Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Film Appreciation - It's Hard to Speak

Film Appreciation visits the mid-'90s as Jay takes in Gus Van Sant's Cobain-inspired film Last Days.

Last Days (2005)
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring Michael Pitt, Lukas Haas, Asia Argento,
Scott Patrick Green, and Thadeus A. Thomas

Somewhat based on the life of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, Gus Van Sant's Last Days is a mumbling, fragmented, and downright tedious look into the last few days of a rock star named Blake. I am a fan of Van Sant's work from Finding Forrester to Elephant, but none of those films have clicked with me the way this one did. Somewhere in the disconnection I struck a chord with the extremely long takes, mumbled dialogue, fragmented and displaced sounds, and the overall look of a world that feels very authentic to what Van Sant set out to create.

Blake lives with his fellow band members and their girlfriends in an older mansion out in the woods of Seattle. He spends most of his time wandering around in the woods, digging for no reason, or playing with kittens. A great amount of the film is spent on Blake walking, preparing food, walking some more. The film simply focuses on what Blake does throughout his final days, and it works very well to me, mainly because I get the feeling that I'm looking into someone's life as it unfolds. There are no real beats, just oddly constructed segments of people coming and going amongst the beautiful scenery of the old home and the surrounding woods. I feel it perfectly represents a time period and era very well, and a lot can be taken from the very rudimentary aspects that are displayed on screen.

The technical side of the film is anything but rudimentary, as many of the long shots that follow with Blake are beautiful and extremely well executed. The cinematography puts you into the location and into the time period with ease. Despite the subject matter of the film, I have taken a very peaceful feeling away from some of these scenes. I've found Last Days to be great for winding down after a long night, its atmosphere matches with my mood perfectly, the colors and beautiful locations all coming together to firmly place me into a different world. Van Sant has created a world here, and deserves a lot of credit for accomplishing this.

The most connection we ever see Blake make with anyone in the film is when a door-to-door salesman mistakes Blake for someone else, and Blake allows him into the home to chat about renewing an ad the man had taken out in the Yellowpages for his automotive repair business. The salesman, played by a real salesman who stumbled onto the set, asks Blake a bunch of questions that he has no honest answer for, but Blake still answers them to the best of his ability anyway. This scene really fascinated me, as the salesman never acknowledges Blake's strung out demeanor or the fact that he's wearing a dress. He simply does his job and moves on.

Michael Pitt plays Blake perfectly. He rarely speaks, and can hardly be understood, as most of his dialogue is mumbled to himself as he walks around the homestead. The look and feel of Pitt's performance seems genuine, and is more fitting to the construction of the film than if he spoke more. Pitt nails the look of Cobain, but this movie is far more than a film that is loosely based on Kurt's life. While it's definitely influenced by that and carries certain elements into it, I tend to look at it as much more of a mid-1990s story than one strictly focusing on Kurt Cobain.

Last Days is certainly not a film for everyone, but I have a lot of appreciation for it. The structure and mood are flawless and it has earned repeat viewings from me -- even if I don't watch it from start to finish. It's the type of movie I can turn on and instantly be taken into another world.

One of my favorite shots. Its mood is perfect.

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