Charlie Fox on Harmony Korine’s ‘Gummo’

‘A magical, fucked-up masterpiece’

Harmony Korine, Gummo, 1997, film still. Courtesy: Alamy

Harmony Korine, Gummo, 1997, film still. Courtesy: Alamy

Watching Harmony Korine’s debut movie, Gummo (1997), as a misfit teenager in the suburban wilderness was like escaping from juvenile detention and joining the circus. None of it seemed as puke-inducing or horrific as all the dark, underground legends claimed. The black-metal score that sounded like devils partying in Hell, the evil mischief familiar from skateboarding tapes, Chloë Sevigny’s costume design that’s half early Poison video, half Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (1986–90): this fucked-up masterpiece was magical. Its gnarly Southern Gothic skits about life in a tornado-ravaged town came from some warped fairytale version of reality. Running amok with the zonked-out albino minxes, glue-sniffing waifs and the cute ghost known as the Bunny Boy caused flashbacks to my preteen antics with the monsters from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963). Gummo was its own scary, beautiful and disorientating world concocted from all the haunted American trash that Korine loved as a 23-year-old wunderkind. The demented things in my head that excited or frightened me could be transformed into art! Sick. Aged 15 and feeling freakish, suddenly I knew what Madonna meant on her 1989 hit ‘Like A Prayer’ (the movie’s killer siren song) when she gasped: ‘It feels like home.’ Gummo was the future. 

Charlie Fox is a writer who lives in London, UK. His book of essays, This Young Monster (2017), is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. 

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019

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