Apr 4, 2008

Paranoid Park

Why does one go to see Gus Van Sant's movies nowadays? Beats me. In my case, it was one of those days there was nothing else to see, or I had already seen a bunch of stuff. The last movie of his I saw was Elephant and I hated it. There are certain historical events that defy poetry and Columbine is one of them. I thought it was insulting to try to make something so vulgar and so banal into some kind of artsy elegy enamored of teenage mutants.
But Paranoid Park has Christopher Doyle as the cinematographer, so at least you know you are getting your taco de ojo, your eye taco, your visual delight, for the price of the ticket.
And so it is. This may be the only meditative movie about skateboarders.
The skaters are shot in dreamy slow motion, with some sort of steadicam on a board, and they seem to float. The movie has this dense, gorgeous quality that makes you sit back and let it wash all over you. Every frame is absolutely beautiful. That is the good part. But then there is the obssessive gaze at a beautiful teenage boy whose acting skills are on a par with plywood. Yes, teenagers mope. Yes, their indifference is studied and meant to get a rise out of the Buddha himself, but if the main character has less expression in his face than a bad case of botox, one really could not care less about what happens to him.
Sometimes the kid is shot as if to resemble a Boticelli, or a Caravaggio or one of those super sensual Manierist paintings. And one wonders what is behind the camera's insistent, sexualized gaze. One gets a slightly pervy vibe from all this gazing.
Then there is the strange business of Van Sant using the circusy music of the great Nino Rota (from Juliet of the Spirits and Amarcord) , which really seems quite a dissonance, even if it doesn't altogether fail. I left the theater wanting to buy the soundtrack, which also includes music by Elliott Smith and other cool stuff.
But the movie oscillates between poetry and intrusions of reality that seem to belong to a different genre. For instance, this boy's girlfriend is the prototype of a blonde airhead, a grating, materialistic, self-involved brat you see in movies like Ten Things I hate About You. The one violent scene looks like something out of a zombie movie, with a guy cut in half, his torso still moving. It doesn't gel with the rest.
The music in Paranoid Park is great, as is the cinematography. Just don't expect much of a plot, or any acting. This is the movie equivalent of submerging yourself in an immersion tank.

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