2005

July 17, 2005
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
97 minutes

I’ve had nearly a week to digest this. And I’m still not sure if it’s merely good or fantastic. It’s like watching a dream. People move about and do things without needing to push the plot along. Gus Van Sant claims that it is inspired by Kurt Cobain, but not about him. As with all of the club films, I went in without knowing what the title was or what it was about. We see a scraggly guy walk through the woods, then take a swim, then piss in the river, then build a fire. He mumbles the whole time. We will never hear him hold an actual conversation. People talk with him around, they may even think they’re speaking to him, but he isn’t engaged and never speaks back. Blake lives in a run down mansion on a lake. Others sleep there and visit. We never see him with any “friends”. Just those who hang around with him. He nods off, wakes up, changes clothes, digs up drugs, puts on a dress, and runs away from a private investigator hired by his wife (read: Courtney). The style is such that the camera may not even be focused on what’s happening. When he digs up the drugs, and I’m assuming they’re drugs because we never see what’s in the cigar box, we see him dig and pull up something, then we cut to inside a bedroom where two new characters are sleeping while a kung fu competition is shown on a small tv. Blake is visible out their window, but they are sleeping. Why Van Sant picked that angle, I’m not sure, but it was well-composed.

We see Blake in the Smells Like Teen Spirit sweater, and we see the greenhouse which is the only part of the set that is a replica of Kurt’s real house, where he shot himself. Every time he went in there to get away from people or whatever, I was sure he’s be shooting himself any moment.

There are two specific scenes that made me happy. In the first, Blake, dressed in a dress and a fur-lined winter coat is running away from someone at his front door. He runs down some step–running may not be the right word–he doesn’t do much very quickly. He runs towards the camera, then to its left, then he trips and says “shit” or something and the camera which swooped left to see him, instead focuses on a green bush. He’s sort of fallen to the left of the camera. We hear him brushing himself off and mumbling, but the camera remains focused on the big bush. For five seconds, ten, fifteen seconds, I swear it was for a full minute, long after Blake has left the area. We just watch a bush as the sun peeks out from behind the clouds. It makes no sense whatsoever, but I was mesmerized.

The second and more powerful scene was when we see Blake, after his friends have left for the night, in the music room. He strums a guitar, playing the rhythm part, then the camera pulls back and he changes to bass, plays that line, puts it down while the soundtrack continues to play both instruments, he picks up another guitar and begins playing Nirvana-esque chords, he puts that guitar down also, and moves to sit behind the drums while the three instruments are playing continuously, then he hits the drums, goes over to the microphone and sings something, then picks up a different guitar and adds to the texture of the song that we’re hearing as we pull back from the music room. We’re now several hundred feet from the window watching him create a song in his head, though he can only play one instrument at a time. It’s the only time he isn’t completely lethargic. Another scene has him playing a song on an acoustic guitar and singing in relatively clear language. The camera pulls back from the music room so that he can be alone with his creation maybe. I don’t know. But to me it showed that in his mind, only the music was clear. He had the whole thing figured out, even though he could barely make himself cereal or mac and cheese.

Ricky Jay is in it, spinning tales about a Chinese illusionist. Kim Gordon shows up as someone who wants to take him away for treatment. Two Mormon’s show up to talk to his housemates. A yellow page salesman, played by a yellow page salesman, discusses advertising strategies to Blake as he falls asleep wearing a black dress.

This isn’t for everyone, in fact it’s probably not for most people. I saw it at the perfect time, 10:45 in the morning, when I was fresh and open to something. At night, this may be a fantastic sleep-inducer. I’m not sure that dozing would be that big an issue. The whole film is sort of “dozey”. It’s slow moving and nothing much happens, but I liked being there while nothing was happening.

Other stuff: Blake plays around with a shotgun, but since we know how it’s going to end, it’s not particularly scary. The final scene with his body lying in the greenhouse will be familiar to anyone who watched the live coverage on MTV when Kurt shot himself. Blake’s body is placed exactly like we remember Kurt’s. Michael Pitt does a great job. For a guy who started on Dawson’s Creek, he sure has turned his back on easy stardom. I didnt’ recognize him until mid-way through the film. He had his face covered with hair most of the time. Van Sant duplicates scenes. We see one thing happen, then two scenes later we see the same thing happen, but with a little more information given out.

The soundscape is amazing. Listening in this film is more important than seeing.

6.6 Metacritic

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Written by Michael W. Cummins