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last days master review.wps

last days master review.wps

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Published by James Howard

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Published by: James Howard on Mar 18, 2011
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04/29/2012

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Last Days
Notes on Gus Van Sant's film June, 2005By James HowardAs the seventh person prematurely walked out of the Toison D'or UGC Cinema screen 1 in Brussels,where I was watching
Last days
, it had become completely clear that if nothing else, Gus Van Sant hadsucceeded in utterly confusing and warping the minds of the popcorn toting troglodytes who had beenlusting after a juicy, salacious and utterly conventional account of the end of Kurt Cobains life. Theyhad smelt blood and had been disappointed. Yes, I, smugly, cheered this particular victory to myself.The first two people left ten minutes into the film, whilst another group ,consisting of four teenagers,one of whom looked like a neo-conservative hawk on his way to the white house situation room, indrooling anticipation of bombing a third world country that had dared to criticise the American
Fuehrer 
, lasted a good forty minutes. Well done. If this film, which premiered at Cannes in May of thisyear, had had to have been pitched to a stereotypical demonic Hollywood studio Executive, it wouldhave gone something like this:
Fat Cat Honcho
(smoking cigar and counting money): Okay break it down, twenty-five words or less,what you got?
Van Sant
: Okay, Michael Pitt, who was dropping acid and acting crazy in
Bully
, plays Kurt Cobain. Hewalks around his decaying mansion, plays his guitar a bit, wears a dress and hides from his friends. Hethen proceeds to walk around the forest that surrounds his mansion for a bit. Oh, wait,the best bit is;nothing happens. Nothing at all! It's genius. It's like Warhol's
Empire
meets Fassbinder! And thegreatest thing is that before the audience even sees the movie they know that he kills himself! So thereis no pay off, no phoney twist!
Fat Cat Honcho
: What about tits, ass and guns? Car chases? (I realize this is a tired cliché, readers butneeds be)
Van Sant
: None.
Fat Cat Honcho:
So this is like, an art house movie? Fuck that.
Van Sant
: You fucking guys are all the same. This a film about human suffering, alienation and thefutility of celebrity,godamnit, conveyed through internalised emotion and objective voyeurism, noless.
Fat Cat Honcho
: Take it to those commies at HBO, asshole and get out of my office!And Gus Van Sant did...As you probably know
Last Days
has stirred up expectation and interest due the fact that it wassupposedly inspired by the suicide of Kurt Cobain. Michael Pitt, physically aping Cobain with his longgreasy blond hair and, at one point sporting the red and black striped shirt that Cobain bought inCamden market and wore at the 1992 Reading Festival., plays the heroin addicted rock star, Blake,who, seeped in terminal depression and in the throws of addiction, shuffles, at times unintentionallybearing an uncanny gaitly resemblance to Ozzy Osborne, around his vast home and the surroundingwoodlands whilst mumbling to himself (subtitles
really
should have been offered in English as well asFrench and Dutch ,Herr Van Sant) and attempting to hide from his manager, a private investigator andhis band mates before his inevitable suicide that sadly leaves the viewer completely cold.
Dead 
.
Last Days
is a film of startling, and often irrelevant, long voyeuristic and sterile sequences in whichconsecutive scenes have no connection in terms of narrative and characters are utterly redundant. Thefilm is marked out by the aforementioned long, haunting and lingering takes with Van Sant oftenholding frame for three or four minutes of, for example, Pitt,sitting, alone and alienated in the woodsstaring into the sky, disconnected from the surrounding world. In another instance Pitt, with his back tothe camera, plays guitar, building a savage and emotive cacophony of white noise reminiscent of MyBloody Valentine's
Loveless
that manages to reflect the sadness that has eroded him, whilst Van Santscamera slowly pulls back from the window outside the house from which we have been watching.Whilst Pitt continues to play ,Van Sant pulls back the camera further from the window into a long shotas we watch Pitt become further and further away still playing ,for a full
five
minutes. It’s an
 
