Gus Van Sant

On Cobain and Last Days.

Gus Van Sant is uncharacteristically chatty on the eve of the gala SIFF-closing screening of Last Days (see review). He's attempting to explain the bizarre evolution of the film, in which Kurt Cobain becomes a character named Blake. "It's like sort of a poetic reference to Kurt," he says, "evoking a mood about the last days." Not that the film doesn't have vérité moments. "He apparently did like to put on Courtney's dresses . . . hunt around the house with a gun wearing that Elmer Fudd hat and trying to shoot 'wabbits, pesky wabbits.' And he did make macaroni and cheese with extra milk." Another thing Cobain may have done in the last months before his 1994 suicide was consider starring in a Gus Van Sant film. Cobain had lobbied Van Sant to get a friend a job on Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and Kurt and Courtney had rallied their rich friends to help Van Sant fight Oregon's terrifying 1992 gay-pogrom campaign, Proposition 9, so Van Sant felt comfortable pitching him. "I offered him a role that winter in a project called Binky, about a guy who's a well-known photographer—but I was gonna make him a musician—who sorta drops out and he ends up living on the streets of Portland. And then he's also simultaneously looking for, like, a son he'd had when he was younger and has lost touch with. He sorta goes mad and wanders away from what he's doing, and at the time he's a mathematician, like a John Nash [A Beautiful Mind] kind of character. [Kurt] was supposed to get back to me, but then he died right then. Courtney said he read it, but I just don't know." A year later, Van Sant tried to make a movie about Cobain/Blake, starring a 14-year-old boy, Holger Thaarup of Thomas Vinterberg's The Boy Who Walked Backward. "I wanted the character to be this kid who was more like a cipher [that] did what maybe Blake would do but wasn't like a literal representation. I was taking my cue from Hail Mary, where the little girl is Jesus but she's just a 6-year-old girl." Since the Danish Thaarup didn't speak English, Van Sant wound up with young Michael Pitt—who by the time the film was made had grown up into a movie star moonlighting as a minor rock star. Van Sant hired him partly because he did not resemble Cobain. "My intention was for him to look like Michael Pitt in The Dreamers"—short brown hair, big lips, New Jersey accent. But Pitt talked Van Sant into letting him wear echt- Cobain coiffure and couture. You can hear Cobain's influence in the neo-grunge Pitt performs in the film's minimal musical sequences, but Pitt didn't change his tune for the role. "It's Mike's music," says Van Sant.

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