May 8, 2014
Undoubtedly, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was one of the last people that should have been rich and famous, let alone a hero and icon for an entire generation. I say this not in a cheap and pathetic attempt to belittle Cobain’s output as a musician, but in regard to his character and behavior as a tragic individual who failed his entire life, only to destroy everything he had, namely his own life, when he achieved something that most people can only dream of. Indeed, as a man who came from a broken home that ruined his outlook on life at a young age, suffered debilitating mental illness (he was apparently diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder as an adult), once wrote a song entitled “I Hate Myself And Want To Die,” and had such a warped mind that he once stated, “I am not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes,” Cobain was essentially a raving vagrant who became rich and famous and, somewhat unwittingly (when it comes down to it, it was the record company executives and MTV scumbags that peddled his degeneracy), poisoned countless minds, ultimately inspiring an entire generation to get into hard drugs and fetishize suicide. The fact he killed himself (or at least died young) seemed inevitable and in Gus Van Sant’s experimental arthouse flick Gus Van Sant’s Last Days aka Last Days (2005), one sees a perturbing portrayal of the metaphysical torture and all-consuming loneliness Cobain was suffering from leading up to the days before he decided to end it all and blow his brains out. The third and final film in Van Sant’s experimental “Death Trilogy” (following Gerry (2002) and Elephant (2003)), the film was a decade in the making and was originally intended as a ‘straight’ biopic, but Cobain’s control-freak widow Courtney Love—a whacked out woman that is hated by legions of Nirvana fans for obvious reasons—put a stop to that. Probably the most anti-romantic yet strangely poetic depiction of a rock star ever made, Last Days essentially follows the emotional wreck of a rocker as he moves around quite uncoordinatedly like a wounded animal about to take its last gasp. Starring pretty boy Michael Pitt (Funny Games, Boardwalk Empire) in the lead role (this must have been Pitt’s dream as his self-professed favorite film is Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1991)), Last Days is a decided ‘downer’ (which is incidentally the name of one of Nirvana’s more punk tunes) as a movie that viewers typically either love or love to hate. Personally, as a minor Gus Van Sant and Michael Pitt fan, I was quite disappointed with the film when I first saw it, as I was expecting it to at least top Elephant in its visceral approach to the moments leading up to the subject's death, but of course, this film does not feature a climatic school massacre scene. After rewatching Elephant recently, I decided it was about time to give Last Days a second chance after having almost a decade for the film to digest in my mind. A transcendental realist nightmare that takes the viewer on a experience that, try as they might, will not be shaken from their mind anytime soon, Last Days is penetrating psychodrama of the voyeuristic sort where it seems as if Pitt’s body has been corrupted by Cobain’s half-dead soul. Tripping and falling down small hills, sitting on the ground in a fetal position while wearing a dress, and pissing in a river in a rather slobbish manner, the ‘Kurt Cobain’ (the writer/director opted for naming the character ‘Blake’ instead of Kurt) of Van Sant's film is a metaphysically dead soul barely grasping on to life, but he has just enough life in himself left so that he can end said life and rid himself of the parasites that have feasted on his fame and the debilitating drug addiction that has devoured his purity and very being. Like John Cassavetes meets Béla Tarr (like with Elephant, Van Sant cited Sátántangó (1994) as having a huge influence on the film) as channeled through the 1990s grunge scene, Last Days is undoubtedly the most melancholy and foreboding yet strangely detached suicide-themed film since Fassbinder’s In a Year with 13 Moons (1978). Of course, Cobain makes for a less interesting subject than that of a butcher turned tranny who cut off his cock to impress a psychopathic holocaust survivor.
Morbidly depressed rock star Blake (Michael Pitt) is so mentally out of it that he trudges through the woods as if he is about to drop dead at any moment. When he reaches a river, Blake decides to strip off all of his clothes aside from his underwear and proceeds to piss in the water in an awkward manner as if he is some redneck lowlife who has had one too many cans of cheap beer. That night, Blake somehow manages to figure out how to get a bonfire going and sits by the fire all by his lonesome, as if involved in some sort of private ritual. The next day, Blake walks back to his home and mumbles to himself such nonsensical things as, “Cause I’m afraid…You can’t do anything. You can’t do anything. I can’t. I don’t know what I’m—God, it’s just—I don’t know. Just a—I Just,” as a man that is truly and literally at a loss for words. Various people are looking for Blake and his friend Donovan (played by Ryan Orion in a role modeled after Cobain’s real-life friend Dylan Carlson, who lent the Nirvana singer the shotgun he would kill himself with) has even hired a fat and goofy private investigator (played by Ricky Jay in a role based on real-life PI Tom Grant, who believes Cobain was murdered) to help find him. Meanwhile, a group of parasites led by a fellow named Scott (played by Scott Patrick Green in a role based on Cobain’s drug dealer/Courtney Love’s ex-boyfriend Michael 'Cali' Dewitt who some suspect killed the rock star) occupy Cobain’s house and attempt to prevent anyone from seeing him, including Donovan and the PI. At one point, Blake enters the room where Scott and his compatriots are sleeping and puts his shotgun to their heads in a somewhat joking manner, as if he would love to rid them from his life but lacks the testicular fortitude to do so. Somewhat strangely, Blake finds the shotgun after finding a note in his fridge reading, “The gun is in the bedroom closet” as if someone is attempting to bait him into killing himself. When an overweight negro salesman from Yellow Pages named Thaddeus Thomas (played by a real Yellow Pages salesman playing himself) knock’s on Blake’s door, the Rocker lets him in and entertains his sales pitch. Apparently, Blake posted an ad in the Yellow Pages the year before for a locomotive parts company (?) and Thaddeus convinces him to renew the advertisement. While speaking in a rather contrived salesman-like manner, Thaddeus senses there is something wrong with the strange and seemingly stoned dress-wearing white man that he is talking to and even asks him if he is OK. After Thaddeus leaves, he remembers he forgot some books and goes back in Blake’s house, only to find the Rocker passed out, so he tiptoes around his body as if in fear for his life. When two Mormon recruiters (twin brothers who are both named Elder Friberg) drop by the house, Scott listens to their religious spiel and mocks their claim that they talk to god. When one of Blake’s friends, Asia (played by Italian actress/auteur Asia Argento in a role modeled after Cali Dewitt’s then-girlfriend Jessica Hopper), finds him passed out on the floor after getting in a weird trance while listening to R&B group Boyz II Men (the sort of negrophile garbage that would replace Nirvana/Grunge in popularity after Cobain committed suicide), she merely moves him aside as if he is a piece of furniture. When Scott and his friends temporarily leave the house and see Donovan and the PI driving up to the home, they yell obscenities at them like “fucking asshole” and “dickhead Don.” When Blake hears Donovan calling his name, he runs away into the surrounding woods as if scared for his life. Indeed, Blake does not want to be found.
