Director: Harmony Korine
Starring: Paul Booker, Dave Cloud.
Studio: Drag City
Recycling bin—you’re my bitch!
Anyone who feared Harmony Korine was going soft with 2008’s Mister Lonely can breath a sigh of relief. He’s back to his old hijinks. Offered up to the world as a piece of found art, this episode of deep-friend dementia and exhibitionism has the washed-out tones and tracking jitter of an old VHS tape, something picked up for a buck at a yard sale. Form becomes function: Trash Humpers isn’t just subcultural debris, that’s also its topic. Korine’s wandering camera hobnobs distractedly with a handful of misfits, anonymous characters in old-people masks and ill-fitting Salvation Army garb who amble about a depopulated Nashville—yes, indeedy—scouting out garbage cans to hump. To inebriated shouts of “Get that trash pussy!” no less.
Part of me loves the idea that this ended up as a selection in last year’s New York Film Festival. Part of me is really mad. If the NYFF’s jurors let this in, why did they reject my late-1980s Fisher-Price Pixelvision tapes? They’re just as good. But I don’t have Werner Herzog or Agnes B. in my fan club. Sigh. Well, it wasn’t like Trash Humpers was a likely contender for distribution, anyway. In a maverick gesture, Chicago indie rock label Drag City picked it up for limited runs around the the country, where the film can easily find a late-show audience that identifies with Korine’s punk aesthetic. Chug down a few beers, or something more psychoactive, and the spectacle of these homegrown gits singing the Carter Family’s “Single Girl, Married Girl” in a shaky, high-pitched chorus—like the sideshow mutants in Todd Browning’s Freaks—could be wildly amusing. There’s more, of course, including the beheadings of plastic dolls, pancakes served with dish detergent in lieu of syrup, and a heroic speech about the benefits of decapitation (“People would weigh 8-to-10 pounds less!”). And so on. And on … I mean, I dig the guy, but … you know.
Among the human jetsam that occupies the frame, there’s a pair of supposed mental deficients, their scalps united by a shared stocking. Maybe I’m straining to find associations, but for me they evoke the hyperactive mopes of Siamese Twin Pinheads, a 1972 film by underground legend Curt McDowell – and one Korine would not be unfamiliar with. The short piece ended with the two title characters, acting in pinhead make-up like proto-Farrelly Brothers icons, jerking each other off in a bout of comic, homosexual mania. (McDowell, a sidekick to fellow wacko George Kuchar, was a self-avowed sexual outlaw, as well as a twisted genius of Super 8 and 16mm). That was pretty rad in its day. I suspect Korine is enjoying a good laugh and hoping to share it with those likewise inclined. It just ain’t that transgressive anymore. I want to thank him, though: Now I know what I’m going to dress up as next Halloween.