Just after Gummo was made and Korine had launched his career as a director he made a strange short with characters in black-face. Actually, it wasn’t even a short, but something more like a shot. He also said he was filming a series of fights he picked with strangers, fights that landed him in the hospital forcing him to abandon the project. It was sometimes hard to tell what was a real idea or just a self-indulgent joke. He even said he was going to make a short based off of jokes from a Milton Berle joke book. On the basis of Gummo I always held out hope that something of this projects would surface. Having now seen Trash Humpers, I am glad these other projects never materialized.
Trash Humpers is an uninspired reaction to the normalcy of suburban existence. Its protagonists, played by the director and his friends – all disguised in burn victim masks – says nothing of the choices and struggles made by people who live within society’s accepted norms. Nor do Korine’s characters provide a viable or realistic alternative. Their lives, mostly consumed by the singing of childish songs, the destruction of refuse, and the humping of trash receptacles is just as mundane and routine as the 9 to 5 lifestyle they critique. I would like to think Korine is smart enough of a filmmaker to not fall into the trap of simply making an anti-suburban lifestyle flick, lord knows cinema is awash with such films. I’d like to think he is able to recognize the similarities in his characters and those they criticize and that really this is the statement Trash Humpers puts forth.
However, Trash Humpers simply feels like a goof, a stupid art-stunt. Frankly, it is a boring. The sort of idea that 15 minutes could give justice to, but for the sake of a theatrical run it has been extended to feature length. Like ann unlikely cross between Jackass and William Eggleston’s Stranded in Canton* with all the excitement and life sucked out of it, Trash Humpers is neither as entertaining or outlandish as these other films and it relies too heavily on the gimmick of being shot on consumer grade VHS tapes. As an examination of those who choose to live alternatively von Trier’s The Idiots or even James Ivory’s Savages have far more to say about the emotional toll or a dedication to ritual than anything Korine can muster up. As a discarded artifact waiting to be stumbled upon, Trash Humpers might be genuinely interesting if it were not staged, but rather the real antics of unknown miscreants. However, I can never shake the feeling that this film is simply the self-indulgent musings of an enfante terrible who is no longer terrible and too old to be messing around. He needs to get back to being serious, or perhaps being less serious.
*After seeing Stranded In Canton I remember wondering if it had not influenced Korine’s earlier work. Eggleston and Korine are both from Nashville and the city itself, more like its underbelly, influence each artists work. Still the real people of Eggleston’s video have a genuine charisma and a palpable insanity that Korine can never seem to recreate.