Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lick your wounds like a flame and burn forward in circles. Paranoid Park.

by Ryland Walker Knight

paranoid park

If Gus Van Sant's last feature, 2005's "Last Days," can be understood as a cubist portrait of waning time, then his new film, "Paranoid Park," may be described as an impressionistic sketch of subliming memory's weight.

My Daily Cal review hit the stands (and the web) a little later than the rest of the blogosphere due to this whole marketing machine we find ourselves a part of: smaller films get rolled out slower to build word of mouth. But, you know, like, whatever. This is about the work. I hope to see the picture again on a big screen because, even though the film is thin, it's lovely; and Christopher Doyle's photography should be seen as big as possible. Plus, Gus Van Sant's sound design is funny, curious; and his editing is only getting better, more affective. It's not quite Last Days quality -- they are altogether different kinds of films -- but it's better than Elephant and a possible sign that Milk may be pretty excellent. The great thing about Paranoid Park, really, is that, despite the death at its center, the film is about living, not dying. Sure, you could argue that the "Death trilogy" is about living, too -- all art is, right? -- but all three of those end with some death; this picture ends with a boy waking up and moving in the world. You can read my take on Paranoid Park by clicking here.


  1. I hope a lot of those gaffes were your copy editors and not yours, RWK

  2. Well, to be honest with you, Anonymous, I think you've zeroed in on something. Not that I'm an A1 supremo writer bar none, but it seems like my stylistic urges are often reigned in writing for a small, college paper run by students. But, you know, whatever, right? It's not my best work, but it's still some work. I have a feeling another of the VINYL crew will be seeing the flick soon and will write some other words about this dizzy, hazy beauty. After a discussion this afternoon, I like to think about the movie as a kind of archive of traces, and about coming to understand one's self through understanding those traces -- that (old? silly?) paradox that by gaining a distance from one's self, one will better understand one's self. Of course, this plays out in _TWBB_, too. Except that movie is about a kind of consumptive agent, not an agent seeking to dissolve into the world. That's a complicated argument, though: one I don't have time for right now. I'll have more to say about it in the near future.

  3. I found the film really grew on me after I'd seen it. I love the way Van Sant creates an ambience, and the shifts in time and lack of overt explanation mirror Alex's fractured psyche.

    Just thinking about the film, or seeing the trailer, it kept growing on me.

    I didn't initially think it one of Van Sant's best films (Elephant holds that distinction for me). However, on a second viewing, it just really kicked in how mature and deep this film is. It's full of feeling, the peak being when we see a close-up of Alex's face when we realise the horror of what he's seeing.

    I now think this is a great film, and I mean great. Maybe with repeat viewings, I may come to see it as a masterpiece.

    A couple of interesting things: Van Sant edited it himself, and I think he's done a brilliant job of it. The length is just right, there's nothing needed to add or remove. Did you know that the detective is a real-life detective, apparently a friend of one of the crew. I thought his character was really authentic, and now I know why.

    Much has been said of Van Sant recruiting from MySpace. While he advertised on MySpace, apparently not one of the actors used came via MySpace. Only one of the kids had any acting experience, and they were all aged between 13 and 16. I thought all their performances were authentic.

    It's my favourite cinema release of the year thus far.

  4. It's growing on me, too, Paul. I definitely think it's better than _Elephant_ but they're different kinds of movies. (I like _Last Days_ more than _Elephant_, too, btw.) I'm hoping to catch _PP_ again this weekend, if I find the time; if not, maybe next week. It really is kinda special, even if it's thin. In fact, I kinda dig how thin it is. Like you said: it's a perfect length.

  5. Thin? I've heard the film described in that way as if it is a negative. I can't even conceive of it as such, because of how rich it is with ambience, style and emotional substance. That "not a lot happens" per se isn't an issue at all, and I like the way Van Sant can make such a compelling story from something some may consider thin.

    I suppose Gerry and Last Days could be considered thin also, but again, I couldn't even consider the films in terms of that.

    This style of film-making is something I'm more accustomed from seeing in some contemporary French cinema. I love the way the French can make such compelling stories out of seemingly ordinary situations. The French Film Festival is currently screening in my city (Melbourne, Australia) and a week ago I saw The Year After (L'année suivant) that strongly reminded me of Paranoid Park and got me thinking that Van Sant may be inspired by the French. It's also interesting that Van Sant is popular in France and that Paranoid Park was financed by the French.

  6. I don't necessarily think RWK's use of "thin" has to be read as a pejorative.

  7. Anonymous, I agree, and I apologise if my comments suggested otherwise.

  8. This is another fine film by Gus Van Sant which sadly seems to have overlooked by most cinemas and cinema-goers where I live. I attended one of three screenings at an almost-deserted local art-house cinema in Southampton. For me, however, this short, low-key film left a deep-impression.

  9. I saw it a second time and it was even better than I remembered. Made me want to re-write my essay.

  10. I've seen the film three times now, and pre-ordered it on Amazon (April 24 I think its release is).

    I find the films that move me the most are the hardest to write about. I think this is because my favourite films are often subtle, nuanced and complex. It's take 3 screenings before I could write my piece.

    When I saw Paranoid Park the first time, my initial impression was that it was very impressive, but flawed, perhaps in ways I couldn't initially define. On my second viewing, I saw that anything I thought might have been a flaw was in fact an intrinsic part of the story. The third viewing had me increasingly awed at how brilliantly constructed the film is. The film just keeps on growing on me, and dwells in my mind long after it has finished.

    As I say in my writing, there's a moment in the film (the face-off with Alex and Liu) that is as powerful as any moment I have seen depicted on screen. Jake Wilson, a reviewer for my city's most respected paper, calls it Van Sant's masterpiece. I think he has written the best review I've seen of the film, not because I agree with his words, but because he has so clearly articulated everything I found important about it.