Paranoid Park

Paranoid Park (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Gus Van Sant
viewed: 03/18/08 at the Bridge Theater, SF, CA

I hadn’t made it to the Bridge Theater on Geary in years.  Literally.  I don’t think I’ve been there since I started this film diary, which is 6 years at least.  I think that maybe the last film I saw here was John Waters’ Cecil B. DeMented (2000).  I really like the few single screen theaters that still exist in San Francisco and would support them more if I was in better proximity to them.  Sadly, the best ones are on the other side of town (besides the Castro), and so I don’t make it out there often enough.  However, Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park did manage to get me there.  And I am very glad I went.

Van Sant is currently filming (or has just finished principle shooting) of his upcoming film, Milk (2008), and with the reviews of this film, I managed to rent Elephant (2002), part of what is coming to be known as his “death trilogy”, with Last Days (2005), which I have yet to see.  As I mentioned when I watched Elephant, my feelings about Van Sant are mixed, as is his catalogue of films, varying from interesting and entertaining to god-awful, from indie to mainstream and back again.  I found Elephant intriguing, moving, poetic.  Paranoid Park is a less polemic subject matter (not referencing the Columbine High School Massacre as in Elephant or the suicide of Kurt Cobain as in Last Days), Paranoid Park has less hanging over it in terms of cultural baggage.

It’s a loose, choppy narrative, rolling back and forth in time and place, as put down by the protagonist, Alex, a high school skateboarder in Portland, Oregon, who finds himself thrust through the “coming of age”, the loss of innocence and tries to understand where he lands, in identity and morality.  Beautifully photographed by the legendary Christopher Doyle, Portland is painted in shadows and light, fluctuating constantly, flickering on faces, film stock, and movement.

The use of the soundtrack is very interesting.  Like the constantly shifting narrative through time and emotion, the photography that trails and follows characters through movement and relocations, the music moves in trippy differences from all types of genres and tones, some longer lingering modern trippy music, with some soundtrack lifts from dramatic films, hardcore punk, country, all sorts of variations in tone and mood, reflecting the “paranoia” and the shifting consciousness of Alex.

Alex is played by , a non-professional actor, which has been part of Van Sant’s aesthetic in this series of films.  His non-actor status, as with a couple other primary figures in the film, are pretty obvious at times.  Again, even his weaknesses in acting are part of the film’s aesthetic.  He has a pretty face, like he could have been one of the “Hanson” brothers, shaggy hair and a sweet nature. He is drawn to an “underground” skate park (actually under a freeway overpass or bridge) where the hardcore skatefolk reside, ride, skate the hills and valleys, and just “hang out”.  He states in repetition that he doesn’t know if he is ready for this place, “paranoid park” as it is known among the youth.  His friend tells him, again in repetition, that “no one is ever ready for paranoid park”.  While this is the aspect of “coming of age” in which a youth explores the night alleys and meets new people, it turns out to be an initiation into a series of very adult situations.

There is a killing of a security guard, very gory, very significant, and yet totally accidental.  There is a mystery around this death, one which unfolds with the telling of the story.  Alex also loses his “innocence” with a girl, though his innocence, or virginity is not as explici