Friday, December 09, 2005

Go on. Ask me how I liked the movie...

if you were here you would see a comic right now

I'm not what you'd call a big fan of Gus Van Sant. Not that I have anything against his films, it's just that I haven't seen that many of them. Like the rest of middle-America, I watched Good Will Hunting (and it's "sequel", Finding Forrester). And also like the rest of middle-America, I tried to ignore all the hubbub over his shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. I've still never seen that film (the Van Sant version) nor have I ever seen My Own Private Idaho. So you see I'm no expert on his work.

What I do know is Nirvana and the circumstances surrounding the death of Kurt Cobain. In high school I was pretty obsessed. I devoured anything Cobain related in the media. I remember pouring over Tom Grant's early internet posts on his investigation into Cobain's death (Grant was a private investigator that Courtney Love hired to find Cobain when he "escaped" from rehab). It's kind of sickening to think back on it, all that wasted time. But anyway, yeah, I'm pretty familiar with all of that.

The film seems pretty accurate in that regard. Of course there's a disclaimer in the credits (this film, while inspired by the death of Curt Cobain, is a work of fiction...) but all the elements I'm aware of are accounted for and events seem to match up with what is known about Cobain's suicide. From rock-star ennui and the pressures of fame to details of chronology (Tom Grant completely missed finding Kurt in his search of the Cobain household. He later turned up dead in the one room Grant didn't search.) Despite the name changes, all of the details are in the movie. I don't know where they shot it but the greenhouse (or gardening shed) where Blake (the Cobain character) finds his end is almost too eerily (visually) similar to the shed where the real Kurt Cobain spent his last night. The final scene, the discovery of the body, is staged so remarkably well it matches up almost exactly with the well-known photos of the scene of Curt's death.

Michael Pitt, who plays Blake(/Cobain) does a fairly convincing caricature. The mannerisms are pretty good and the Cobain slouch is in effect. With his dirty hair all in his face he could almost pass as Cobain. Pitt also provides a passable possible embryonic Nirvana song in his A Long Hard Journey From Death to Birth. and there's a dischordant, Sonic Youth-y (Thurston Moore serves as "musical consultant") tape-loop collage experiment in the middle of the film (which ended up scaring Sophie, poor baby).

The cinematography and the editing are the real stars of the film, though. The photography has a rough-edged kind of beauty to it (not eye-pleasing but somehow right). Much of the focus is on the setting. Lots of wide-angled distance shots and stationary trailing shots following the action (20 seconds on only the bushes). The scenery is anything but pastoral ("I don't get it," remarked Rachelle, "It's not even pretty"). But it fits the decidedly unsentimental portrayal of events.

A lot of reviews called the pacing "meditative" ("boring." says Rachelle). It's a long, slow slide to the ending. It's not really the kind of movie you follow along but you have to let it wash over you. Comparisons have been made to the other recent minimalist works of Van Sant, such as Elephant (which I also have not seen).

Even from a only a layman's perspective, I can appreciate the understated filmmaking. What struck me is the fine use of the combination of elements unique to the film medium. Visuals were important, and of course sound. While specific verbalization (the realm of prose) is obviously and adamantly unimportant. Most of the dialogue is mumbled or obscured (except a nice little allegory the P.I. tells regarding a vaudeville stage magician and the details of his mysterious death - you can hear that one all right). The dialogue is unimportant. It's the sound of it that's key. Only in film does this work. The forced ugliness of both visual and audio in concert tell the story much more effectively (and viscerally) than description or verbosity ever could.

So did I like the movie? I don't know. I guess i did as much as a movie like this can be "liked."

But, like the man said... like the man said...

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