DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TIFF 2009:Trash Humpers

Friday 18 September 2009

TIFF 2009:Trash Humpers

'Trash Humpers' (2009) dir. Harmony Korine
Starring Harmony Korine, Rachel Korine


Guest Review by Reece Crothers

When David Cronenberg's "Crash" (shame on you Paul Haggis) was released late in the last century, it received a rating of "N or NNNNN" in our local NOW Magazine. That was confusing. Was it great or terrible? Most people said it was a "love it or hate it" kind of picture, but usually one or the other. How was that possible? How could the reviewer have such extreme ambivalent feelings about the picture? After thirteen years and one screening of Harmony Korine's new movie, I finally understand. I cannot say whether 'Trash humpers' is a good film or a terrible one, only that there has never been anything like it, which was the director's intention, and in that respect it is a stunning achievement.

In the Q&A that followed the TIFF screening, Korine explained some of his motivations behind making this movie as a sort of archival, or "found object", and it is a huge departure from the sweet and dreamy, and super-slick 'Mr. Lonely', Korine's previous picture. I thought Korine had really matured with that movie. It was playful and surreal and poignant and clever and it showed the young auteur in a slightly more vulnerable mode, actually revealing something romantic and even sentimental. The new film is a return to the nihilism of "Gummo" without the innocence of "Julien Donkey Boy" or the melancholy heart of "Mr. Lonely".

Korine in person was much more lucid and candid than his reputation would suggest. Though he playfully sparred verbally with an obnoxious audience member who felt he was owed a personal explanation for the exploits he had just been subjected to on the big screen: "Is that supposed to be artistic?" Obnoxious Audience Member demanded. "I don't know..." Korine jabbed, "Is your hat artistic?"

The emphasis was on "artistic" as a dirty word and it actually suits the picture just fine. I refer you back to the title: 'Trash Humpers'. This is not a title like "Magnolia" or "Reservoir Dogs" that serves as a tonal indication without any reference to the subject or content of the film. This is a film all about humping trash. It's dirty, but it's also beautiful. The VHS photography (blown up to 35mm) is a nostalgic requiem for our analog past. Anyone who ever edited their movies from one VCR to another will get a warm fuzzy feeling.

When asked if "Trash Humpers" was part of the Dogme95 films (the style made famous in 1998 by Thomas Vinterberg with "Festen" and by Lars Von Trier with "The Idiots", and a school to which Korine's JDB is a certified member) Korine responded that "it probably would be if I thought about it". It's hard to tell how much thought was actually put into the film or even should be put into analyzing it. To describe "the plot" would be misleading. The picture works best as a primal sensory experience.

Korine explained to the crowd at the TIFF screening that the origins in the project began when he was handed a VHS tape by a fan who simply asked "Watch this" before walking away. Korine played the tape at home with his wife and a friend. After twenty minutes of bizarre, juvenile, violent stunts, Korine's wife and friend wanted to turn it off, afraid the tape may veer into snuff territory at any minute. But Korine was captivated and couldn't bring himself to shut the video off prematurely. "Someone's gonna get killed on this tape" they warned. That scenario, a famous artist and friends are handed a snuff tape, would probably make for a better plot than the one actually strung together for this movie. After all, what is at stake for the average trash humper? But that is obviously not the point. We are meant to observe the antics of the TH's in the same way that Korine et al screened that original VHS fan tape. It is an alternately hilarious and terrifying and almost always baffling horror story of three degenerates in latex "old people" masks who just can't get no satisfaction. If a stranger gave you this tape, my advice would be to stay the hell away from them. They are probably insane. Coming from Korine, it's harder to dismiss.

"Kids" (1995) still ranks as the most sobering morality tale of my personal film watching life, ranking with "Trainspotting" (1996) as the ultimate cinematic warnings about the consequences to the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll ethos that defined those pictures on the vanguard of decades previous. And Korine was only 19 when he wrote "Kids". There is no doubt that he is one of the most brilliant and individualistic filmmakers working in American movies today. I really couldn't say whether I liked this film or not, and personally probably would have enjoyed seeing Trash Humpers in a gallery setting rather than in a cinema, but I am glad I saw it. Korine's vision is truly his own. He follows his own voice. He knows his audience is not a blockbuster one, yet he has a strong cult following. Time will tell whether or not he will be able to exist as a filmmaker in both worlds like Gus Van Sant has been able to (Van Sant executive produced "Kids" and Korine made a cameo in "Good Will Hunting", arguably Van Sant's most commercial film).

"If you are the kind of person who walks out of movies.... if that is something you do... and that's cool... but like, you should probably just go now. You aren't going to like this movie. But if you are into seeing something called "Trash Humpers", and that's what it's about really, then I hope you like it". Those were Korine's words to the crowd at the screening just before the lights went down and we all had our minds blown. Consider yourself warned, or initiated, depending on your appetite.

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