A reaction to the 10/12 Screening at the Green Lantern
By Bill Widener
A smear, a warble, a robotic “RECORD” in the corner, and there’s a blurry figure in the background, hunching a trash curbie like an arthritic mutt. Some coot with a mug like a mummy takes a sprig of leaves and, almost tenderly, begins to fellate it. A boney old broad in a brassy, ratty wig thrusts her pelvis into another garbage can. It’s too freakish to be real, but look: the tape jumps artlessly from cut to cut and the machine demands “TRACK”. There’s no obvious narrative: things just happen, idiotic and appalling things, and danged if she don’t sound just like Aunt Gossie who had the pill problem.
Trash Humpers is the latest work from cinematic troublemaker Harmony Korine. Based on his childhood memories of a group of aged pervs who would peep on their neighbors, Trash Humpers is not so much a movie as an anti-movie. It deliberately frustrates the expectations for film held by even the most avant garde cinephiles. There’s no story. There are no stars. There is no point. Any meaning one takes away comes from the sheer mass of incident and outrage.
Not to mention it looks like crap. Shot in a couple of weeks, the majority of the time and money spent on Trash Humpers went to post-production, when Korine used the latest digital technology to mimic the look, sound, and feel of an outlaw VHS tape.
Trash Humpers is a simulacrum of those audio and video tapes traded among the art trash of the 1990s, the sicko samizdat parodied by Mr. Show in the “Wicked Scepter” sketch. Authentic as an EPO, homemade in bad houses, these recordings were the roughneck ancestors of “reality” programming. Uncle Goddam, Shut Up Little Man, Fan Letter to Steve Vai and their like were a test of subcultural mettle, hard to watch, harder to look away. Obscene, absurd, banal and bizarre at once, these items were also weirdly reassuring for slacker screwballs: “Here’s somebody even more messed up than me…and they recorded it!”
Most of these artifacts were created by the very people caught on tape, though it’s doubtful they sought the infamy they garnered. But…there was the camera, and there was their life, and a thousand dupes later: there was the room full of slumming hipsters hooting and howling at the proletarian geek act. Cameras are like guns: would this horrible thing have happened if there wasn’t one in the house?
The camera is a living thing in Trash Humpers. It’s a long while before we see the cameraman, played by Korine himself as another redneck codger. Up to that point, we hear a voice without a face, a series of shrieks and cackles, manic chants (“Make it, make it! Don’t fake it, make it!”) and a folksy song about “three little devils” that acts as a refrain. The camera hovers over each scene like an unclean spirit, egging on the three malefactors in their antics.
The question arises as it always does: is filming this, watching this, the same as doing this? Causing this? The old woman, the most coherent of the Humpers, seems to recognize the camera’s influence. At one point, she snarls “Get away with that damn camera.” It won’t leave her be – it can’t – and watches from afar as she has a booze-fueled attack of conscience. “Lord, I don’t mean to do bad,” she moans, before passing out on an abandoned loading dock, the camera shooting up between her gangly legs with little yips of triumph.
Degenerates from the Love Generation
Perversion was once an exclusive club, secret handshakes and coded knocks on shadowed doors, contraband wrapped in brown paper like spies in their trenchcoats. Then, kink by kink, court decision by decision, media platform by platform, it went mainstream. Any mook with a net connection can caper in filth like an Augean stallion as a million chicks, all different and all the same, work the cam in a room cramped as a cage in a factory farm. Jokes about coprophilia crack up the audience for America’s favorite sitcom; Mamaw wields the flail at the Thursday night swing party.
In Trash Humpers, De Sade’s coterie of aristocrats has devolved into that bunch that got the boot from the VFW. The revelers are salt of the earth turned cyanide: Pure White Trash Seeks Same. They look like any geezer copping lottery tickets at the Dairy Mart, until they start banging the recycling bin.
Much has been made of the fact that these deviants are elderly, but it all makes sense when you remember Manson turned 76 this year. “Sadie Mae Atkins, she’s just a withered old hag now,” sang Monster Magnet about one of Charlie’s angels. Time has come today, and The Love Generation has degenerated. Trash humpers are Dixieland Dorian Grays who got faced one night and torched the portrait with their Jack Daniels Zippo. Evil lets them live again. These crepuscular creeps are the Silent Generation going out with a yowl of madness, the Baby Boom in its second childhood, eager to shove your face into its shit-filled diaper and laugh and laugh and laugh.
It’s often the last laugh, on anyone who gets near them. The trouble with white trash is they’re volatile as vipers, smiling one second, ready to shank you the next. Sadism defines the relationships the Humpers have with their equally inbred pals. The two shmoes working a fake Siamese twin gimmick proudly make pancakes for the gang, only to be forced by the old lady to eat their wares slathered in dishwashing liquid. One of the “twins” gives a philosophical monologue in a basement heaped with passed-out Humpers. It may be him who is tied to a chair and asphyxiated with a plastic bag as candles burn on a cake and a vacant longhair strums aimlessly on an electric guitar, the Humpers having a high old time while the cameraman shrills “Go to sleep, boy! Go to sleep!”
There is no rest for the wicked. While the normal world sleeps, the Humpers take to the streets. “I can feel the pain coming from these houses,” says the cameraman in his one star turn. “Getting up every Sunday to go pray…that’s no way to live.” The freaks are free, free to roam the forgotten spaces, free to dance in broken glass in abandoned parking lots, frolicking under the boogerlights like grisly fairies. The camera frees them. Perhaps they free the camera.
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