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Friday 07.22.05

« Friday in the City | Main | SCRAPpy Saturday »

Last Days


By now you know that Gus Van Sant's latest film, Last Days, isn't about Kurt Cobain. Go see it anyways, because it's a gorgeous elliptical existential study of a human being, who like the rest of us... is trapped by the inevitability of death.

This film is much less about the scraps from Cobain's life than fans will demand and more of a brilliant take on the topic of euthanasia. It is a subject which will soon be debated in the Supreme Court (and a new justice complicates it further). Van Sant lives in Portland and Oregon is the only state that has legalized euthanasia. Americans really don't think much about death but this film does more than its fair share of work on the subject.

For those less artistically inclined, Last Days might draw complaints of slowness but for people who look at paintings, this film displays a true mastery of time. The whole film practically stands still, giving everything, including the making of macaroni and cheese a sense of geological scale.

Compared to the affected art world slowness of Matthew Barney or even Eve Sussman, this down to earth approach connects better. In many ways it takes the work of video artists like Fischli and Weiss (who put a kitten lapping up milk up on the Times Square jumbo-torn) and turns such mundane beauty into incredibly sustained movement shots where Blake is a train and everything else becomes the rails. The effect is breathtaking for many reasons.

For one, the long uncut shots make the viewer notice when a cut is used. It interrupts our consciousness and it isn't surprising it is used for several blackouts.

It also emphasizes the inevitability of the story which we all know will end in death.

Van Sant uses lots of symbolism for inevitability including numerous references to trains, reoccurring scenes that are slightly different, a hilariously utopian Boys II Men video and a musical performance that makes extensive use of looped sampling (something I doubt Cobain would have done but Thurston Moore was the musical consultant so it still has plenty of indie cred).

My favorite scene was the groundskeeper as a quasi grim reaper, which features the greatest use of a long handled tree saw in all of film history. I also found the constant use of reflected trees on windows impressive.

Overall, it's one of my favorite Van Sant films, especially because of its truncated square format that makes the film even more claustrophobic and intimate. So get over the Cobain trivia, this is about life and death and although Cobain casts a long shadow his celebrity means nothing next to the universal experience of death.

Last Days opens at Cinema 21 Friday July 22nd

Posted by Jeff Jahn on July 22, 2005 at 1:00 | Comments (0)


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