Tuesday Editor’s Pick: My Own Private Idaho (1991)

by on May 1, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Tue May 8 at 6:15 at at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]

 

FSLC continues their cumulative journey through “50 Years of the New York Film Festival” highlights. If you haven’t already, you need to read Dan Callahan’s deeply considered, semi-confessional feature on Idaho, followed by Matt Connolly’s meta-auteurist career profile of the stylistically protean director.

 

Gus Van Sant’s third feature film (technically, his fourth) is a landmark of both American independent filmmaking and art-fag aestheticism. It’s also the ultimate fetish object in the cult of River Phonenix, the youthful blonde actor whose tragically early death (drugs) came shortly after the release of Idaho.

 

Here’s a late interview with Phoenix, who’s a lot less charming here than he normally was on-screen, but it gives you an idea of what his attitude towards his art and career was like at the end. Asked to sum up the vagaries of movie stardom, Phoneix responds: “I found myself being blown by America’s film corporations.” Not coincidentally, that’s the first scene in Idaho.

 

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Friday Editor’s Pick: To Die For (1995)

by on September 17, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Fri Sept 23 at 7:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]

 

Gus Van Sant” continues at Museum of the Moving Image thru Sept 30.

 

Retrospective critical reaction is mixed for Van Sant’s “mainstream” black comedy penned by legend Buck Henry, but we agree with Jonathan Rosenbaum that its “good nasty fun,” and love his observation that Kidman’s “spot-on performance may be the best of its kind since Tuesday Weld’s wicked sexual turn in Lord Love a Duck.” Weld is of course the all-too-deserving recipient of a toast at Film Society of Lincoln Center this same weekend, and Lord Love a Duck one of her most neglected tour de forces (its our Editor’s Pick tomorrow).

 

Meanwhile, To Die For introduced Kidman as more than Tom Cruise arm candy (remember those days?), while a new Phoenix brother (Joaquin, in his first major role) assumes the throne. And did we mention it has one of the best closing credit sequences ever?

 

As Van Sant confessed to Attitude,”To Die For is camp and I don’t know why. I’m a gay director, yes; but I don’t think I’m a campy director. Somehow it came out.”

 

Matt Connolly in his must-read feature on Van Sant’s career for Alt Screen:

Van Sant’s first feature for a major studio (Columbia Pictures), the film follows the machinations of Suzanne Scott (Nicole Kidman), a career-obsessed blonde whose dream of becoming the next Diane Sawyer lands her a gig as a local television weather woman. Kidman plays her with wide, intense eyes and a frozen toothy grin that can barely hide the disdain she has for anyone who doesn’t share her fanatical ambition. Affable husband Larry (Matt Dillon) indulges her ambitions to a point, but finally insists that she take on the traditional role of supporting his family’s restaurant. Van Sant captures her reaction to Larry’s demands in a tight, extended close-up. Disbelief, self-delusion, anger, and genuine hurt break through Suzanne’s impeccably made-up features. It’s a rare humanizing moment for a character who’s mostly defined by starry-eyed ruthlessness, and the film could use a few more of them.

 

To Die For often works on its own black-comic terms. We learn of Suzanne’s successful scheme to kill Larry through post-facto television news interviews, talk-show appearances, and Suzanne’s own confessional/audition tape: noir-ish flashbacks as refracted through the prism of media saturation. But that measured sympathy for Suzanne quickly evaporates as the film progresses. She becomes a satiric object and little more, the figurative (and, in the end, literal) icy blonde as avatar for mid-90s fame-mania.

 
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Gus Vant Sant Retro at MoMI (thru Sep 30)

by on September 15, 2011Posted in: Essay

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“My Own Private Idaho” (1991) at MoMI (Sep 16 & 18)

by on September 15, 2011Posted in: Essay

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Friday Editor’s Pick: My Own Private Idaho (1991)

by on September 9, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Fri Sept 16 at 7:00 & Sun Sept 18 at 7:30 at Musuem of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]

 

Museum of the Moving Image’s Gus Van Sant retrospective continues with My Own Private Idaho. If you haven’t already, you need to read Dan Callahan’s deeply considered, semi-confessional feature on Idaho, followed by Matt Connolly’s meta-auteurist career profile of the stylistically protean director.

 

Gus Van Sant’s third feature film (technically, his fourth) is a landmark of both American independent filmmaking and art-fag aestheticism. It’s also the ultimate fetish object in the cult of River Phonenix, the youthful blonde actor whose tragically early death (drugs) came shortly after the release of Idaho.

 

Here’s a late interview with Phoenix, who’s a lot less charming here than he normally was on-screen, but it gives you an idea of what his attitude towards his art and career was like at the end. Asked to sum up the vagaries of movie stardom, Phoneix responds: “I found myself being blown by America’s film corporations.” Not coincidentally, that’s the first scene in Idaho.

 

  Read More

Friday Editor’s Pick: Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

by on September 3, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Fri Sept 9Sat Sept 10 at 7:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]

 
Gus Van Sant’s sophomore break-through kicks off a 13-feature retrospective of the director at MoMI.
 
Drugstore Cowboy‘s major champion, Pauline Kael, in the New Yorker (Oct 1989):

Nihilistic humor rarely bubbles up in a movie as freely as it does in Drugstore Cowboy. The jokes aren’t fully formed, and they don’t seem prepared for; they just occur, almost passively, as if they were a haphazard part of how the director, Gus Van Sant, looks at things.

 

Van Sant’s new film has a distinctive drug rust. The movie takes us inside a lot of underground attitudes, and the director likes these attitudes – he enjoys them, even though he’s grown beyond them. The druggies are monomaniacal about leading an aimless existence; they’re proud of wasting their lives. During their robberies (which are generally a shambles), and even during their scrapping, they see themselves as romantic figures. (They’re comic, but they’re not put down for being comic). When Bob applies to enroll in a methadone program, he explains to the social worker why people use drugs. He says that they’re trying to “relieve the pressures of their everyday life,” and, speaking slowly, as if he had no idea what example he was going to come up with, he says, “like having to tie their shoes.” Dillon delivers a line like this so that it sounds utterly natural. We grasp what he’s saying while we sense the exhaustion behind it. But now it’s the drug life that’s exhausting Bob.

 

Drugstore Cowboy has a superficial resemblance to Bonnie and Clyde, and it may recall the detachment of Repo Man and something of Jim Jarmusch’s comic minimalism. But Van Sant isn’t just a fan of his characters’ style; he partakes of it. This is a believable absurdism. Van Sant accepts the kids in the drug subculture without glamorizing adolescent romanticism (the way Rumble Fish did). Van Sant’s films are an antidote to wholesomeness; he’s made a controlled style out of the random and the careless. He rings totally unexpected bells. Dianne complains to Bob, “You won’t fuck me, and I always have to drive.” Drugstore Cowboy keeps you laughing because it’s so nonjudgmental. Van Sant is half in and half out of the desire of adolescents to remain kids forever.

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