In what is easily the most trance-like and meditative scenario of Last Days, Blake goes back home and has a one-man band jam session in an exceedingly long dolly shot scene where the camera moves away from the outside window of the room. When a rock executive (played by Kim Gordon of the band Sonic Youth in a role modeled after Cobain's Jewish manager Danny Goldberg) comes by the home, she berates Blake and sarcastically asks him if he has told his baby daughter that, “I’m sorry that I’m a…rock and roll cliché?,” adding, “If you stay here you’re just gonna…” as if she knows that the Rocker is about to drop dead. Later that night, Blake plays with kittens while Scott and his crew listen to the Velvet Underground song “Venus in Furs.” When one of his parasitic friends, Luke (Lukas Haas in a role modeled after Dewitt’s friend Rene Navarette), attempts to ask for Blake’s advice regarding a song he is writing, Scott gets pissed and says, “Leave him the fuck alone and come upstairs with me, all right?” and the two proceed to go upstairs and have gay sex while the grunge rocker plays some songs on acoustic guitar. Not long after mumbling to himself, “Everyone is treating me like a criminal,” Blake is approached by Scott, who complains about how he needs money for a plane ticket and a heater and instead of asking his friend to borrow some money, he merely takes it out of the Musician's pocket without asking, thus signifying the innately abusively and parasitic nature of their relationship. From there, Blake leaves the home and goes to an underground punk show where he bumps into an ostensible friend (played by Gus Van Sant’s filmmaker friend Harmony Korine), who tells a story about how he played Dungeons & Dragons with members of the Grateful Dead and how great Jerry Garcia is at playing a ‘Dungeon Master.’ Korine attempts to offer Blake a hit of acid, but the Rocker merely walks away without saying a single word. The next day, a ‘Tree Trimmer’ (Chip Marks) finds Blake’s corpse lying in a greenhouse. Magically, Blake’s buck naked spirit leaves his body and assumedly enters ‘Nirvana.’ Of course, after learning of Blake's demise, Scott and his crew decide to make a quick getaway to LA so they are not implicated in their friend's dubious death.
Undoubtedly, one of the more interesting aspects of Last Days is that Cobain’s death is neither depicted nor explained (aside from a scene where he assumedly writes a suicide letter), thus leaving it to open interpretation for the viewer, which is interesting considering the fact that many people, especially his fans, believe that he did not commit suicide but that he was actually murdered. Notably, Cobain’s Widow Courtney Love, who director Gus Van Sant developed a friendship with a number of years before the film was made (after making various attempts to get a Cobain biopic made), is not depicted in the work. It should also be noted that Love’s own father, Hank Harrison, who has written two books on Cobain’s death, believes that his daughter might have been involved in a conspiracy to kill the Nirvana singer and even says such in British documentarian Nick Broomfield’s controversial work Kurt & Courtney (1998). Additionally, musician ‘El Duce’ (the drummer and lead singer of the self-described ‘rape rock’ band The Mentors) made the claim that Love offered him money to kill Cobain and in Broomfield’s doc he even mentions that he knew who killed the Grunge King, but that he would “let the FBI catch him.” Two days after conducting the interview, El Duce died in an exceedingly dubious manner after being hit by a train in the middle of the night. While Van Sant’s Last Days does not exactly accuse anyone of Cobain’s death, it certainly points the finger at psychopathic drug addict fiends that were feeding off his soul. Luckily, Last Days does not attempt to make Cobain seem like a hero/martyr, but instead portrays him as a pitiable individual who was in over his head and had virtually no one to reach out to. While not exactly a masterpiece, Last Days is probably the closest a film will ever come to paying any sort of ‘objective tribute’ to Cobain’s death, even as a largely fictional work, as Van Sant did not seem to have much of a real agenda with the film aside from attempting to get inside the grunge musician’s mind during his ‘last days’ and inserting one of his random signature gay sex scenes. As Van Sant stated in an interview with Film Threat in response to the fact that the viewer is unsure as to how Blake actually dies, “You see it from the tabloid point of view, just from the hillside and you’re not really part of it.” A film about a man who was arguably the worst role model in human history (at least, the worst white one) and who, against his own will, acted as “the spokesman of a generation” and was ultimately even more exploited after his death than when he was actually alive (I remember distinctly seeing a store selling ‘Kurt Cobain Death Certificate’ t-shirts immediately after he died), Last Days is probably the only mainstream depiction of Kurt Cobain that the Nirvana frontman himself would have appreciated (after all, he was a huge fan of My Own Private Idaho) and for that reason alone makes the film worth seeing. Of course, if you're considering blowing your brains out, Last Days is probably the last film you should see.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:37 PM
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