Reviews for Gus Van Sant films are getting ever easier to write. His films are getting progressively freakier and less enjoyable by any conceivable audience, and reviewers are left with less and less to say, I reckons. That’s the thing about experimental films, they’re usually the kind of thing only film nerds and directors can actually enjoy. Who has time to care about whether there’s an audience for this crap or not?
I’m certainly a film nerd, but I didn’t get into this flick. The advertising for this film may give some poor potential audience members the impression that it’s about the Last Days (2005, dir: Gus Van Sant) of Kurt Cobain. Nothing could be further from the truth, you silly humans.
This is an entirely fictional account of the last days of some other blonde musician type called Blake. At film’s beginning he is wandering around in the wilderness, mumbling to himself. He mumbles to himself for the film’s entire duration. As such, he doesn’t really have any dialogue, or do anything that interesting.
In fact, nothing interesting happens for the entire film’s length, width or girth. There are lots of scenes of Kurt, sorry, I mean Blake, wandering around, filmed from behind. Lots of walking, in fact. Van Sant’s last three films have amounted to hours and hours of people ambling about. I get the feeling Van Sant, apart from being gay, also has a fetish or two. At least, he seems to get a major tingle in his nether-regions from filming people walking around. His Columbine film Elephant amounted to slabs of time devoted to filming people walking around before and during a school massacre.
Gerry amounted to two excruciating hours of Matt Damon and Casey Affleck walking around a desert. And Last Days amounts to 97 minutes of a guy mumbling, nodding out, and walking. I don’t know what Gus Van Sant is trying to say, but I know he’s happy to say it again and again.
It was more enjoyable for me to forget what the film was supposed to be about, and to think of it as a zombie film. Kurt, sorry, Blake is the only zombie in it, and he’s one of the old school slow moving zombies, but he doesn’t really go for people’s brains, or any other body parts. He is moaning for something, however, but it’s probably heroin instead. Delicious heroin.
Kim Gordon, the most famous bass guitar playing woman in rock history, appears out of nowhere to tell Blake he’s a rock and roll cliché. Then she disappears, her thirty seconds of screen time being up. I’m sure she’s just glad to say on screen what she’d wished she’d said to Kurt oh so long ago.
Anyone else in the movie is there for scenery. Any dialogue they have is either unheard, or, when Van Sant gets recursive and redoes certain scenes from a different perspective, utterly banal.
There’s a scene where a Yellow Pages representative confuses Blake with some business owner despite the fact that the guy is on the nod and wearing a dress, and tries to renew his ad in next year’s Yellow Pages. This may have been funny, I’m not entirely sure about it.
There’s a scene where two twin brothers from the Church of Latter Day Saints tell the free-loader residents of Blake’s house about the origins of their faith. There’s a scene where Asia Argento, supremely skanky daughter of horror film legend Dario, walks around for a while. She disappears seconds later, confusing you as to why she’s there, and then further confusing you because you hate her but still find her hot. Well, maybe you don’t but I’m ashamed to admit that I do.
Watch Blake make macaroni and cheese. Watch Blake nodding out whilst listening to a Boyz II Men video clip (anyone remember them?) Watch a guy sing along atonally to Venus in Furs by the Velvet Underground, and then have sex with some guy.
Watch Blake, played by Michael Pitt, play songs written by Michael Pitt which approximate Michael Pitt’s idea of what Kurt Cobain might have been like. Be surprised when one of those occasions (where, using pedals and creative sound design), he seems to be playing an entire Nirvana song on his own, and it’s actually good. Be less surprised when the acoustic song he plays later reminds you of all the awful buskers and cover bands you’ve heard over the last ten years “inspired” by Kurt’s example.
And then watch yourself as you sit there knowing the film was going to be like this, but still feel bored and cheated. I knew, walking into the empty theatre, since Van Sant’s recent films have been deliberately frustrating, this one would be no different. You just know he’s trying to see how much banality people can take in one hefty dosage, but he’s trying other annoying stuff as well. There are long takes that make me physically twitch with rage that they weren’t cut sooner. But that’s all part of the rich, annoying tapestry he weaves for our delectation. More likely his.
For that at the very least he deserves praise. This isn’t a film that could have survived the focus group / test screening process studio films go through these days. This is a guy making the exact film he wanted to make, and he had the support of a company (HBO Films) happy to give money to someone devoted to the idea of making such non-commercial films.
Again, it comes down to what a person wants or expects from a film. If you expect or demand that a film be sensible or entertaining, then you could be disappointed. If you expect this film to pay off in the way you could rightfully feel entitled to: that it actually give some insight or artistic expression of what Kurt Cobain’s last days were like, then you’re going to be triply disappointed. It so doesn’t come near any of that.
The experiment overwhelms the implied premise to such an extent that you’d be justified in feeling like lynching all the people involved in this cock-tease of a film. The lack of plot seems almost easy to take in comparison to the outlandish art wank – type crap that goes on.
I’m going to get all boring and film school for a second (which would not surprise long time readers.) The primary experimental aspect indulged in the film isn’t visual, it’s actually sound-wise.
There is the persistent use of, to use the official cinema studies term, non-diagetic sound. That’s a wanky way of saying the sounds we hear don’t match what occurs on screen. So sound effects and other motifs, such as ringing bells or water sounds, occur out of context and with no connection to what we see, and aren’t part of a specific score or soundtrack.
This stuff further distances viewers, in my humble, and pushes the experience into the realms of pure pretentious art fag, gallery opening with sushi and cask wine, “I must get home to smoke Silk Cut cigarettes and work on my affectations” type of wankery. There’s a market for it, and I’m probably part of it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.
Look, I didn’t like it. Bits of it I found downright infuriating. But I did find it interesting. I can respect what Van Sant has been doing lately, putting his commercial days behind him so resolutely, where he hopes to make up for cheesy crap like Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester with films even he must have difficulty sitting through. And I have to give him credit for doing that. Seriously, he’s achieved his objectives, and you have to kudos people where that kudos is due. Even if you wish you could whack them over the head with it until they had kudos-induced brain damage.
Sandro – 5 eyeballs I possess that I feel like sticking a rusty fork into in the hope doctors won’t be able to save my eyesight before the next Gus Van Sant film comes out, out of 10.
– “We need to get a jet heater, and I have to go to Utah” – Scott, Last Days.”