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June 2, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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Mala Noche & Drugstore Cowboy


Good Will Hunting (that soft-ass buddy movie with Mork from Dork in it) might have made his name writ large, but despite that I always said Gus Van Sant is cool. I met him on a 12-inch 4-track single cutting up William S Burroughs, The Elvis Of Letters, in the mid 80s. Cobain cut a track with Burroughs years later, though I don’t think they ever met. Van Sant not only knew Burroughs, he put him in a film. How’s that, looking back now. Hell! The dude is cooler than Cobain.

A few years after hearing that vinyl borrowed from the City Library I jumped at the chance to see the same two paired again in Drugstore Cowboy. I was not disappointed. It was a great road film, tense, gritty and above all, believable. A fact that attested to Gus Van Saint (GVS) being brave enough to take a script from a junkie-written auto-biography. Van Sant had (as later on My Own Private Idaho and Good Will Hunting) permeated his film with the smell, dust, grit and narrative of life lived hard and straight. GVS’s vision and bravery had sculpted a perfect gem.

Gus Van Sant is a cult. Like John Waters and David Lynch he has come in from the cold. In from the cold maybe but not softened or declawed. Unafraid to show tight relationships between guys with different needs and angles. His films love men. You come out feeling you have been touching and touched by the characters.

I didn’t get a chance to see his earlier indie Mala Noche until the World Cinema Showcase at the Paramount last year. This legendary Black and White 16mm small budget debut movie is beautiful. You get so near to these guys. Close up. Characters you can believe. A working man’s film with real people that suck you into their story and drag you along. On the surface a simple romance between a liquor store clerk and a disinterested Mexican street kid but something more profound is happening in the way things are seen here.

Maybe in some ways what really Van Sant offered was the first sighting of something that was to sweep the world in a few years’ time. A celebration of young adult male Average Joe in the grungy culture of the Pacific North-West. Cobain and co were the beast unfettered and let off the leash. The down and out as superhero. For a while these people rose up and stood steadfastly astride the world. Van Sant had chronicled them on the ground.

See these films projected up from 35mm prints on the big screen, they are good on the TV but Van Sant’s composition and camera angles are so beautiful you owe it to yourself to see them beamed up large. Wellington Film Society down at the Paramount has Mala Noche and Drugstore Cowboy coming up. Monday evenings at 1815 at the Paramount. Discounts for students.

Written and Directed by Gus Van Sant

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