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January 05, 2011


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I don't get what the hell's so dead-on about that "he's never seemed to realize the degree of his un-specialness" line. As if any of us were privy to Harmony Korine's private thoughts and realizations. As if not realizing the degree of our un-specialness wasn't a problem for every single human being.

warren oates

@Kent, You're right. Jarmusch is committed. I value the things he values: poetry, cinema, history, comedy. I know I'm supposed to appreciate his pictures. And I do like a few of the early ones. I even love some of his personal inspirations: Ozu, Melville, Westerns. And who doesn't enjoy many of his actors, especially Forest Whitaker, Billy Murray or Robert Mitchum?

And I'm not really a fan of any of Harmony Korine's work, except, perhaps, in some backward way, of TRASH HUMPERS, which seems to me completely different from his other films, entirely without pretense of narrative or character or visual beauty. (To be fair to Korine, he does value cinema history in his own way, often enthusiastically endorsing and drawing from films by Bela Tarr, Alan Clarke and Werner Herzog).

I'm trying to put my finger on why, on what it is in this one work that made me not get up out of my seat and why it stuck with me more than I thought it should.

I don't think it's about the shock value either. I'm fairly familiar with the tradition of transgressive faux primitive films, as you put it so nicely. And also not unfamiliar with good (Vito Acconci) and bad (most of the rest I've seen) performance art.

Jarmusch came to mind as a point of reference because my favorite of his early works like STRANGER THAN PARADISE are about characters hanging out, being bored and annoyed with each other without the film itself becoming boring and annoying. Also because his recent work--well-made, composed, thoughtful and beautiful as it seems to want to be--has left me cold, when we both agree on the many reasons I should find it good and interesting.

The other night I happily and attentively sat through one of James Benning's recent films: RR. Forty three shots of railroad trains passing through the frame. My eyes were glued to the screen the whole time. A lesser filmmaker could have made my eyes glaze over with the exact same idea. But Benning picked some good trains, shot them well and cut them together in the right order. Not to mention that all this was done with a certain quality of attention that was transmitted to the viewer.

And somehow, in his own much more minor way to be sure, Korine has cut together some watchable trash humpers.

Sometimes I can tell from the first shot of a film that no matter what happens, I'm going to watch it to the end, follow it wherever it goes because I have an ineffable sense of being "in good hands." I remember feeling this the first time I saw Rohmer's CLAIRE'S KNEE or Tsai Ming-Liang's THE RIVER. It might be weird to say it, but I had this same experience watching TRASH HUMPERS.

Kent Jones

warren oates, that's a really interesting and thoughtful response.

A question: did you see a 16mm print of RR projected on a big screen? It's a genuinely great film, and it can be appreciated on DVD, but there are a couple of shots of trains cutting through landscapes, viewed from high angles, where the constancy of motion is such that once the train has left the shot, the landscape seems to pulse and expand in the afterimage. The effect doesn't quite translate on DVD.

Back in the day - sometime in the 90s - I crossed paths with Larry Clark and Harmony Korine. Harmony was an extremely intelligent young man, and he did indeed have a real love for cinema and a knowledge of its history. He and I have a few mutual friends, and he seems like a very nice guy. At the time, I thought that GUMMO was sort of interesting, but apart from the opening shot (which I remember vividly), I didn't find JULIAN DONKEY BOY even remotely interesting. And despite another great opening shot, I found MISTER LONELY of even less interest. TRASH HUMPERS seemed like more of same. But, you have me intrigued enough to take another look.

I suppose that Jim Jarmusch's fastidiousness - maybe that's the correct word - is off-putting to some and plays as fussiness. For me, the force of his conceptions is so solid, in movie after movie, that fussiness is never an issue. And I loved THE LIMITS OF CONTROL very much, because among many other things, it stands up proudly for poetry.

warren oates

@Kent, there's a good TRASH HUMPERS discussion going on at Jim Emerson's blog with some interesting and detailed reactions to the film so far, especially by a guy named David Graham.

I saw Benning's RR projected on 16mm. You're right about the effect of those shots on the big screen. Though I've been wishing I could get some DVDs of Benning's films for a long time. I've met him twice at screenings now, at least five years apart, asked him both times about DVD. One of the Austrian or German film archives has the exclusive rights to his work on home video and they are taking their time. Benning doesn't like to revisit his old films, so he's not very involved, but there's supposedly a box in the works. After the Brakhage set came out, I wrote to Criterion suggesting Benning and if you or anyone else who cares has any pull with them, it couldn't hurt to ask again. How great would it be to have Blu-rays of TEN SKIES and THE CALIFORNIA TRILOGY?

Kent Jones

warren oates, thanks for the tip about the discussion on Jim Emerson's site.

You can find TEN SKIES and 13 LAKES on the internet, but it's kind of silly - they need to be seen under optimum conditions. As for Criterion, that would be ideal.

Unfortunately, I have yet to see RUHR.

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