So there was some big news to come out of CPH:DOX; Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers has won the grand jury prize. An interesting choice to say the least, considering the fact that the film is not a documentary. In fact, some seem to be questioning whether or not it should even be considered a film. (Including Korine himself, in his introduction at this years TIFF screening) So…is this just some sort of creative loophole or have the boundaries of non-fiction grown even further? In his recent review of Lars Von Trier’s Anti-Christ, Roger Ebert said “Feature films may be fiction, but they are certainly documentaries showing actors in front of a camera.” It seems as though the jury at CPH:DOX have taken this idea and ran with it, choosing Korine’s ‘found footage’ story of four renegade trash humping outsiders as the best film at this years non-fiction focused festival. As the controversy brews throughout Twitter, I’ve decided to republish my review of Trash Humpers, originally written for Film Junk during our TIFF coverage, as it seems to be somewhat relevant. I do come to the defense of Korine’s film, but I’m not entirely sure I’m on board with this grand jury selection.
Trash Humpers Review (Originally Published at Film Junk)
It’s too easy to write off Harmony Korine’s latest film as mere artsy fartsy film school bullshit. I’m the first to call foul on the self-indulgent and pretentious tendencies of some filmmakers, but there’s a fine line between art and shart (shit+fart), and Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers tap dances its way right down the middle, eliciting a wide arrange of emotional responses from those who are willing to embrace the outright chaotic VHS aesthetics.
Trash Humpers made its trash humping world premiere at the Scotiabank Theatre to a partially unsuspecting Toronto International Film Festival crowd. Luckily, Harmony Korine was in attendance and was sure to warn the masses that if they were ‘prone to walkouts’, they might as well do so immediately; a comment that was likely more sincere than the chuckling audience had thought. He then provided a bit of a preface to what we were about to see, insisting that Trash Humpers isn’t so much a movie but rather an artifact of sorts. A fictional piece of found footage that one might come across at a garage sale or discover stashed away in the closet of an abandoned old house. I guess the easiest comparison would be The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield meets Jackass, but I’m more reminded of the period in the 90’s when it seemed like every TV news magazine show featured stories of wild teens going on crazy paintballing, mailbox smashing, home invading rampages, all caught on home video! It was under this premise that I felt Trash Humpers retained its credibility as something beyond a shitty art film. While it’s certainly not accessible in any fashion, it does have its moments of humour, sadness and pure creepiness.
For anyone left dumbfounded by the recently released ‘trailer’, you’ll be pleased to hear that Trash Humpers does have a somewhat loose plot. A small gang of elderly folks — and an apparent female burn victim played by Korine’s sister — document their reign of terror in a small neighbourhood, engaging in glass breaking, firework lighting, home invading, and yes, trash humping. Those curious about the meaning behind the title of the film will be pleased to hear that it’s indeed quite literal. In fact, the first image we see is some vigorous garbage can humping, something I didn’t think would be as hilarious as it was. It was the dedication to the act combined with the audible rhythmic banging that hit my sweet spot. There’s also some great commentary provided by the man behind the camera; another elderly gentleman portrayed by Korine himself. His cackling laugh combined with some repetitive catch phrases may ride the nerves of some, but I found it to be quite funny. He actually gives a pretty great monologue in the third act, suddenly reminding me that yes, these are supposed to be human beings of some sort.
Once you get past the aesthetics and the surreal nature of it all, Trash Humpers is pretty straight forward. A band of outsiders raging in a world that for whatever reason, has cast them aside, be it due to age, physical deformity or flat out social retardation. The VHS presentation is aesthetically unique, but more importantly, through Korine’s sheer dedication to the conceit, supports the believability of it all. The film remains 100% commited to its concept. Due to our tight schedule of screenings, I totally missed out on a follow up Q&A session with Harmony Korine, which is unfortunate as I imagine it would’ve been hilarious, if not enlightening. Either way, Trash Humpers will go down as one of my more memorable TIFF experiences and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for this one. Direct to VHS release?