GUS VAN SANT: LAST WORDS ON “LAST DAYS”

Let’s talk about Michael Pitt (Blake) and how he came onboard the film? ^ I met Mike around 1997. Even though he was a little older, he resembled the younger boy I had been thinking about in one version of Last Days. So then I began thinking that he should play this character. We talked about it for 6 years (97-03) and we were both like “Let’s just go do it, let’s work on it.” The screenplay then started to become more than just a list.

How did you develop the peripheral characters that inhabit Blake’s house? ^ Having lived in a big house where people lived collectively: what are people doing at different times. Like so-and so is avoiding this person, someone is taking photos, someone else is playing music etc.

The story of the fake Chinese musician is hypnotic. Did Ricky Jay introduce that? ^ Yes. During our first meeting I explained there would be times he could just go off and improvise. Ricky Jay is a collector of esoterica and anomalies (he published “Jay’s Journal of Anomalies”- like a circa 1800s newsletter type paper) Ricky chose that story about Chung Ling Su because he thought it resonated with Blake’s story.

How did Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore become involved as music consultant? ^ I needed to have somebody that knew the music scene. I met him at a few NYC gatherings and asked him to be a musical advisor on the film. For any and all questions on music, bands equipment and so on. I went over with him and brought Mike (Pitt) who brought his guitar and I remember he played a song.

Can you talk about the visits from a Yellow Page salesman and Mormon twins? Very funny. ^ It was drawn from my own experience. When I originally started writing “Last Days,” I was living in a house that I use to have that resembled the ‘house’ I was writing about. People would knock on the door of that house, selling stuff; you had these sorts of invasions from the outside world, the door, the phone.

When you were looking for Blake’s house- what did it need to symbolize? ^ That it was big and not in perfect shape- being the visual and metaphorical element of Blake’s life decomposing or fraying at the edges. WE tried to find a locale in the Northwest because that’s where we were based. We had made a different attempt to shoot “Last Days,” back when we were based in NY during the editing of “Gerry.” We scouted the NY area and the first day we found Castle Rock, which is also known as the Osborn Castle in Garrison, NY. And after looking here in the Northwest for a year, I just decided to head to Garrison because that’s where THE house is. We were a small group so we relocated.

Were there any favorite or affecting films that influenced “Last Days”? ^ One of the influences on all three films is Bela Tarr’s “Satantango.” Another is Chantal Akerman’s film “Jeanne Dielman” from 1975.

The music is key but not as much as one might expect? But there is a great Velvet Underground song that plays a huge significance. ^ Aside from using the band in the club I wasn’t going to throw a lot of music into the film as far as songs go. In my screenplay there was always this place where I had some of the characters playing music on a record player in the living room. They come home from wherever and put on a record. You were going to hear the WHOLE song as opposed to hearing just part of it.

There was only going to be one song, so it was kind of important. I started thinking in terms of the annals of early punk rock, and what could be playing. One of my favorite songs is “Venus in Furs.” It’s sort of the “I wanna hold your hand” of punk rock.

At the film’s end we remain unsure exactly how Blake dies. Can you comment on that significant choice, to leave the matter open? ^ When he (Blake) was looking up, it is sort of his revelation, whatever it may be. You see it from the tabloid point of view, just from the hillside and you’re not really part of it.

Finally, as used brilliantly in “Last Days,” there is “time-looping” device that also drives “Gerry” and “Elephant.” ^ Well, “Elephant” is one that has the most extensive and successful circling of time, because of those characters being so separate. We were attempting that same thing in “Last Days” but then we realized that Mike’s character, Blake, was so dominant that it was hard to go-off with other characters for really long periods of time.

It’s similar to that ‘meanwhile, back at the ranch’ kind of parallel film editing which shows two or three stories simultaneously. You show 5 minutes of one side of the story and then cut over and show 5 minutes of the other side of the story.




Posted on August 18, 2005 in Interviews by
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