Thursday, September 1, 2011

Some People Just Can't Handle Their "Gummo"

Taking a bit of a detour off of the festival circuit for a minute, though I guess that's somewhat untrue. More on that later. So as part of my film education I found myself in Cinema and Diversity, which is a lot less ethnically involved than one might think. During the first hour we spent time discussing the topic of diversity, and while the first few comments were that we were a diverse group, I broke in by simply saying no. We like to think of ourselves that way, but in reality we're more eager to be part of a crowd than to be an individual. This got us rolling into a far more interesting string of dialogue, and the class became so much more than it could've been.

So then the conversation settles, and we head straight into some viewing, starting with excerpts from "Freaks" of 1932. It is a truly sickening film, in about every aspect possible. The best I could say is that the director challenged convention in a time when it could end your career, and pretty much did. No intention to see the rest of it. And then we watched the entirety of "Gummo", which as it turns out premiered at Telluride in 1997. Suffice it to say that the instructors weren't intent on going soft on us out of the gate. It really separates us pretty strongly by opening with such a polarizing film.

My initial thoughts were very much confused, as I didn't have a complete idea of what I saw exactly. The film proves to be aggressively experimental from the start, and from there focuses on the violent, crass, gross, and disturbing actions of the Ohio town's inhabitants. In the brief idiot's description of what I saw, I told my brother "It's about cats". I know. I'm a complete idiot, but back to the film. The routine murder of cats is as strong a symbol as any, but it's less the actions of the characters than the nonchalant way they react to it. Morality is sidelined entirely as an idea.

Indeed, by the end of the film I was torn by whether or not the director was indifferent, condemning, or proud of the character's actions. That (almost) final shot of the film seems to plead for the latter, with the Bunny Boy sticking a dead cat in our faces, almost as a closing "Look at me! Look what I got!" I wasn't exactly surprised by how many people hated the film walking out, some calling it "the worst they've ever seen." Certainly a naive statement, but I kept thinking about how unsettling it remained from moment to moment. Any moment that could be potentially heartfelt has been given some grimy and disgusting augmentation to it.

I'm certain that I won't end up revisiting this film much in the coming rest of my life, but that's not to be confused with an insult. You have to admire the behind-the-screen talent at hand in this ugly-as-fuck piece of work. It's progressively off-putting, which is actually its most essential asset. It's a film that's begging for you to discuss it, so I couldn't resist the opportunity, however random it may be, to talk about it here. I can't exactly recommend it to friends, because make no mistake that this is to some degree an awful movie. However, to another degree it has some layer of brilliance to it.

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