15 January 2008

The Delusion That Your Enemies Are Organised

The first and last Goosevanson (Gus Van Sant) film I saw was Elephant and it wasn't my favourite film ever. I only went along because Monsieur E (who loves Goosevanson, whose name he pronounces as I now spell it) and S were going and generally, I like going to the cinema so much that I'll watch pretty much anything if there's an outing on the cards. I disliked it a) because I'm keen on unravelling plots and character development, rather than long, slow-mo, arty camera work and b) because I was so stubbornly determined to resist Monsieur E's attempts to introduce me to culcha (previous attempts included playing Rach and [composer]'s [#] loudly and often throughout the second year, and taking me to see The Magic Flute at the Royal Opera House during which I fell asleep and then developed a migraine thanks to the oppressive atmosphere). I guess I disagreed with Monsieur E a lot back then - often just for the sake of, for the sake of winning an argument - so I was determined to dislike Elephant and dislike it I did.

However, I am older and more open to cultural enrichment of all varieties now, if not wiser or more knowledgeable about arty films. Paranoid Park did have more of a plot and more satisfying character development, even if about a third of the film consisted of moody shots of the sad, puppy-dog, brown eyes of the main character Alex (both PP and Elephant have a main character named Alex and are about the youf of today; that's about it though), and another third of slow-mo shots of skateboarders, floating through the air like birds, twisting and turning and doing their skating thing. In the air they are free, they are dancing, they are flying... Whatever. As I said, I have little patience for arty shots that add little to my overall experience of the film.

So, Alex is one sad skater kid, and a very thoughtful too - how clever of Goosevanson to create such an non-stereotypical character like that! Within about the first minute or two of the film (excluding the credits shot of traffic moving quickly over a bridge in Portland; the city is restless and cannot be at peace; etc.), we realise that this is going to be of the achronological plot genre of films. In fact, Alex even comments on this as he is writing in a notebook (not a Moleskine, I think, but looked a bit like) while voice-overing his thoughts to us throughout the film. He says something like, "I don't really know anything about writing and this is kind of in the wrong order." Obviously, his high school English teacher didn't teach him much about the now clichéd power of the achronological plot as a narrative device, although it was Aristotle rather than Hollywood who is (or should be) credited with this technique.

I quite like films that aren't show sequentially, actually, Mulholland Drive being one of my all-time favourites. I like flashbacks. I like it when a casual, throwaway remark takes on a whole new significance when you see it the second time around with your additional knowledge. Monsieur E would kill me for contaminating a Goosevanson post with Dawson's Creek but one of my favourite episodes is The Longest Day when everyone finds out about Joey and Pacey's secret relationship and all hell breaks loose - four times, for we get to see the whole day from the points of view of all of the main characters. Joey goes to visit Dawson, finds him watching The Last Picture Show and remarks it was the film they saw on their first date. Yes, he says, he's just reliving better days. She thinks he's missing her but is probably paranoid and also guilty that she's been hooking up with his best friend Pacey for months now. Dawson meanwhile rehashes the plot: two best friends, one of them goes out with this girl (who is a bitch), then dumps him and moves on to the other guy, and everyone ends up alone and unhappy. Of course, when we switch to Dawson's POV, we find out he already knew about Joey and Pacey at this stage, which was why he was really watching that particular film. Très poignant, especially when the whole "when will Dawson find out?" part had been building up for months.

I digress. The achronology works quite well for PP, I think; it's a lot more fluid and less formally structured than DC, which makes sense because the film is essentially the reflections of the sad skater kid about a terrible accident in which he becomes involved and which changes everything. And of course, whenever some big, all-encompassing event takes place, that is how your mind works - a stream of unordered, unorganised thoughts flow out unsystematically. You add another remembered dialogue here, and another minor development there and when you get the whole thing down on paper, it is in the order of importance to you and relevance rather than in chronological order. I don't think I am like that: I tend to remember stuff sequentially, in the order it happens, although my memory is not perfect.

And so it goes: the film slowly unravels this big event in Alex's life but also all the reasons that caused him to be unhappy that predate the accident: the messed up family life, the girlfriend about whom he is pretty ambivalent, his lack of confidence about his abilities in the thing that he seems to enjoy the most (skating) and so I'm not sure it is fair to say, as the IMDb summary says, that the accident causes his life to begin to fray, so much as it only exacerbates the underlying issues he had.

Alex's hair annoyed me most - in fact, I think all of the skater kids in the school had long hair, showing their conformity even though they didn't consider themselves to be part of a "skateboard community." Still, I guess the long, floppy hair did detract a little from those long shots of the big, brown eyes.

The music, meanwhile, was excellent; from Beethoven (9) to Cool Nutz (whom I assume were the punk rock band playing while Alex drives about in his mom's car; rude boy) to Elliott Smith, which is a sweet song and very fitting. I particularly liked the way that although the mood of the whole film was overwhelmingly sober, there were a couple of comic interludes that were created entirely through the means of an incongruously funny piece of music while Alex moodily skates (is it possibly to cheerfully skate?) through some falling leaves, emo-nising over what he has done and what he can do. This is done without changing anything visually and I thought it worked quite well.

Finally, the themes of confession and absolution rang through the whole film. Alex's rambling, disorganised, repetitive attempts to write down everything that has happened - to make more sense of things for himself and to try to purge the events from his soul by externalising them on the paper; indeed the (related) penultimate image of the film is very powerful indeed (the last shot being of the flying skater dudes, again).

One of the characters wisely says that if you are bottling something up inside, you should write a letter about it to someone you care it; whether or not you send the letter matters very little but it is the very process of writing it down, ordering it (badly, here), processing it and dealing with it, as Briony tries to do in Atonement. I find that writing down my thoughts and feelings on important events or issues generally does help, although I find that I tend to get way too self-analytical and consciously critical when I do this, rather than just letting my id run riot.

Paranoid Park did provide me just about enough in the way of plot and although the ending of the film was somewhat anti-climactic, one could argue that the ending of the story was earlier on in the film and more important. Definitely one to ponder on for a while. Bloody demanding arty directors; can't they just tell us what flippin' happens? Still, Monsieur E will be very impressed I have seen the film.

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