Family pictures

"Gummo" moviemaker Harmony Korine is not independent film's bastard child after all.


Andy Battaglia
September 28, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Sometimes mothers can be so embarrassing. Even for Harmony Korine, the young filmmaker notorious for reveling in images of underage sex, cat-killing and bacon taped to bathroom walls in films like "Kids," which he wrote and "Gummo," his directorial debut.

This weekend, at a Q&A session at downtown Manhattan's Anthology Film Archives, Korine's mother raised her hand with a question for the speaker -- Harmony's father Sol. "I just want to know how you think your work influenced Harmony," she asked. A charmingly humble Sol Korine laughed. "Oh, I don't want to talk about that," he said. Harmony, seated in a row up front, turned to his mother in melodramatic sheer horror. His red-faced look and rolling eyes said something along the lines of "Maaa-om!" It was a tender moment.

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And a surprising one, taking into account Harmony's reputation as anything but bashful. Asked to curate a series of films by an art house expecting the works of Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Jean-Luc Godard, Harmony Korine used the opportunity to come clean about his family by showing the films that his father made.

Sol Korine worked as a documentary producer for PBS in Georgia during the 1970s. Seeing the movies he made during that time shed some light on the younger Korine, who has been purposefully ambiguous about his background. As a documentarian, Sol specialized in trailing seemingly alien Southern characters, not unlike those reprised in Harmony's
own "Gummo."

In "The Uncle Dave Macon Show," Sol and his partner, Blaine Dunlap, picked through the story of the early Opryland banjo great who was as versatile with drink as he was with bluegrass. "Hamper McBee: Raw Mash" studies a giddy moonshiner paying homage to his art by building a still in the woods and transforming mashed corn with his alchemical touch. "Sometimes It's Gonna Hurt" looks at a junior bullriding camp, the camera focusing on rowdy bulls and fearless 12-year-olds, decked to the hilt in chaps, hats and boots. A heated fiddle-contest battle between an oldster in his 70s and a few-generations-removed young fiddler in his 20s unreeled in "Showdown at the Hoedown." And then there was "Mouth Music," an ethnomusicological romp through the sounds of the South that explores the hollering and yodeling (and even auctioneering) precursors to figures like Elvis and Roy Orbison.

Seeing the life-affirming absurdity of the characters put on view in Sol Korine's films and videos added a valuable bit of background to Harmony's much maligned and occasionally revered "Gummo." The films also helped to reveal Daddy Korine as a notable film presence in his own right. And in a way, they also help illuminate the sometimes shocking reality behind the younger director's use of shockingly real images, often unjustly decried by critics as egregiously manipulative. Considering that Harmony has a new film, "Julien Donkey-Boy," debuting at the New York Film Festival, it was too bad that Janet Maslin -- whose nasty "Gummo" review in the New York Times was a glaring example of the detached burnout she's since cited as the reason for her coming retirement -- wasn't there for the series.


Andy Battaglia

Andy Battaglia is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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