Better To Bore Out, Than To Slowly Fade Away
Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant is a genius. This is not to say that every film he makes is good, interesting, or even worth watching. It just means that his crappy films are all the more baffling for viewers expecting the surreal Shakespearean drama of My Own Private Idaho or the sharp mordant satire of To Die For. Good Will Hunting is boring and preposterous, and Finding Forrester is like finding out that Einstein spent a few years of his prime writing those skill testing questions you have to answer whenever you win a free bottle of Frutopia. And, like many geniuses, Van Sant’s work is often misunderstood, most likely because you have watch his films while being aware that he’s a genius, or you get the distinct impression that someone let an autistic child play with a $120 000 camera. This is especially true of his last three films, a trilogy that triumphs minimalism over style, and seems to be designed specifically to get upper-middle class Jewish women to demand rental refunds from the local Blockbuster. Gerry, which reduced Hollywood narrative clichés to basic Aristotelian conflicts, simultaneously sent half of the Sundance jury into fourth stage Delta sleep, and Elephant managed to make the Columbine shooting spree seem like a pleasant way to finally end 70 minutes of a boring high school orientation.
Last Days makes no effort to amp up the tension or style at all, at least in the way that most people define style, which is stupidly. Style, to most film viewers, is exactly how much like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels a film can be without running afoul of copyright law. There are special exceptions to be made for mid-nineties Tarantino rip-offs, and Tony Scott has a category all his own, but essentially, if you didn’t graduate from USC or haven’t spent 5 years making luxury car commercials, you don’t resonate with the 18-35 set. Van Sant’s last three films have a much more languid, drowsy style, sort of like Tarkovsky for people who don’t know who that is and aren’t willing to find out. In a sentence, it’s a viewing experience somewhere between Meet Joe Black and a Bergman film on half a bottle of cough syrup. The film tells the story of the final days of Kurt Cobain, I mean ‘Blake’, freshly escaped from rehab and wandering aimlessly around in his decaying mansion, fumbling and tripping over rotting furniture, and occasionally avoiding contact with his scummy drug addict friends and Asia Argento’s ass. Cobain gives us a side of drug addiction that is less Trainspotting and heroin chic than an impression of a geriatric patient trying to make it to the shitter before his colonoscopy bag breaks. In fact, the whole film is on a heroin nod, unfolding almost accidentally, full of long takes, head-cutting framing, and unscripted dialogue, kind of like the footage you’d get if you brought a drunk friend with a camcorder to a house party. Occasionally, the camera drifts off and becomes distracted by mundane items, like floorboards, and, in one memorable instance, almost an entire Boys II Men video, something that could pose no interest to a person unless they were stoned, brain damaged, or Jennifer Hollett.
The world's last living Boys II Men fan
Michael Pitt plays Cobain as a mumbling, staggering introvert, who manages to live in a house with four other people without pretty much any human contact whatsoever. Uneventful, yet atmospheric, the film is sad but captivating, managing to suck any glamour from Cobain’s life and death without taking anything away from his legacy. Granted, there’s not much of his legacy to take away from, since his lasting contribution to music seems to mainly involve the quite/loud dichotomy of screamo-bands and the brief resurgence of plaid, but the movie treats that with respect. Lots of long, long, very boring respect.