Traces That Resemble Us: Owen Kydd and Gummo

While we waited to flood into the small lobby of the Cinematheque on this cold and rainy evening in Vancouver, mutterings of words like “white trash film” and “low-fi” could be heard from the queue. Smells of buttery popcorn and wet clothes drifted in the air amongst the full-house of anticipating fans waiting to see Gummo.

The screening of Harmony Korine’s film Gummo is part of the screening series Traces That Resemble Us  — a collaborative event, presented by the Cinematheque and Monte Clark Gallery, that illuminates the intersection between visual art and film. Each film is selected by prominent Vancouver-based artists who felt these particular films had an influence on their work. To complement the films, the artists have also chosen pieces from their own body of work that contain traces of their cinematic inspiration to display at Monte Clark Gallery. For this night’s screening, well-renowned Vancouver-artist Owen Kydd chose Gummo.

Kydd’s work has been displayed in galleries spanning from the Art Gallery of Ontario to the Museum of Modern Art. Film, video, photography, or installation art are not fit descriptions for Kydd’s eclectic work. Most of his works consist of duration photographs presented as videos displayed in custom-made light box monitors that resemble advertisement boxes. The videos focus on objects rather than narratives, and often appear to be still images without close observation.

Regrettably, due to a green card problem, Owen Kydd was not present to introduce the film. “He needs to stay in America”, joked Nigel Prince from Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery. Prince, who introduced the film in place of Kydd, revealed that he has recently been embarking on studio visits with Kydd in anticipation of an exhibition in 2017. When introducing Gummo, Prince hinted at how Kydd’s work and the film both lack a narrative. While Kydd uses his camera to focus on a object, Korine concentrates on vignettes instead. Using portrayals of stillness, both works explore the natural unfolding of a subject with the passing of time. The collage-like assembly of moments and scenes in Gummo gives the film a dream-like and at times, nightmarish ambience. Kydd’s work Knife, Sole, Feather, Scrubbers chosen for the exhibit, is a five minute video of the objects listed in the title in their dormant state. Both Gummo and Knife, Sole, Feather, Scrubbers, hover between static and moving, pushing and pulling between both boundaries.

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Still from Gummo

Gummo is a cult-classic…to those unfamiliar with Korine’s work, this film may come as a shock. But Korine’s die-hard fans have the utmost appreciation for this funny, yet unsettling 90-minute journey. The dark subject matter of the poverty stricken lives of people in the American Midwest is presented in a playful and humourous way, leaving the audience not knowing whether to laugh or drop their jaws in shock.

Following the story of main characters Tummler (Nick Sutton) and Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) wander around their tornado-stricken hicktown to fulfill their dull nihilistic lives, the audience is left with tension until the last scene of the film. Korine is not afraid to take it too far and with every passing moment, the audience nervously anticipates the unthinkable acts the characters may commit next. Throughout the film, graphic scenes of the two teenage boys killing cats and sniffing glue leaves the audience questioning whether people really live this way. But the whimsical nature of the characters leave you intrigued and wanting more  — like all complex characters there are parts of Tummler and Solomon that speaks to the audience and renders them irresistibly likeable. The loose narrative is tied together by the multifarious soundtrack, which includes classic rock, screamo, metal, and hip-hop.

The 35mm film format renders rich colors and eye-catching visuals that would give any cinephile a hard-on. Despite the high-quality of the film, Gummo takes on a home-video quality that adds to the rawness of the film. Unique close-up shots, faded instant-film colors, and jerky hand-held shots are just some of the tools Korine uses to create beautiful and unforgettable tableaus on screen. At times the camera is so close, for every breath the characters take, you take one with them. The intimate and striking shots coupled with snappy and snarky dialogue makes it easy to forget there is no definitive storyline in this intriguing film. Much like Korine’s film, the subtle gestures of the filmed objects in Kydd’s work speak for themselves without any imposed narrative. It seems Gummo has begone the convention of giving the audience a pleasant narrative, and leaves them shocked and perplexed instead. If there is anything this film is not, it would be commercial.

Thursday, December 17 is the final screening at the Cinematheque for Traces That Resemble Us. Two films will be screened: Pickpocket at 6:30PM followed by Dillinger is Dead at 8:30PM.  If you still aren’t convinced, Robert Arndt, the artist himself, will be there to introduce the film Pickpocket, as well. If you’re feeling adventurous and would like to explore some avant-garde film, we highly recommend you find more information about the screening here.

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