Cinema Signal:

Love & Death:
The Murder of Kurt Cobain

. "Last Days"

Director Gus Van Sant ("Elephant" readily admits that this dour portrait of a musical artist in a state of withdrawal prior to committing suicide, is only a suggestion of what Kurt Cobain's last days might have been like. Following this hugely popular singer's shock to the musical world, few details that might have explained it emerged. This "inspired by" account is mostly drawn from Van Sant's own experiences and insights as a celebrity down home in Seattle. There is nothing here that goes beyond media accounts and the paceless experience is like taking time for a walk with a zombie.

Of course, that's in a carefully rendered depiction of a heroin addict's behavior. Blake, our central character (Michael Pitt), is lethargic, narcoleptic, dreamy and, by turns, creative. He's largely inexpressive and barely seen under his locks of hair and his hooded jacket. In first sighting, he hastens through a wooded area, comes to a river below a waterfall, swims across, and pees. End of scene. Cut.

During a salesman's pitch to renew his a business ad in the yellow pages (from whence this comes is not exactly explained), he nods, he mutters, he zones out, and shakes hands when he must. End of scene. Isolated in meaning. Cut.

But, nothing has no meaning, and the portrait of Blake is one of a person who has had all he wants of intrusions, even those of members of his band or close cirlce of friends (Asia Argento, Lukas Haas, Scott Green), many of whom live in his stone castle with him. Whenever someone who thinks they can come barging into his house, which is the compound of a deecaying estate bordered by a river and a lake (not bad digs), he flees into the woods. Every time, and there are many.

We never see him or anyone else indulge in drugs, but the rambling, semi-focused behaviors indicate it's being taken care of. No need to show it. He does, however, get hungry, and we witness him eating a fumblingly prepared meal of macaroni and cheese.

Mostly, there are no revelations that we can hang onto as a thread of logic for suicide. A battle with inner demons is an easy argument to make, both for the character portrayed here and for Cobain. Suicide is so often accompanied by a blank record of the specific lines of emotional stress that lead to a last desperate act.

Van Sant insists on avoiding anything that could amount to dramatic construction. If his camera dwells on a person sitting and holding a guitar, then you're there, observing a person who looks like nothing is going on. This is the building blocks of realism. This is truer than creating an expressed motivation that might have an engaging quality. Van Sant wants you to take the moments with his people in as ordinary and random a way as you might in life and leave the stream of these moments to build meaning.

Moments of actual meaning revolve around music, and we see Blake putting some rather inventive solo tracks together. This is actually Pitt singing live from his own material ("Death to Birth"). Background music includes Van Sant favorites like "Venus in Furs" (Velvet Underground) and a video of Boyz II Men.

While Van Sant gives time and space for Ricky Jay to improvise on his extensive knowledge of esoterica, he provides little to distinguish Asia Argento as a character beyond her presence as a groupie hanger-on.

Not sure all that renders this film particularly meaningful or worth more than a glance. But Van Sant, apparently, could care less. He'd like us to find some resonance in it, but I, for one, felt little attachment and less harmony beyond the inescapable sadness. I appreciate the boldness of his design and that its appeal is for Vant Sant's arthouse and movie-rebel followers and those of the cinema underground who might not yet have learned to appreciate his artificially purposeful attitude toward making movies. His arty avoidance of moviemaking cliche's is not without the drug culture cliche' of the stoned retreat into oneself.

"Last Days" doesn't even suggest the manner in which the man took his own life but, as said, this isn't meant to suggest anything not already in the Kurt Cobain public domain.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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