I was there when Kurt Cobain died. Well, not there, there, but in Seattle, where I had a front-row seat to his transformation from idol to icon. That affords me absolutely no special insight about him, of course. Which brings us to Gus Van Sant.
His fictionalized account of Cobain’s last days is one long sigh of a film. It is an extended gaze into the unknowable by a man on a mission to nowhere. Michael Pitt as ”Blake” ambles around his sprawling, crumbling estate in baggy sleeves, and scratchy beard, mumbling, rambling and succumbing to himself.
His freeloading houseguests are a pair of slacker musician dudes, and a groupie chick played by Asia Argento who conveys indifference through her refusal to wear underwear. They’re are all so over-the-top annoying and self-involved it becomes joyless parody. Van Sant, in an attempt to create empathy for his barely credible protagonist sets up a whole series of socially repugnant straw men then proceeds to knock them down. Very, very slowly. There’s a Yellow Pages rep bristling with earnestness and door-to-door Latter Day Saint twins whose fish-out-of-water shtick gasps endlessly until it suffocates.
The aesthetic of the film is directly lifted from well-known photos of Cobain and the rock-star persona he wore like a straight jacket. The only logical response to the long, longing gazes of Pitt’s mug would have been joining the director in his masturbatory revelry. Alas, I was in a public place. The nadir comes when Pitt plays a song (he wrote himself!) and any illusion we have of a rock god is shattered by the atonal din.
Back in April of 1994, I spoke to one local who recounted his conversation with a reporter desperate for juicy tidbits about Cobain. “He had dandruff,” was his reply. Sadly, that’s more insightful than anything Van Sant has to say.
Opens July 22 at Landmark Sunshine