..better to burn out than to fade away

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I've lost something on my way to wherever I am today - Blake, Last Days.

Let me get one thing straight. Most people will likely watch this film thinking, 'Oh, its about Kurt Cobain. I like Nirvana, so I'll like this movie' without bothering to find out what makes this film so significant. If you're looking for a Kurt Cobain biopic, look somewhere else. Avoid this film if you don't have the patience to follow a nearly catatonic case study for 97 minutes, just to realize something that you already know. Remember, u have been warned.

Last Days is a film by director Gus Van Sant, and is a fictionalized account of the last days of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. The film stars Michael Pitt as the character Blake, based on Kurt Cobain. Kim Gordon (from supergroup Sonic Youth) Lukas Haas, and Asia Argento also star in the film. Author and friend of Van Sant's, Harmony Korine, appears in a brief club scene as well, playing a character similar to one in the movie, Kids.

Last Days is the third, and supposedly final installment, in what Van Sant has frequently called his "Death Trilogy" which began with Gerry and continued with Elephant. The most obvious similar trait in this trilogy of unrelated plots is that the dialogue and narration are minimal, and not linearly connected. The technique is especially similar to Elephant, where scenes are revisited from new angles, starting at differing points in time, without a signal that the clock was turned back at some point. What's obvious is that they share the theme of extreme isolation (in Gerry it is physical, in Elephant it is social, and in Last Days it is mental). (wikepedia.org)

I've been a fan of Gus Vant Sant's work since I saw My Own Private Idaho in 1991. Although much later he would become the director of 'mainstream' movies such as To Die For, Good Will Hunting, Psycho remake and Finding Forrester, I prefer his more personal, crafty movies such as Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, Gerry, Elephant and of course (my favourite) My Own Private Idaho. Being familiar with his work, by his standard Last Days is his masterpiece. You can clearly see a progression from Gerry (a good film) to Elephant (a very good film) to (a career pinnacle) much the way as Kurosawa used Kagemusha as a tune up for Ran. Last Days is done in proper Van Sant form and defines Cobain and grunge perfectly. Maybe all that inner anger takes its toll more deeply than before imagined, and its effect will be felt in multiple ways reflected in youth defined that way. I admire Van Sant for making movies he wants to make. Even his great successes had little regard for what the public may want. For this alone, true admirers should stick with him and, at the least, try to understand his motives.

Despite being very slow, Last Days was at times very funny and it was certainly a wonderful alternative to the cliche world of Rock and Roll biopic. Van Sant doesn't for one second try to explain or over-indulge the audience with a sorrowful tale of one man's inability to cope with this fame. This is refreshing to me. Van Sant doesn't give us a cookie-cutter mold of what a film about a popular icon is supposed to be, so I was not sure what to expect, which helped me enjoy this film. Many are put off by the mumbling and incoherent ranting of the lead character Blake played by Michael Pitt, (..it was about 20 minutes into the movie that we hear the first clear dialogue!) but I found them to be funny, especially in the scene where he's attempting to communicate with a Yellow Pages salesman (played by a real YP salesman) who has him confused with a business owner. This is not a biopic, nor was it ever intended to be one. If anything, Van Sant is simply guessing what he believe what must have been like for the last day(s) of a man who has decided to kill himself. Visually the film was stunning. The photography is well done in the sense that it adequately compensates for lack of dialogue. Isolation and despondency are made clear by the vistas, fields, verdant greenery, and one man being out there alone. Van Sant seems to be an expert at using the silence between people in order to emphasise natural noises, which gave me a nice sense of calm in watching the film, which is another reason why the movie was easy to watch. It was never hurried, and its shooting perfectly matched the script's and character's pacing. Shot with simple long takes, incongruous sound, and minimal dialog, the film is a self-conscious exploration of cinematic form.

The story, in case you're unfamiliar with Cobain's life , follows a young musician who, after having recently escaped a stint in rehab, spends his last days wondering his palatial estate, cooking macaroni and cheese, avoiding his hanger-on 'friends', and composing lonely, morose songs that cling to your memory long after the movie has ended. It's in these scenes that Michael Pitt, a singer himself, proves that he was the only and I mean ONLY choice for the role. Often under-appreciated (in The Dreamers and Hedwig & the Angry Inch) or overshadowed (particularly by Ryan Gosling's tour-de-force performance in Murder by Numbers), Pitt's finally allowed to shoulder a feature film and proves himself worthy of comparisons to James Dean and River Phoenix. If you're skeptical of that statement, just watch the way Pitt is able to convey so much through body posturing alone. His eyes obscured behind his greasy, golden locks for much of the film (with the exception of one particular scene where he's allowed to stare into the camera for seemingly an eternity), and his dialogue reduced to little more than incoherent mumbling, he still somehow manages to let us into the soul of the character. He's on screen for almost the entirety of the film and rarely shares a scene with any of his co-stars, but despite all these obstacles is still able to flesh out one of the best performances of the year.

My favourite scene in the movie is when Van Sant uses Boyz II Men video, 'On Bended Knee' to emphasize one's realization at the end of all hope. The lyrics in this song are of a man who wants to "go back to the way that things used to be." And he is begging and praying for that possibility. Through Van Sant's artistic license, the video suggests that he realized he was in trouble and wanted to return from the brink of destruction to a former good place, but had no one to help. Therefore, he continued composing his suicide note. Apparently, the Hollywood machine consumed him, feet first. Nevertheless, the thought of Cobain breaking down to a syrupy Boyz II Men song certainly doesn't cross my mind. But the scene work brilliantly.

Gus Vant Sant's Last Days is an interesting case study of one of rocks great personalities and innovators. I'm sure every single one of us who grew up listening to Nirvana and who are affected by their music (just like myself) will definitely want to see this movie, doesn't matter if the reviews were good or bad. Obviously, those expecting to be entertained are not, and those expecting 'insight' at very least will get that. Although, Cobain's greatness is debatable, his legacy will outlast debate, as his music and style defined youth and teenage angst for the 80s-90s. There always has been youthful angst, and there always will be, it's just that Nirvana excelled at defining its generation. In his life, Cobain railed against all that was phony and hyped; by crafting a visual poem resolutely defiant of rock star spectacle, Van Sant honors the late singer as sincerely as he can, by keeping it real.


  1. Zack said...

    Shoot, kau reviu dulu.
    Aku baru nak tgk, baru sampai part hero kita kencing kat creek tu, anak aku dah bising suruh pasang Shrek.

    Tension, tension.

    btw, kau dpt kat mana My Own Pivate Idaho? Huhu, Keanu + River Phoenix...sapa kata aku tak look forward???

  2. Edd Vedder said...

    aku baru aja abis edit post ni. Tiba-tiba dh ada satu komen. Interaktif betul ko zack, hehe.

    My Own Private Idaho, believe it or not aku ada dalam format VHS! hehe.. dah lama siot, klasik tu. Tapi aku ada download recently, but still not finished. Aku confirm takde jual kat Sg Wang.. hehe.

  3. fadz said...

    asia argento is in it? damn!!

  4. Edd Vedder said...

    haha..! aku mcm dah boleh agak itu akan menjadi reaksi utama kau bila baca review ni..

    Yupp.. Asia Argento was in it... most of the time in her underwear. hehe.

  5. Nadia said...

    hmmm..nengokkan goggles mamat ni, teringat kat aku punye dulu...;-)

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