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May 14, 2010
Like most of my peers who were in their teens during the 1990s, I distinctly remember watching Harmony Korine's low-budget debut, the cult favorite Kids. That film launched the career of current Big Love star and notorious Vincent Gallo fellator ChloŽ Sevigny, who had previously been a cog in the wheel of pre-hipster hipster New York kids that could be found skating or generally hanging about Washington Square Park back in the days before the economic and media booms of the last decade rendered Manhattan a yuppie paradise. It also made young people seriously think about AIDS, a devastating disease that had exploded in the 1980s and then slowly faded in the mass consciousness. After all, Magic Johnson is still alive. The disease is now and was then as deadly serious as it had been during the Reagan-era flare up, but Generation-X wasn't as scared of it as they should have been. Kids did a good job of freaking people out.

After that of course was Gummo, which I also saw but vaguely remember. And by that I mean the only part of the film that I can recall is the footage that has been indispersably lodged in my brain. Those kids killing that cat. I'm all for the glorification of violence in film, so long as it glorifies violence against other humans. But the wanton destruction of an innocent life, particularly of the cuddly animal companion variety, absolutely repulsed me then as it does today. And that at a time when no real moral or socially aware brain cells had yet been formed in my rurally shaped skull.

Korine's latest venture, Trash Humpers, stars Rachel Korine, Brian Kotzer and Travis Nicholson in a tale of, well, no one seems to be quite sure. Ostensibly it is about a bunch of Nashville trailer park hoods who like to copulate with refuse. I'm all for metaphore, but could an actual film actually be about that? "People think of the film as almost like this provocation, an assault on reason and understanding," said Korine in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. He goes on to say that he can't completely dismiss that assessment.

The picture debuted at the 2009 New York Film Festival, but is just now seeing a limited theatrical release. Little wonder, because as per usual, shock value is what Korine is after. Prompted to put the picture into words, one film critic exclaimed that, "never have so many curbside trash containers been violated in the name of art, as well as trees, a mailbox, and a forlorn electric pole." The link for 'INFO" on the film's official website simply opens an email addressed to wtf@dragcity.com. That presumably goes to someone at Drag City, the Chicago-based independent music label cum media distribution house best known for repping Pavement, Smog, US Maple, Joanna Newsom and other off-camber artists.



Thus far Trash Humpers has been mildly hyped. Variety apparently considers the film to be "a pre-fab underground manifesto to rank beside John Waters' legendarily crass Pink Flamingos," though that is certainly going too far. More balanced analysis comes from the Village Voice, where the movie is recommended as "spectacle to be watched in a wino stupor," echoing the half-hearted endorsement of neighbors New York, who say Korine's vision "mimics the look of a VHS home video" before conceding that Trash Humpers is "endearing" yet "uncategorizable." (The latter magazine gets poinus points for describing Korine as a "runty, contrarian director.") Filmcritic.com calls it "an unabashed, unromantic ode to society's amorous refuse," while Manhattan's heaviest cultural authority, The New Yorker, laments that "the few undeniable instants of transcendence... can't relieve the long, droning stretches of calculated emptiness." We just call it plain old fucked up. But what else can you expect from a film that began when its director decided piles of garbage in a Nashville alley looked "very humpable."



Seriously, no amount of flooding, no configuration of natural or man-made disasters, nothing short of the apocalypse they clamor for weekly in their local megachurches is ever going to drown or wash away or bury the American South. If there were a way to make Southerners just go away, someone would have thought of it by now. There are great people in the south, to be sure, but there is no denying that the culture as a whole is deeply fucked up.

That Village Voice reference to VHS tape is in relation to the process Korine used, but is actually incorrect. Korine doesn't mimic the look of VHS, because the production consisted of actually shooting the picture on VHS tape before stretching it to 35mm film. Basically everything about Trash Humpers is backwards. As Wikipedia points out, "despite its fictional character, the film won the main prize at one of Europe's largest and most adventuresome documentary film festivals, CPH:DOX--Copenhagen International Documentary Festival--in November 2009."

If there is anything fundamental to be said about Harmony Korine and his films, it is that Korine is an artist working in the medium of film rather than a filmmaker trying to make art.

The film opens at Los Angeles' NuArt Theatre on Friday, and Korine himself will be on hand for "a very special Q&A" at the theatre. The B-List Spike Jonze will begin fielding questions around 7:30pm, and will personally present the 9:45 screening of the film. Once moviegoers are sufficiently perplexed, amused, offended and bewildered, they can join Korine and a certain number of other left-field celebrities for the debut's official after-party, which goes down at the Mandrake Bar at 10pm.

SEE ALSO: www.trashhumpers.com

--
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other articles by Eric J Herboth.

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