually speaking looked like a more accessible film by his standards. Most artists would have moved further in this direction, but Harmony is not like most artists. Trash Humpers is evidence that he is still making the films he wants to make. As self-indulgent as ever, the trailer shows various clips of masked individuals literally humping trash, vandalizing, and mumbling disturbing lullabies. The film has an old VHS look to it, which adds to its raw, analog quality. In an interview with The Stranger Video, Harmony stated that “in some ways it’s the most American movie ever made… I was hoping it would get showed in public schools and become part of like a mandatory viewing, because I feel like it clues you in to what is great about America.” Once again, the theme of the ugly side of America plays a prominent role in Harmony’s works and the motive of those works. Now, I agree with Mr. Korine that his film does show us how great America can be, but I would bet my entire life and the lives of my loved ones that Trash Humpers will not become mandatory viewing for public school students.
A review of Trash Humpers (2009) will be arriving in the near future…