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Paranoid Park
cast: Gabe Nevins, Taylor Mornsen, Jake Miller, and Dan Liu

director: Gus Van Sant

81 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
Gus Van Sant (born 1952) began his directing career with a very low-budget indie, Mala noche in 1984. Since then, he's moved back and forth between true independents, the kind of indie better described as off-Hollywood, and mainstream Hollywood itself. There have been ups and downs: high points include To Die For, the Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting and the Cannes winner Elephant. On the other hand there was an almost shot-by-shot remake of Psycho - widely excoriated but I found it more of an interesting failure. In more recent years, he's moved back into the indie world, adopting a long-take style influenced by the Hungarian director Béla Tarr, of which Paranoid Park is the latest example. However, his new film Milk, to be released in November 2008, the story of the assassinated gay San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, already has Oscar talk attached to it.

Elephant dealt with a Columbine-style high school massacre. Paranoid Park is something of a companion piece. Alex (Gabe Nevins) is questioned by police about the death of a security guard, run over by a train, but previously hit by a skateboard. Alex writes down his account - not in chronological order, but as it comes to him as he was (so his voiceover says) not good at creative writing. That rather sums up the film's overtly arty approach. Although Van Sant tries to evoke his local teen skater culture - including grainy Super 8 insert footage - there's an arm's length feel to this film. You can't help but feel that this is aimed more at Van Sant's usual audience than the kids his film is about. (Van Sant recruited the cast via MySpace.) You don't have the queasiness you sometimes have with Larry Clark's films - a director in late middle age getting down with the kids - but somehow there's something missing here. Even scenes with Alex negotiating his divorcing parents and his encounters with girls seem less than immediate. The result certainly looks good (Christopher Doyle was the DoP) but rings a little hollow.

As with Elephant and Last Days, Van Sant intends the film to be shown in the old - and now rarely used outside art houses - academy ratio (1.37:1). However, knowing that few cinemas can show that ratio, Van Sant and Doyle 'protected' their compositions from cropping up to 1.85:1. That is the ratio (anamorphically enhanced) this DVD is in. You'd think that Tartan, whose catalogue is dedicated to the visions of directors, would have respected Van Sant's intentions. That said, nothing vital is missing and only a few shots look awkwardly cropped. The intricately mixed soundtrack is available in Dolby digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 or Dolby digital 2.0 (analogue Dolby surround). Unfortunately there are no subtitles available, so the hard-of-hearing lose out.

DVD extras: trailer, a 26-minute making-of featurette, and footage of the London 'secret cinema' launch.
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