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things you (probably) didn’t know about 'gummo,' harmony korine’s first film

“All I want to see is pieces of fried bacon taped on walls, because most films just don't do that.”

by Oliver Lunn
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Aug 7 2017, 1:50pm

This article was originally published by i-D UK.

In 1997, The New York Times called Gummo "the worst film of the year." Werner Herzog called it "a true science fiction film." Harmony Korine — the director of the film in question — called it "a new kind of movie." But Korine refused to analyze it. "I'd rather jump out of a fucking window and shoot myself," he once said. Yet, over the years, he's said a bunch of interesting things about Gummo, his directorial debut.

Sure, you might know that the film's title is a nod to Gummo Marx; that Korine was 23 when he made it; that while promoting the film on Letterman he said some crazy things, like wanting "to do a minstrel with Tom Cruise." But there's so much more about this movie that you (probably) don't know. To celebrate Gummo's 20th birthday, we dug up some of those things.

Korine cast Tummler after seeing him on a talk show.
Korine was watching an episode of The Sally Jesse Raphael Show called "My Child Died From Sniffing Paint" when he discovered Nick Sutton (Tummler). It was a drug prevention episode and Sutton was wheeled in as a paint-sniffing survivor. The majority of the Gummo cast, Korine says, was found super quick and in super strange circumstances. "I gave myself 45 minutes to cast the entire movie, out of like Burger Kings and slaughterhouses." This obviously didn't include Chloë Sevigny, whom Korine was dating at the time.

Dot and Helen are modeled on Cherie and Marie Currie
Dot and Helen are the bleach-blonde sisters who gaffer tape their nipples and jump on a bed together. Played by Sevigny and Carisa Barah, they were modeled on Cherie Currie (lead singer of The Runaways) and her identical twin sister Marie. They look just like them. "That was a total theft!" Korine explained. "I wanted that in there, but I didn't want it to not make sense. I wanted [the girls] to adapt to their environment. [The film] is a total mix of history and pop." Is anyone else curious to know what the Currie twins make of the movie?

Half the film was shot on the last day of the shoot
"It was a two month shoot but on the last day we shot half the movie," Korine explains. The reason? Because he was waiting for rain so he could film the rabbit-boy kissing the girl in the pool, in the rain, to Roy Orbison's "Crying." On that same day he shot the chair-wrestling scene and his infamous drunken cameo with the dwarf on the sofa. More on that in a second.

Korine was obsessed with bacon during the shoot
"When I was making Gummo I was really obsessed with bacon," the director says. And no, he's not talking about the painter Francis Bacon; he's talking about actual bacon-bacon. "I would stare at these strips of bacon and I started to feel this kind of rapport." That "rapport" was so strong he gave the bacon its own starring role. "In some of the scenes there's strips of bacon, if you look closely, because like, bacon was my aesthetic." And he's not lying. When Solomon is in the bathtub, there's a piece of bacon stuck to the wall with Scotch tape. Werner Herzog mentioned it to Korine in an interview, with Korine responding: "Seriously, all I want to see is pieces of fried bacon taped on walls, because most films just don't do that."

After filming his drunken cameo he threw his sister through a window
Korine was wasted IRL in the scene where he chats to a dwarf and spills his beer all over the place. "I needed to be in a certain state and it's hard to direct in that state so we saved that for last," he says. It was right before the film's wrap party at a local Nashville strip club. But Korine didn't make it to that. "I was out of it and I was really excited," he continues. "It was like four in the morning, and I think my sister went up to give me a hug, to congratulate me on finishing the film, and something happened and I threw her through a window. And this grip who looked like Mr Clean, this bald guy, he took a pocket knife and stabbed me … And that was the way it ended."

His biggest influence was an English filmmaker
Some people watching Gummo pick up on the influence of Diane Arbus's photography. Others pick up on the influence of John Cassavetes, aka the Godfather of American Indie Cinema. But most people, Korine says, miss the influence of English filmmaker Alan Clarke. "For me [Clarke] was the most important filmmaker … He made this movie Christine, which people don't really talk about much, which is one of my favorite movies." The film depicts the everyday life of a teenage heroin addict, and is shot in long, free-flowing takes with a handheld Steadicam. If you're curious about the roots of Gummo, seek Clarke's film out. "His movies are just as important to me as Cassavetes's."

Korine wore speedos and flip-flops in a bug-infested house to piss the "pussy" crew off
The crew shot in some scummy places in Nashville. The worst were the bug-infested houses where people lived like rats. "In one of the houses, I found a piece of a guy's shoulder in a pillowcase," Korine told Herzog. "At times the crew would refuse to film in those conditions. We had to buy them those white suits like people wear in a nuclear fallout. I got angry with them because I thought they were pussies. I mean, all we're talking about is bugs and a disgusting rotting smell." But Korine's cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier, like Korine, was fearless. They rebelled together. "When the others were wearing their toxic outfits, he and I wore Speedos and flip-flops just to piss them off."

He flew pro-skater Mark Gonzales in to shoot the chair-wrestling scene
Pro-skater Mark Gonzales, aka The Gonz, is the dude who wrestles the chair while bare-chested rednecks cheer him on. "He was one of the greatest chair wrestlers that I had seen," says Korine. "He would fight chairs really well." Korine flew Gonz in from L.A. to shoot the scene on the last day of filming. The director's ties to the skate community go back to the days before Kids, when he was a skater in Washington Square Park. He remains friends with The Gonz to this day, having recently shot him for a Supreme ad.

The NY Times called Gummo "the worst film of the year"
In the original NY Times movie review, Janet Maslin calls Gummo the worst film of the year. "When it comes to boy wonders exploring the cutting edge of independent cinema, the buck stops cold right here," she writes. Apparently that sole review hurt the film's distribution. "I think they only put out like 15 prints or something after that," Korine says. Part of the reason was the argument that the director exploited his cast, a cast of "freakish individuals," as the Times review puts it. Korine has confronted this before. Referring to the girl with Down's Syndrome, he says: "her beauty is obvious and transcendent to me. And the idea of exploitation means absolutely nothing to me, because I show what I want to see and I don't exploit people, I don't make people do things that they don't want to [do]."

Gummo has its own cameo in a Hype Williams movie starring DMX and Nas
I know. It's not directly about Gummo, but this absolutely has to be mentioned here because it's so very, very strange. Basically, in the 1998 Hype Williams movie Belly there's a scene where DMX and Nas get blazed in a mansion and watch the "kill-the-rabbit" scene from Gummo. Their reaction to Korine's film? "Shit is bugged-out... Damn." I have zero ideas about how this happened - how a grainy arthouse movie ended up in a glossy crime drama. Maybe it was an in-joke. Maybe Korine is mates with Hype Williams. Maybe DMX just really loves Gummo. Someone, somewhere, has the answers.

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Text Oliver Lunn