BluRay/DVD Reviews

PARANOID PARK

By • Oct 6th, 2008 •

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Director Gus Van Sant has always been an interesting director in terms of career choices. Indy award winners, Hollywood studio-flicks, a shot-by-shot-remake, and experimental narratives all fall under his resume. He goes from one to another without warning, which is a great freedom for a filmmaker to have. It’s also wonderful for a movie fan, because one never quite knows what to expect.

PARANOID PARK takes place in a Portland High School where detectives are investigating the death of a security guard who was hit by a skateboard. The film follows Alex, a teenage skateboarder who is writing in a journal the events of the past few days. He deals with guilt and anxiety, girlfriend troubles and parental issues. As the story unfolds, we realize this quiet teenager may have had something to do with the grizzly murder scene.

PARANOID PARK falls into the category of GusVan Sant’s experimental narratives. In fact, it can be considered a companion piece to his 2003 film ELEPHANT. Van Sant seems to have always been interested in teenagers. He usually casts lesser known, or first time actors to play the characters. In PARANOID PARK, he actually did the casting through Myspace. It is apparent that the actors lack experience. They often appear stiff and the dialogue awkward. Some of them even glance at the camera! But in an odd way it works in the film’s favor. Somehow it adds to the realism and feels almost like a documentary.

The film is told in a non-linear structure. Most non-linear mysteries use this technique to throw off the audience and keep them guessing, presenting the story like a jigsaw puzzle. PARANOID differs from those. The structure is motivated by the protagonist. It represents how Alex recounts the events, going back and forth through his mind as he comes to terms with them. The story is told exactly how he writes it in his journal. Sometimes the structure is odd, and repetitive, but Alex admits “I’m not that good at creative writing, but I will eventually get the whole story on paper.” He narrates the film through this writing. He speaks the voice-over like a kid in a high school class, called on to read. (This also adds to the awkward realism previously mentioned.)

Christpher Doyle (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE) photographs the movie beautifully. He films every scene with a mesmerizing energy. The lighting, framing, and camera movement all express the feelings Alex himself cannot articulate. The film often cuts to slo-mo Super 8 footage of skateboarders caught in motion (shot by Rain Kathy Li). Hypnotherapists should look into this technique for their work.

Although all of the above goes against the grain of typical Hollywood filmmaking, I’d say the most unconventional part of the film is the use of music and sound design. The images are accompanied by sounds that seem to have no purpose being there. The soundtrack features music that ranges from Elliott Smith to classical, and from hip hop to songs taken out of AMARCORD and JULIETTE OF THE SPRITS. These ironic choices are yet another way Van Sant portrays his protagonist’s inner dilemma without having the character say a word.

Not all of Gus Van Sant’s experiments work. In fact, some of his films I strongly dislike. PARANOID PARK certainly has moments that are questionable. It isn’t a film for everyone, but I always prefer a filmmaker experimenting (even if it means failing) over someone who plays it safe.

The DVD extras, on the other hand, are not praiseworthy. The disc doesn’t have a single feature. Not even a trailer. But if extras are the least of your concerns, and you are looking for a alternative movie experience, take a ride to PARANOID PARK.

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