Upon its release in 1997, Harmony Korine’s bizarre directorial debut, Gummo, was considered as something of a misfire, particularly after the success Korine had penning the script for the culturally pertinent 1995 film Kids. Though time has been kind to Korine’s debut, and as his fame as a subversive filmmaker has grown, so too has the love for Gummo, with the film considered a cult classic in modern cinema.
Changing the landscape of independent cinema in the 1990s, Korine’s scruffy, authentic and brutally honest depiction of contemporary America spoke to a disgruntled generation who could see themselves in such a world. Triggering a revolution in the community of underground cinema, the film exposed the detachment that young people felt with the modern world, with Korine’s style going on to inspire the subversive rebelliousness of MTV and Jackass.
With the release of Mister Lonely, Spring Breakers and The Beach Bum following Korine’s early success, the director became known for embracing absurdity, debauchery from the strangest corners of American life. Analysing the dark truths of the country, whilst elevating its identity to expose its great peculiarities, Korine’s films are a celebration of life that often spark an existential dilemma upon each and every watch.
Despite his many subsequent films, his debut of Gummo likely remains his most raw and expressive, allowing the director complete free reign to carry out his particular cinematic vision. With a rambling, dreamlike story, the film follows two drifters of a lovely town in Ohio, occupied by deserted landscapes, bored individuals and wandering souls. Though plodding and aimless, it reveals some deep gashes of the modern American psyche.
Discussing the film with fellow filmmaker and documentarian Werner Herzog, Korine explained: “With Gummo, I wanted to create a new viewing experience with images coming from all directions. To free myself up to do that, I had to create some kind of scenario that would allow me to just show scenes, which is all I care about”. Bringing Korine’s attention to one specific bathtub scene where bacon is seen taped to the back wall, Herzog describes the moment as “the entertainment of the future,” before the director added: “It’s the greatest entertainment. Seriously, all I want to see is pieces of fried bacon taped on walls, because most films just don’t do that”.
Though this fixation with the delicious pork product goes deeper than this, with Korine telling i-D in a later interview: “When I was making Gummo I was really obsessed with bacon”. Continuing, he bizarrely adds: “I would stare at these strips of bacon and I started to feel this kind of rapport…In some of the scenes there’s strips of bacon, if you look closely, because like, bacon was my aesthetic”.
Likely an ode to the director’s own nihilistic attitudes, the bacon likely means absolutely nothing in Gummo, a fact that in and of itself means that the pork strips actually carry a more existential meaning, reflecting the sheer pointlessness of the film and its wandering souls. As one of the finest films of the 1990s, Korine helped to reinvent independent cinema, fuelled by the taste and peculiar meaning of bacon.