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2005.07.15

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girish

I haven't seen Last Days yet, but with both Gerry and Elephant, though I liked them a great deal as I was leaving the theater, they accumulated great power for me in the days and weeks afterwards. I think I liked Gerry because its extreme minimalism made it utterly hypnotic (it was like watching a narrative equivalent of Michael Snow's Wavelength) and Elephant because of its refusal (perverse, many claimed) to provide even a hint of motivation, and convincing me that any motivation provided by the director would have been pat and false. (I wish he'd left out the shower scene though!).

btw, is Kim Gordon the Kim Gordon, of Sonic Youth?

Aaron Hillis

Dammit, I've been feeling the same way. The more I think about it, the more it sneaks up on me. I may even try to sit through what I then dubbed a "punshing art wank" once more before flippin' on the word processor.

Filmbrain

Girish -- it's funny you should mention Wavelength, because I had that in mind during the music scene, which is sort of Snow's film in reverse.

(And yes, it is Mrs. Thurston Moore in the film.)

dvd

Even though it's not as good as Gerry, I think this is still the best American film I've seen (and possibly will see?) this year.

Fun trivia: in one of his scenes, Ricky Jay picks up something from a table and talks about how it's made of the same stuff as old film stock and is in the process of decaying. That something, which is never seen, can only be one or two of his vintage (and indeed disintegrating) dice. That stuff did take me out of the film, too, but I imagine it won't be as big of a deal to people who aren't familiar with Jay himself. Then again, those are the same people who will likely wonder why they're being asked to watch some guy stumble mumble for ninety minutes...

Now that his trilogy is over, it'll be interesting to see Van Sant take on an onstensibly commercial property again (an adaptation of The Time Traveller's Wife for Brad Pitt's production company).

Sal C.

Here's an interesting take on the film by Michael Azarrad, the rock critic who wrote an excellent Nirvana bio, "Comes As You Are". It's interesing because he is approaching the film as a rock writer, not a film "critic", and he knew Cobain fairly well (hope this isn't too long):
"ILL WILL HUNTING
I watched precisely 51 minutes of Gus Van Sant’s new film Last Days, about the final 48 hours of a suicidal rock star named Blake, i.e.., Kurt Cobain. Yeah, I walked out of the screening, not even sticking around to hear my own voice right at the end of the movie, having an out-of-body, autopilot conversation with Kurt Loder on MTV the day Cobain died. Mainly, I walked out because the movie is very boring. But there’s more to it than that.
Van Sant says the film is only loosely based on Cobain, but that’s a raging cop-out, a self-granted license to take ill-advised liberties with the story and, far worse, a hedge against criticism that he might have gotten it all wrong. See, the movie is filled with so many exact details that he just can’t have it both ways. For instance, actor Mike Pitt’s imitation of Kurt’s little-boy lope in the opening moments of the film is so spot-on that it made me laugh, and it goes on from there: the familiar sweaters, sunglasses, hunting caps, left-handed handwriting, even several characters in the film who closely resemble people who really did live in or hang around at Kurt’s house. There’s a greenhouse on the property, where Blake kills himself with a shotgun. (Even the twin actors who play door-to-door Mormons are from Kurt’s hometown of Aberdeen, Washington.)
The problem is, Van Sant can’t resist lopping the tricky corners off an already compelling story in order to make it comprehensible to us simpletons sitting out there in the dark. Kurt’s — I mean Blake’s — mansion is a dilapated mess, what Van Sant calls a “metaphorical element of Blake’s life decomposing.” I wonder if he thought that one up all by himself. The reality was, Kurt’s home, as decorated and furnished by his wife, was tasteful and immaculate. How much more interesting it would have been to see Blake/Kurt shambling about such an impeccable home, but that would have flown in the face of Van Sant’s preconceived ideas about who Kurt was.
For the first hour at least, Van Sant reduces Kurt to a gibbering, near-catatonic drug zombie; that’s another conveniently simplistic depiction, far from the much more complicated truth. Kurt might have been profoundly depressed and zonked out of his mind on drugs, but I guarantee you he never talked to a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.
There was one great moment: at one point Blake switches on the TV, which begins beaming the spectacularly mediocre “On Bended Knee” video by Boys II Men. This sort of thing happened all the time in the Cobain household — the television was always tuned to MTV, and Kurt would always switch it on without the sound, watching the screen while holding a fully engaged conversation. Whether it was some of the piteous r&b that was popular at the time, the equally piteous commercial grunge, or any kind of pop music at all, it was never anything less than a jolt to sit and watch it with someone who epitomized everything that music did not. But Van Sant chooses to ruin the scene by having Blake o.d. in a manner which closely resembles something that actually happened, although, once again, in a much more interesting place and context.
The more I think about it, the more it becomes clear that Van Sant had access to some very inside information. He could have made a nuanced, challenging and revelatory film. Instead, he refused to let the truth get in the way of what he thought was a better story.
But what do you expect from a guy who claims that “Venus in Furs” is the “‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ of punk rock.” Any pinhead knows the “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” of punk rock is “Rockaway Beach.”

Filmbrain

dvd -- How did you figure that out? That's pretty fascinating.

Sal - thanks for posting the article. I think part of the problem with the film is that the subject is closer to people than those of the other two films (both of which were based on real-life events). Even though few knew Cobain like Azarrad did, his death affected many, and it's hard to watch the film without bringing in your own preconceived notions of what Cobain's last days must have been like.

I agree with Azarrad in that if the film was only meant to be loosely based on KC, he shouldn't have added all those detailed similarities.

Jay Blanchard

My only problem with Azarrad's article is that Van Sant's film is meant to be nothing more than Van Sant's own personal interpretation of the Cobain myth and a study on the whole cultural phenomenon/mystique of rock artist suicides (I think Elliot Smith was a big influence on the film as well).

Even if the film seems like a biopic, it's not meant to be. It's kind of like criticizing Citizen Kane for not being accurate on the details of William Randolph Hearst's life.

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