The career of Gus Van Sant can be placed into three distinct eras. The first is the Independent or Pre-History Era. It consists of such fiercely independent films as the gayley guttural Mala Noche, the neo-beat cinema of Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho and the hugely flawed but valiant effort of Even Cowgirls get the Blues, and Van Sant represented himself, purposefully or not, as the Cassavetes of the New Queer Cinema. The second era was bridged by the independently made-cum-Nicole Kidman rising star vehicle To Die For and can be called the Hollywood or Sell-Out Era. These are the years of the independantly born but Hollywood adopted Good Will Hunting, the gun-for-hire Finding Forrester, the engaging yet ill-conceived and utterly unneeded take-for-take remake of Psycho and a certain golden guy who goes by the name of Oscar which was bestowed upon, if not Van Sant himself, at least one of his movies. This era ended with Van Sant parodying himself in Kevin Smith's Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back and the infamous introduction to the films of Hungarian master Béla Tarr.
That brings us to the current era, the Post-Tarr Era if you will. An era of stripped-bare aesthetics and cinematic experimentation within his films. This is the era of Gerry, Elephant, Last Days and now Paranoid Park. The first three are part of Van Sant's "death trilogy", but just as one could easily addend Antonioni's Red Desert into his loosely-built trilogy that preceded it, one can say that Paranoid Park can too become the fourth member of Van Sant's "death trilogy". All four films taking a kind of post-millennial neo-realism approach to style and all concerning the death of supposed innocents, whether at the hands of nature, society, accident or their own hands, Van Sant has rebirthed his own dying cinema by seeming to go back to the most basic of styles, yet also delving far beyond anything he had attempted before.
Paranoid Park, probably the weakest of the four (they get progressively weaker as they go on, which may be connected to a loss of interest or boredom of style, as Van Sant will embark on a new era of filmmaking with the upcoming Harvey Milk biopic with Sean Penn) and not really showing much that was not already shown in the previous three - a meandering almost non-chalant yet viciously abrasive camera, experiments with sound and texture, a playful mode of visuality, (with notable exceptions) non-professional actors appearing almost as ghostly Greek statues come to half-life - is still a wonder to behold, if for nothing else, a visual capsulation of the whole trilogy. Not entirely unlike Godard's Moments choisis des histoire(s) du cinéma in summing up his monumental Histoire(s) du cinéma video project before moving on to another chapter, perhaps Paranoid Park is Van Sant's own goodbye to an era. [03/13/08]