Pure Trash/Seeing Harmony

by Aaron Davidson

(an FMC original)

The best part of Harmony Korine’s new film, Trash Humpers, was Harmony Korine’s introduction. It was the first west coast showing, at the Nuart Theater in western Los Angeles. An article in the Weekly piqued the interest of anyone still interested in Harmony Korine, enough people to sell the show out. My roommate read the article in line for tacos, and an hour later I caught a Facebook post from a friend getting rid of two tickets for reasons involving a bus station. I moved to LA a few weeks before, and this seemed like as good an option as any for a warm Friday in a new city.

The lights came up after the previews, and Korine shuffled down aisle to replace the Matthew Barney humanoids ghosted on my retinas. Korine thanked everyone for coming then explained that we weren’t really about to watch a movie, but “something else.” He said the Trash Humpers project manifested from taking photos of his wife and friends wearing “silly” masks and committing misdemeanor vandalism and other pranks around Nashville, including defecating in driveways and fornicating with trashcans.

Korine transitioned to an anecdote about a neighbor he doesn’t trust, the man that “invented the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure.” This guy, apparently, has trash bins full of VHS tapes in his backyard. One bin, according to Korine, had every hour CNN aired in 1988. Korine wanted to make something that might be found in such a bin, or (and I’m paraphrasing), “lodged far up in the guts of a Jonas brother.” The crowd ate this up.

Korine explained he couldn’t stay for the film, because he had “important people to meet.” (This was misheard by some, who thought he said “porn people to meet.” The idea of a Korine-helmed porn remains intriguing.) He offered to do a Q&A anyway. It didn’t matter that we hadn’t seen the film, Korine said, because for those who’d seen the trailer, the movie was “more of the same shit.” Big laughs.

The first question was an autograph request from the oldest man in the room, which Korine agreed to. The second question was another request, this time to autograph a teenager’s arm, which Korine refused. “Come on guys,” he chided before the train completely derailed. The rest of the questions proved the religiosity Korine invokes. Fans wondered about rumored projects, unfilmed scripts, future photography exhibitions, and another novel. Others asked about the technicalities of Trash Humpers, to which every answer came out as a punch line. Was there a script, or even a treatment? “Oh no,” Korine answered, too quickly. “No way.” Any post-production? “I edited it on a few VCRs.”

Korine speaks like he’s constantly acclimating to an alien landscape. He babbles and mutters, then laughs at himself if others don’t laugh at him. He acts like he doesn’t belong and like he doesn’t want to belong. He looks like he’s juggling as he fumbles words; there’s more to focus on than what he’s saying, which, to be fair, is difficult to understand or believe. All this makes him interesting to watch and listen to.

I found the film, or whatever Trash Humpers is, uninteresting to watch and listen to. There can’t be a “right” reaction to art, but I’m subjectively reporting two big thumbs down. I snoozed for a few minutes (through a murder, I’m told), as did the lady sitting next to me. That said, I didn’t see anyone walk out, and many laughed. The few times I looked over at him, the old man with the autographed book was beaming.

For just under a minute, the sight gag of three people fucking trash bins seemed amusing. The characters wear scrubs and sagging latex masks that hollow out their eye sockets. The latex prevents expression, which would be more problematic if there was any narrative or emotional arc, or a script of any kind. Most of the film is reactive: they ride bikes dragging baby dolls, wade in muck, invade homes, encounter a racist, fellate tree branches, and hump trashcans. Then they shriek with laughter; the response is uniform. For this sound, Korine uses a high-pitched squeal akin to a squeaky hinge amplified through an old bullhorn.

Korine has knack for tone (see the inceptive cat drowning in Gummo), and Trash Humpers is no exception. But his ability to find beauty in decay (see the commune in Mister Lonely) is compromised by the antique fuzz of his decades-old homevideo cameras. He lingers on familiar Korine-ian images of streetlights, puddles, and litter, but they look uncharacteristically hazy. Compromising subject matter for pranks and visual aesthetics for shaky home video engorges Trash Humpers with tedium.

I posit that Korine’s films explore a very specific—and unappealing—sense of humor. My sense-of-humor thesis didn’t land for my roommate, who was more concerned by what the sporadic laughter said about the audience (about us) than the onscreen degradations. The film left him with a “sense of dread” that spread beyond the theater. I’ll admit, as we walked to my car in silence, the anonymity of west Los Angeles seemed garish and foreboding.

A few drinks at an overstuffed bar got us talking, and we agreed the Trash Humpers footage had a nightmarish quality. Not the kind of nightmare where you’re falling or being hunted or giving a presentation naked. Rather, Trash Humpers was the sort of nightmare where every character, action, interaction, object, location, and decision seems deeply, pathologically wrong.

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