Though almost entirely scripted, Harmony Korine's film Gummo is defiantly non-traditional, employing a cast of occasionally grotesque non-actors in a cinematic montage that follows no clear narrative guidelines. The 23-year-old Kids screenwriter's feature directorial debut purports to depict some of the more impoverished residents of Xenia, OH, a town demolished by a tornado in the 1970s. But any pretense to documentary accuracy begins to fall apart when one realizes that Gummo was actually shot on the depressed outskirts of Nashville. Korine was after something more impressionistic, mixing bits of surrealism and poetry into the film's texture.
To achieve the desired effect, Korine wooed French director of photography Jean Yves Escoffier, whose images on the Leos Carax film Les Amants de Pont Neuf he had particularly admired. Escoffier was so taken with the low-budget project that he accepted far less than his usual fee, and set to work with Korine scouting locations and looking for on-camera participants. "We had to be ready to grab anything which might happen during scouting, so we took a High-8 video camera and Super 8 camera with us," says Escoffier. These rough images are periodically mixed in with the comparatively polished 35mm scenes of the film proper, lending Gummo even more of a kaleidoscopic quality.
"These people are never in a movie, they are remote from any kind of actor attitude," says the DP of some of the people caught on screen. "My first concern was to have them not be scared of the technical process," he says.
The cinematographer chose Kino Flos to light most interior locations. "It's a very non-violent piece of equipment," he says. "It's very small, it can fit almost anywhere, and it doesn't give too much light. It's minimal interference, and that's what I liked. Also, it's both directional and soft, which is difficult to get in a minimum of space, and you don't need much power; you can hook it up anywhere."
Outside the windows, of course, bigger units were used to even out the daylight, but these were relatively unobtrusive. To maintain an improvisatory capability, Escoffier worked out 360-degree lighting plans for most locations. The film stock for the 35mm scenes was Kodak 79, part of the new Vision series of high-speed stocks. "With that stock, you can go instantly from inside to out," says Escoffier. "You can almost photograph reality how it is."
Gummo was released in October by Fine Line Features.