One of the great aspects of Van Sant’s nature is his ability to experiment and perfect his technique. Elephant, much like Gerry, was one of these milestones and although each film in this catastrophic silent nature of drama stands alone, one can draw on a chain of comparison in these films.
Last Days and Paranoid Park are the two which follow in this digital transformation; they retain a certain level of silence, not using the usual Hollywood-esque scene-by-scene explanation or breakdown of character.
…a beautiful poem of a musician self-medicating art with alcohol and drugs.
Last Days is a beautiful poem of a musician self-medicating art with alcohol and drugs. Michael Pitt shines here, muttering to himself alone in the woods, eating a bowel of cereal and inviting Jehovah’s witnesses into his house for a talk – he becomes Blake through and through. Van Sant’s steady camera and slow-paced movements create moving portraits with this film, these characters come alive; encapsulated within the framing and incarcerated in time.
Between Last Days and Paranoid Park, Van Sant dipped into the ensemble film Paris, Je T’Aime (with his segment Le Marais), a small Lost in Translation love story. It, like most of Van Sant’s shorts, was like a miniature film and I can’t help but wonder what if it had been like if it had being developed further into a feature. A tease to the audience, it unfolds almost instantly, catching the viewer’s eye for being not only the least flamboyant short of the montage, but also the simplest and most pleasing temptation of love in Paris.
Using the same ‘teenage years’ theme, Van Sant made Paranoid Park next; a film which like its predecessors acts as an exploration into what can be described simply as ‘Pure Cinema’. Moments captured on camera which obtain meaning through their artistry, such as the slow motioned eye lines, the rough and ready digital footage of roller-skating and the shocking moment when a crime occurs for just a blink of the eye. Van Sant taunts his viewers through this film, making us fall with the character in several instances and gesturing at a greater notion of what is right and wrong and furthermore where do we fall into this society.
Following this, Van Sant made another short film; Mansion on the Hill. It is a small pin hole of information, which stands alone as a message for the audience rather than an entertaining narrative. To me, it seems rather amazing that Van Sant is able to do these smaller exercises, indicating that he is a true auteur, unafraid of simply working away regardless of what is expected of him; as long as there is paper, he will keep on writing.
…crisp photography, flawless performances from Penn, Franco and Brolin and an almost Elephant like recollection of murder…
In his restless nature, Van Sant takes on a project which would not only become a landmark of LGBT history, but a subject which is still rather controversial, thought provoking and a wakeup call to its audience for civil rights.
Milk is a return to form in terms of Van Sant’s earlier dramas (see Good Will Hunting), however it still feels as if it belongs to his later work too; with it’s crisp photography, flawless performances from Penn, Franco and Brolin and an almost Elephant like recollection of murder and its after-effect.
Van Sant whispers powerfully at his audience, using a flawless script and a perfected working ethos. This may be his greatest film and I cannot imagine what will top it.
Images courtesy of Gus Van Sant