astonishing moment, one that displays honesty and true courage to examine aspects of cinema thatmost directors ignore, namely the elements of human behaviour that are usually deemed to be of novalue because there are not easily understood and too abstract in nature and therefore cannot be definedin simplistic terms that have the potential to
satisfy
. They just
are.
There is definitely no satisfactionand no
fast food 
resolutions in this film, merely a calculated, and that sadly is what it is, ambiguity thatis certainly something that should be applauded. Sadly this is seldomly reproduced. In another lingering shot one of Pitt's band mates, who are living in his home and seemingly exploiting hiscatatonic state, returns from a night out before listening to the Velvet Underground's
Venus in Furs
. VanSant holds a close up as he sings along out loud to the whole song.
Twice.
Indeed the choice of song isobvious and clichéd but Van Sants intention is clear. He tries to communicate the cold and alienatedworld within which Pitts character finds himself by creating a suffocating, monotonous atmospherewhere everything is steeped in banality and nothing offers relief from the sense of impending doom.The scenes do convey a sadness and poignancy that sadly though is never given any semblance of context. It is difficult to convey just how the film lacks any semblance of soul and this reviewer foundhimself not caring about anybody who was onscreen, not because of their traits but because they wereso vague and undefined. Of course this is the point. Van Sant has attempted, and achieved, to create aworld so cold and dislocated that it is suffocating to watch in order to convey the isolating force that isheroin addiction None the less, people who's teenage years were soundtracked by Nirvana will nodoubt, if Pitt's character really is based on Cobain, be infuriated by the portrayal of him being amumbling, zombie vegetable and not the disillusioned musical genius, fighting the fucking beast of depression, smack and Courtney Love he no doubt was.Pitt's Blake inhibits a world he no longer feels a part of, his identity and being numbed by heroin anddepression, and therefore Van Sant presents his surroundings as having no definition, no fabric andmost aptly
no
vitality. Van Sants intentions are honourable but unavoidably repellant. Does one thoughreally have to care about characters or any form of their development, substance even? Of course not,that's something for Hollywood to worry about, but the film has absolutely
no
character developmentor insight, not even into Pitts tortured musician and this is the films central flaw. Just because there is atwo minute close up of Pitt staring into futility, does not make it a moment of stirring pathos, just as ashot of Pitt, held in frame for 
several 
minutes, sitting in the woods surrounding his home, pondering, Ipresume, the absurdity of existence, does not evoke poignancy, but rather, in this reviewers case , arather crude thought, for which I duly reprimanded myself for being a middle of the road swine, to 'geton with it! Please jut get it over and done with so we can all go home,mate!'The real problem is that the film is so crassly superficial whilst at the same time profoundly anddefiantly believes it is exploring the inner torture of the central protagonist. It is therefore hard tocompletely dismiss the film. This paradox creates an almost excruciating experience that is difficult toconvey to readers who are not familiar with truly awful avant-garde fillmaking. There are scenes thatwork, such as the five minute shot of Blake making music that I mentioned earlier and especially Pitt’sself-penned songs that he performs in (obviously)
 
, uncut long takes, in which he manages toimpersonate Cobains voice without descending into parody or caricature whilst transmitting theinternal strife of his character. Also a scene where Kim Gordon, of the mighty Sonic Youth, playing arecord company representative attempting to get Blake into rehab, is so fragile and gentle in it'sobservation of a man who has already decided his destiny and will not, can not, be talked out of hisdecision, that it should pain any living ,breathing soul. There are though sadly too few moments wherePitt is allowed to convey
any
sense of his self, let alone the reason for his state. Stanley Kubrick wasoften criticised for the cold distanced nature of his films and Van Sant employed the technique to trulymindfucking brilliance in
Elephant 
but here it just feels contrived, hollow and lacking in bathos, muchlike the fans that Nirvana gained after 
Nevermind 
; those very souls that apparently troubled KurtCobain so much.
Last Days
is a mangled mess, a grandiosely bleak  and , at times plainly embarrassing, frequently brainnumbingly empty, wonderfully pretentious beast devoid of direction and sense, but one that isaudacious and uncompromising. Is that how heroin addiction truly feels? Is this cinema's first true,naturalistic representation of an addict’s descent into suicide? It's too empty and at times, quite simply,unbearably awful to be that.I wanted to like this film but ,alas, it’s no
Performance
that's for sure, but one must admire it's ability toannoy the fuck out of the 25-40 young professional demographic hoping for a entertaining night out inthe company of a slick biopic and who before they listened to
Nevermind 
thought that Green Day waspunk rock.

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