1 Hr., 29 Mins.
Gummo / Julien Donkey-Boy July 23, 2019
1 Hr., 39 Mins.
ambitious, but the general gist is that a film indebted to its ideals completely does away with the effects of “movie magic” — things like special effects, music, credits. Typically they’re shot with hand-held cameras, using only natural light.
Julien Donkey-Boy, which never saw an actual theatrical release, is far less enjoyable an experience than Gummo — not a great advertisement, I'm aware — but it’s the better of the two films. Gummo is an assembly line of disturbing-in-a-good-way images grounded by amoral figures; Julien Donkey-Boy, in contrast, is an emotionally wonky feature about familial dysfunction and human suffering — a more deliberate account of the lives of people living on the fringes. It stars Ewan Bremner as the eponymous Julien, a 20-something with untreated and undiagnosed schizophrenia. It chiefly revolves around how his illness affects his family, particularly his harp-player sister Pearl (Sevigny), who’s carrying his baby.
Like Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy is fuzzily plotted, and drops us, unmoored, in a sea of chaos. Its messiness is further overtaxed by the photography. It was first shot using a MiniDV tape, then transferred to 16mm. Then, finally, it was blown up to 35 mm. A lot of the footage looks like colorful TV static. You almost get motion sickness watching it. But you’re also left with a pit in your stomach, more emotional than physical, once the final frame turns black. These characters, wretched and eccentric as they are, are tenable. Pearl gets a particularly heartbreaking arc; Sevigny plays her with emphatic dejection.
Sevigny and Korine would part ways, both personally and professionally, a little after Julien Donkey-Boy's completion. Their brief union, though not among the most mainstream, lasting-in-the-memory couplings of the 1990s (if it were, we'd have a portmanteau nickname memorized), nevertheless made for one of the decade’s strangest, most exciting star-director pairings. What they made was perhaps more interesting than conventionally great. But interesting, uncomfortable movies, when made and performed with enough originality, can resonate. Original Sevigny and Korine were, and are.
Julien Donkey-Boy: B
If provocative style is the thing that makes a movie as skeevy as Gummo endurable, then what makes Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), Korine and Sevigny’s third and for-now final collaboration, bearable? One certainly can’t say a comparably striking visual style. It ascribes to the rules of Dogme 95, the film movement started in 1995 by the Danish directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. The wave’s manifesto is wordy and
While Korine was skateboarding in Washington Square Park, he met Larry Clark, a photographer. They built a rapport; Clark saw promise in the 21-year-old. By then, Korine’s filmmaking experience had mostly consisted of making 16mm home videos. “I gave one to Larry and he called me the next day and I went to his place and started talking about making a movie together,” Korine told The Guardian in 2015. “He had an idea for a film and wanted to know if I wanted to write it.”
The idea eventually turned into Kids (1995), an infamous drama about ennui-stricken, voraciously sexually active teens. Sevigny was originally cast as an extra. Then she’d take a bigger role that was originally supposed to be played by Mia Kirshner, one of the few professional actors in the ensemble. The movie, among the most controversial of the decade, put both Sevigny and Korine on a larger map — she now a bonafide actress and not merely one of the coolest girls in the world, he now a promising filmmaker and not just the secretly talented skater dude.
For their next project, which was made possible, in part, because of the buzz surrounding Kids, Korine doubled down on unsightliness. The movie, Gummo (1997), is a tessellated, stylized, and circuitous movie about small-town transgressions. The feature is set in Xenia, Ohio, a hamlet known for its tornadoes and poverty. The film takes place in the aftermath of a 1974 twister (whose particulars are fictionalized for the movie) and focuses on the most morally reprehensible members of its population. It is especially intrigued by a group of teens who make a meager living killing feral cats. (They bring the corpses to the local grocer, who presumably uses the meat for other purposes.) No kitties, thankfully, were harmed in the making of this movie.
Gummo is ugly — really just a collection of vignettes circling around the very worst people of a tiny town. Yet the juxtaposition between its repugnancy and Korine’s fashion-magazine-stylish direction creates an uncanny, can’t-look-away tawdriness. Sevigny, who did the costume design and who appears in a minor role, works as something of a center. As an aimless roller-skater who looks like Cherie Currie by way of Frankenstein’s monster, she rivets as she tries to make sense of the dimmed environment in which she lives.
n 1993, approximately a year before she was dubbed “one of the coolest girls in the world” by the New Yorker, the 1990s “it girl” Chloë Sevigny met the 1990s indie-movie “it boy” Harmony Korine. At the time she was a New York high-schooler with a habit of sneaking into the city in her down time. He was a skateboarder and burgeoning filmmaker. A personal and professional relationship would develop soon after. The latter began in