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Scary but powerful look at American underclass
By Brian Offenther

When people think of American society, certain images are much passed around: rockers banging their heads at concerts; hoodlums playing craps in alleys; blue-collared workers bent over their beers at a bar; families enjoying a picnic at the park.

All of these scenes have a certain appeal, either through the lens of conventional success or through the sexiness of rebellion. Yet there is a different America, one that is never aspired to, and is even rarely spoken about.

That culture can best be described as the “suburban underclass,” and it is the focus of the equally fascinating and hard-to-watch “Gummo.”

It features a loose plot focusing around children and adults without any sort of ambition or hope, and not even the education to realize it.

Harrowing scenes of nihilism are frequent throughout the film. Wanton animal abuse, racism, homophobia, and drug abuse also make it a tough film to stomach.

It’s not an easy movie by any means, but an important one.

Other rare fictional portrayals of this sort of culture, TV sitcom “Roseanne,” or the absurdist musical “True Stories,” are shaded by genre and offer only glimpses of the desperation these people feel.

More akin are documentaries like “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” and films about cult figures like Hasil Adkins and Jesco White.

“Gummo” was made for US$1 million and the cast is mostly made up of non-actors, who were filmed at their homes around Nashville, Tennessee. The movie was scripted, but by all reports there was a fair amount of improvisation.

The first thing that is most striking when watching “Gummo” is the people in it do not have movie-star looks. Movies in general have a mostly accepted history of taking attractive people and giving them glasses or mussing up their hair to make them look like regular folks. This is certainly not the case here.

At a point, one begins to wonder: is it worth seeing a movie about what amounts to ugly people doing ugly things? Sure, the movie makes a point, but is it a good one? Are movies the place of magic, instead of the almost tragically quaint? By making this movie, Harmony Korine asks this question. Whether the answer is “yes” or “no,” it’s a compelling one.

‘Gummo’ (1997)

• Where to see it: Dada, 115 Xingfu Rd, near Fahuazhen Rd

• When to see it: February 25, 9pm

• Price: Free

• What to see: A film from controversial writer/director Harmony Korine of “Spring Breakers” fame, “Gummo” also centers on the (mostly) white, American underclass. This time, it’s in a series of vignettes of the people in a poor Ohio town.

• Brian’s score: 08/10

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