Tuesday, July 31, 2007

20:07 (The Calm Before The Storm)

screenshots from the 20th minute and 7th second of a movie
captured using a VLC - your results may differ (different players/timing)

~ You going to the concert tonight?
~ No, I can't... My parents are being bitches this week.


Glenn Dunks said...

YES! Such a brilliant film. Great moment, too.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I'm still confused by the amount of perfectly intelligent people who fail to see through this movie and recognize it for the sensationalist, hypocritical piece of wanna-be art-wank that it is (yes, I'm a bit passionate on this matter - and I've got Mike D'Angelo on my side!)

Anonymous said...

i agree goran. i found it very disturbing-and not in a good way.

Poli said...

Yeah, I kinda hated it also. Glad to see I'm not alone at least.

J.D. said...

I love this movie. I really do. Every time I hear Für Elise I just cannot help but to think of this. Excellent.

Damselfly said...

I think this was a good piece...because you knew what was coming. So the build up was slightly gross and engrossing. The end wasn't the point. The beginning was the part that we didn't know.

I didn't it find it "sensational", I liked that they showed the "norm" these kids were experiencing, the things they were caring about that you knew where so unimportant....and then they compared it to what the boys were doing and the things they considered important that also..soooo were not. And then the direction everyone chose to go in.

I'm not even sure what I wrote makes sense...

Glenn Dunks said...

Goran, hypocritical? sensationalist?

Carl Joseph Papa said...

great movie!

Riverdale said...

sensationalist? I think that word is for a movie like National Born Killers... not this film.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

It's utter sensationalism disguised in a contemplative, art-film mood. I was totally engrossed for the first half-hour and then it started bringing up every single issue that's ever haunted a hysterical telemovie about teenagers. You want violent video games? suicidal depression? emotional alienation? eating disorders? guns delivered to the doors of underage kids? irresponsible parenting? sexuality issues? bullying?
It name-checked every single one of the above without at all exploring them. Gus Van Sant has seen a fair few arthouse films where urgent issues get raised without providing any concrete solutions. But in good arthouse issue movies, the issues get addressed and explored in detail, not just arbitrarily brought up only to be exploited.
It's like the way Hollywood movies use a hysterically grieving violin score to compensate for the emotional impact that is missing at the core of the movie. Similarly Van Sant brings up alienated teens with guns to compensate for the fact that he has no story, developed characters or anything new or incisive to say about high school life. He just wants the urgency of the issue to be mistaken for the urgency of the film (when the film itself has no urgency).
And even on a basic formal level, while the photography is pretty (and I did really respond to that Fur Elise sequence, for me that was the only part to successfully capture that mundane high school atmosphere he was after), the dialogue and the performances were completely hollow.

Beau said...


Bring on "Paranoid Park".

NicksFlickPicks said...

Goran: But what if video games and guns aren't "issues" in his film, but are instead video games and guns, for better or for worse? What if Van Sant's inclusion of these and other motifs (ostracism of the geeks, eating disorders among the beautiful, nervous kisses between the killers) aren't his way of providing a synecdochic "explanation" for anything but a credible environment with which to surround these characters--tantamount to the costumes, the speech idioms, the gleaming linoleum.

I'm no Elephant disciple (I gave it a B– when it premiered), but I find the most vituperative critiques as overweening as the most effusive praise. It seems like a noteworthy formal exercise in crystallizing a moment in time as well as an opaque network of broad contexts for an inexplicable crime, however much it lapses tonally and disappoints intellectually or ideologically. I'm with the others above who have a hard time matching a word like "sensationalized" to this sober and distanced film. I feel in the movie a palpable empathy with modern teenagers, though the film refuses to be less empathetic with the inarticulate awkwardness of the killers than with the other students (though it surely drives home the enormity of the violence they commit, without ever apologizing).

Mike D'Angelo's decision to rank Gerry the best film of its year and Elephant the worst seemed more glib and stunt-ish than anything in Elephant itself.

Glenn Dunks said...

"It name-checked every single one of the above without at all exploring them."

Well that's because it wasn't Van Sant's intention - nor is it his duty - to explore them. All the things you mentioned are the excuses that are routinely given as the reason for the (ahem) moral decay of teenagers. Van Sant, I think, was merely admitting that these things are out there (of course they are), but neither one nor a bunch of them can be single handedly used as an excuse in every case.

Nobody knows what is going through the minds of high school shooters and as the rest of the film shows Van Sant's intent was not to explain, but to elicit discussion.


i'm with Nick here. I liked the film but i don't think it's a masterpiece (B range for me)... and the thing I disliked most about it was any moment that leaned toward explanation which seems to be what you're asking for (I was uncomfortable --but not for the right reasons I don't think -- whenever we delved into the killer's motivation)

I don't think art should always attempt to explain and the film works best as a sort of detached floating observation rather than a detailed exploration

as for the formal exercize --loved that. Harris Savides does such hypnotic work under Van Sant.

