Yikes! Harmony Korine's Nashville-Shot Trash Humpers Screens at Toronto and New York Film Festivals

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The last time Harmony Korine shot a feature in Nashville--Gummo, back in 1997--directors Werner Herzog and Bernardo Bertolucci hailed his genius, while critics Jonathan Rosenbaum and Janet Maslin agreed (for once) it was the year's worst movie. Twelve years later, Korine has returned with a Nashville-shot project that sounds even more divisive--and it's a featured selection at two of the most prestigious film festivals on the continent, both starting next month. Shot locally in near-total secrecy with much of the cast in masks, Trash Humpers was apparently conceived as a kind of found-footage artifact, as if the film had just been discovered. "This episodic tale of a band of cretins who go around brutalizing dolls, molesting plant life and--yes--rubbing up against garbage cans is outrageous, scary, hilarious, distinctly American and oddly touching--as well as Harmony Korine's purest film yet," says the blurb for the New York Film Festival, where Trash Humpers screens Oct. 1. Noah Cowan's blurb for the Toronto International Film Festival (where Trash Humpers makes its world premiere Sept. 12) takes on the tone of a manifesto:
Tired vocabulary like "enfant terrible" and "provocation" is a constant threat when writing about Harmony Korine and his films. Trash Humpers is no exception: creepy masks, low-grade torture, frequent public urination, senseless vandalism and the title, acted out on defenseless garbage cans, all have a confrontational panache about them to be sure. But the film is also full of poetry, dance, song and moments of aching poignancy. Such is the dilemma with Korine and his remarkable career; for all the fireworks, there is an impressive coherence in the subject matter of his work. His four feature films all seek to shed light on a certain class of people: unique and bizarre individuals usually lumped under the heading of "subculture." Poor but not destitute, subject to state disinterest, anti-social and often violent, these are the contemporary equivalent of Brothers Grimm villains, the scary witches in America's woods. Vilified by the right and condescended to by the left, their official narrative is one of cliché and fake melodrama in Hollywood cinema. Korine reclaims them as individuals through the lens of an unironic but corrosive wit and a bracing sense of the macabre. They are like the denizens of an overly familiar cautionary tale, the post-apocalyptic now.... Although Korine is often compared to (his frequent collaborator) Werner Herzog, another curious observer of humanity's darker impulses, Trash Humpers feels more akin to the work of William Eggleston, especially his prescient seventies video piece Stranded in Canton. In both films, friends and associates create unique and particular universes that seem borne of a different time and subject to different rules. But the ability to explore such avenues is the mark of any artist who matters, "provocative" or not, isn't it?
The funniest thing is that Korine may have managed to upstage provocateurs as incendiary as Lars von Trier (whose horror movie Antichrist was the WTF scandal of this year's Cannes), Michael Haneke, Bruno Dumont and Todd Solondz, all of whom have films at NYFF and/or Toronto. (Without Korine in the race, Von Trier would likely have taken the gold for scandalizing the press.) At Toronto--the largest festival in North America, and the place where distributors routinely unveil their year-end awards contenders--Korine's movie will be part of a mix that ranges from Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man and Steven Soderbergh's The Informant! to new work by world masters Tsai Ming-liang, Alain Resnais and Claire Denis. There's been no word about a local screening of Trash Humpers. But to whet your appetite--or curb it--here's "Crutchnap," Korine's contribution to an intriguing anthology film underway called OneDreamRush. Sponsored by the New Zealand vodka company 42Below, it gathers 42 filmmakers (including David Lynch, Gaspar Noe, Carlos Reygadas, Abel Ferrara, underground legends Kenneth Anger and Jonas Mekas, musicians Chan Marshall and Sean Lennon, and Korine's Kids/Ken Park collaborator Larry Clark) and gives each 42 seconds to re-create a dream. We can tell you, with complete certainty, that you'll never see the end of this one coming.

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