~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke


Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" ~ Saturday, March 18, 2006

A chilly day today, notwithstanding the blue skies and lack of snow on the ground. I walked over to Starbuck's first thing (it took about an hour), and I was glad of my big coat, gloves and so on. But it was still a pleasant enough walk.

Since I'm in screenplay mode, I kept imagining a filmic depiction of the walk--a shot of the protag going up a wooded residential street; then along a main road with cars swishing by; a wide field; a forest; railroad tracks; the tall, eclectic buidings of a university campus. And all that to indicate the passage of three weeks or so and the protagonist's epic walk. I think I've walked greater distances, but I guess because I hadn't eaten much (a small granola bar before I left) and the terrain was so varied, it really did feel epic and as if I had travelled a vast distance.

We saw Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" last night. I have to say, my feelings were mixed. It definitely felt self-indulgent and somewhat inconsiderate of the filmgoer's level of engagement. There was one sequence (it might have been a single steadicam shot; I wasn't paying superclose attention) in which I think the entire first movement of the Moonlight Sonata was played, while we saw some kids playing football, then focussed on one of them, and followed him around in real time as he walked up stairs, down stairs, opened a door, walked in etc. Not super high stakes or highly engaging viewing.

I was caught between wanting to see if Van Sant was going to pull it all together in some appropriate and engaging way that gave us a big payoff for all our waiting (he sort of did...), and just feeling irritated and frustrated with the lack of consideration or the arrogance of expectation that we as viewers would be willing to sit through an hour or so of this sort of tedious K-mart Realism (or would that be Walmart Realism, now?).

And indeed, the first hour truly did consist of the camera following various characters around the school--with the occasional blip of interest as we realise it's not a totally linear narrative and we are seeing the same (Walmart Realist) scenario played out from mulitple points of view, interspersed with periodic cuts to an advancing storyline of the two catalyst boy figures as they go through their lives in the day leading up to the focal events. We also had some fairly long sequences of clouds. Just clouds.

So, how did Van Sant add resonance to the long shots as a camera followed someone walking around the school? The repetition pulled us out of the tedium and made us imagine that we were seeing some sort of pattern or getting different POVs on the same inconsequential events (did I mention that the dialogue felt somewhat banal, flabby and improvised? And indeed, I found out that it actually was largely improvised--surprise, surprise. It did feel real, though. That definitely is how people talk--no film stylization or tightening in the interests of giving us something a little more engaging to watch--nothing so plebian for Mr. Van Sant).

Ultimately, all of this put us in the POV of one of those shoot'em up video games, as the final events came into play. Or rather, it puts us into an exceptionally boring version of one of them.

Which brings us to the real payoff, IMO: the randomness and tedium of the general action and film also meant that we felt the tedium, randomness and banality of the violence that followed. Some build up, but no glamorization, no heroism, no excitement--just some sense of horror or disgust at what's being done and sadness that a given character has been killed. It's all as blah, and flat as the rest of the film. Which is a great message--assuming that anyone who might be prone to that sort of action would actually sit through and watch the whole film.

So--I admired the final result, as well as the confidence required in order to do the setup that would lead to that final result. But I don't know if the payoff--the feeling of flatness in the face of a violence that would normally be glamorized (even if it's also being vilified or shown as a big-slow-motion-visceral-horror-of-it-all tragedy) on film--was really worth the overall dullness of the filmic experience for me.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 4:26 PM::::


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