FWIW: Gerry is in the same B range for me.

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

Might seem sheepish but "Gerry" was in the B's but "Elephant" was in the lower A's.

My angle in explaining to people was that it's a study on Violence with a capital "V" and how it does not discriminate whether you are either its disciple or sacrifice.

I've been wondering when we'd be getting to a discussion on it here. =/

Glenn Dunks said...

For me:

Gerry: B-
Elephant: A
Last Days: B

And I eagerly anticipate Paranoid Park.

StinkyLulu said...

For me, Elephant experiments with the mundanity of violence, cruelty and harm in daily life. The glib voyeurism asks a single question in blithe repetition: is this an outrage? is this? what about this? or this?

The point of the film seems to me to be less about exploring and answering than about looking and inquiring. I think your points, goran, about the recycling of teen movie "issues" and the hollow performances by generally attractive non-actors are part of what the film's trying to tease out. The "namechecking" seems to be strategy of mapping the mosaic of the mundanity of violence, cruelty and harm, without prioritizing a single "issue" as the focus (as after-school specials and traumadramas do).

Not that I find the movie altogether effective or engaging. I rarely do with Van Sant. But there are times I'd rather be challenged by a film than gratified by it.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I wasn't asking for explanation of the killers' motives - just any hint of depth to their characters as well as all of the other characters who were awarded a fair chunk of screentime. And there was none. People keep thinking I equal depth with expository dialogue and neat cause-and-effect, which I don't at all. What bugged me was the vacant performances, the paltry patched-up dialogue and the oh-so-mannered [anti-]naturalism. I realise that Van Sant wasn't aiming to explain the killers' motivation, but purely to evoke the high school environment where they would break out in a nightmarish way - which in itself is a perfectly worthy and intriguing ambition, except in my opinion Van Sant failed miserably in actually trying to pull it off. He managed it for a good 20-25 minutes (I'll tell you again, that Fur Elise sequence was a gorgeous piece of work in itself), then once the movie veered into telemovie territory, it fell apart completely.

Also in a movie where very little happens to the characters, and pretty much the only things that do involve the delivery of guns to underage kids and violent video gaming, that to me reeks of hollow, hushed hysteria and crudely disguised - yes, I'll say it again - sensationalism.

I never got around to seeing Gerry, and I expressly avoided Last Days (Van Sant + filthy, vacant Michael Pitt + musing on Kurt Cobain's final days = nightmare combination). Once Paranoid Park reaches the southern hemisphere, I'll give it a shot, though I'm already afraid.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

"they would break out" = "their violence would break out"

Anonymous said...

Can we all at least agree it's a billion times better than the histrionic "thirteen"?

NicksFlickPicks said...

Last Days was by far my favorite of the three movies we're discussing. (Like everyone else, I gather, I haven't gotten anywhere near Paranoid Park yet.) Van Sant, at least recently, reminds me of Warhol in that he's actually interested in how film works, and in ambient emotional states, much more than he is in plot mechanics or thematic layering. Psychology seems utterly uninteresting to him, and after the late-breaking excesses of Good Will Hunting and the superficiality of Vince Vaughn's performance in Psycho, I feel fine with that.

Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days all feel to me like attempts to crystallize an ethereal moment in time, with subjects (hardly "plots") that provide a workable pretext for thinking about time as a duet between mundane rhythms (walking, high school, grunging about in a big Oregon house) and numinous ones (a progress toward death). My totally uninformed guess is that he's less interested in saying anything about school violence or the Cobain myth than he is in dislodging the journalistic stranglehold on these events and allowing for different kinds of discourse—specifically for conceptualizing them in a more philosophical way as tales of mortality. Elephant builds toward catastrophic deaths but frames that catastrophe against the other, delicate way in which all of these people, even all of these spaces, are dying a little bit all the time. Last Days does the same thing—except it is slightly less "sensational" in braiding the death of the individual (albeit a famous one) with death as a spiritual force, leaving the questions of ethics and cataclysm mostly aside. I also prefer Last Days because the images are less stereotypically beautiful and thus call more attention to the camera movements and the edits, and because Van Sant pushes himself as far in the area of sound as he did with imagery and montage in the other films, and to stunning effect. The tone's more consistent than in the others (while still making some unexpected swerves), and it doesn't seem like too small a story (as Gerry did for me) or too big (as Elephant arguably does, for this kind of treatment).

Clearly just thinking out loud here—sorry to prattle—but I'm surprised how eager I am to revisit Last Days and how comparatively not eager I am to revisit Elephant; even though I basically like it, it felt like a draft toward something even better, and Last Days confirmed that for me. Hopes are high that Paranoid Park reaches even higher, and I'm curious whether Van Sant can conjure the same magic without presuming the kind of audience familiarity that were built into his last two films, but still raise the thematic stakes more than Gerry managed to do, at least for me.

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