grotesque of literary satires. I)B(‘ Pierre’s l'ermm (iml Lin/e opens a fevv days after Jesus Navarro has murdered lb of his classmates and committed suicide in the barren tovvn of Martirio. ‘the barbecue sauce capital of Texas. Vernon Little. his only friend. is being held as a scapegoat and so it is he comes to narrate his bloody critique of American culture from death rovv. Pierre certainly does not seem to share Van Sant’s reserve to tackle taboos or even acknowledge them. 'Kids killing kids is certainly a chilling motif for our time. but it vvill surely be replaced by a greater taboo yet »~ hovv about kids killing kids during sex'.”
As in his vvriting. Pierre’s reasoning often comes in vvaves of sanity couched in initial shock. '1 think it is certainly acceptable as a basis for spinning further art. provided individuals are not represented and deprecated in death. Murders have been written about since the beginning of time. Plus my vvork is not based on vvitnessing the events themselves but on the images sold to us for profit by the nevvs media a fact that arguably forms part of the allure for the perpetrators seeking such negative attention in the first place.‘ Pierre sees the rarer. more arty vvorks that massacres like (‘olumbine engender as far less insulting than anything vve are forced to vvitness on a daily basis. let’s face it. a tvvo minute nevvs story is an unacceptable representation. especially when it is sandvviched betvveen the latest diet craze and the heart- vvarming story of the goose vvho adopted the hamster.’
filming in a recently decommissioned hiin school in Portland. Van Sant encouraged his mostly amateur cast to improvise their dialogue vvhile asking them to integrate their ovvn stories and experiences into their roles. Shooting over just 2() days in November 2002. Van Sant vvorked vvith the acclaimed director of photography Harris Savides (l-‘im/ing l-in‘ruvlmz Gerry) to create a visual aesthetic close to that of the documentaries of the great filmmaker l‘rederick Wiseman (Domestic li'o/wu'i'. The Store. High School). In doing this Van Sant has blurred the line betvveen fact and fiction. betvveen poetry and reportage. He tries to explain. in his slightly \voolly vvay: ‘lz'lep/iunl is a very American film that deals vvith high school violence. I think it's something that can appeal to an international audience. High schools throughout the vvorld have this sort of thing going on. So you can relate to it if you are from another country and if you have gone to any public educational institution. it‘s kind of abstract. I mean in the vvay it is put together. and in its intentions. It‘s more like a poem of the lives and deaths of these high school kids.‘
Someone vvho is no stranger to approaching the tragic with both a poetic and revisionist eye is the poet and vvriter Blake Morrison. vvhose l‘)‘)8 book As I]. about the boys vvho killed .lamie Bulger. practically re—set a template
14 THE LIST .lm l ‘71, ’ '-
AS If Blake Morrison
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Gus Van Sant on set with Alex Frost (left), who plays one of the killers. Recent child murders have spawned a series of fictional and non- fictional interpretations (below).
‘THE COVERAGE IN THE MEDIA CAN BE THE
MOST MORALLY DUBIOUS, SENSATIONALISING, VOYEURISTIC AND GRATUITOUS'
for that particular type of Rousseau-esque extrapolation of murder. l'nsurprisingly. Morrison has a lot to say. ‘ I don‘t see a problem with creating fictional representations of these massacres because vvhat you get is a state vvhere the media think they ovvn stories like this. so you get hundreds of accounts of the tragedy of (‘olumbine but they are the first people to express indignation if anything arty is done with the material. and actually the coverage in the media can be the most morally dubious. and sensationalising. voyeuristic and gratuitous. A vvriter. a filmmaker. an artist can bring something different to bear on the story..
Morrison speaks vvith the precision and clarity of a man who has spent a long time contemplating recent tragic histories. ‘With the murder cases we have in the l'K. there is so much going on around the edges that can create a totally different picture. With the Bulger case there were leaked psychiatric reports and so on and it seemed to me that this stuff had not had any prominence because it had been inadmissible at the trial vvhich allows you to ask the question of vvhy‘." Morrison is a man vvho has survived the occasional brickbats of tabloid outrage: his passion for this subject seems driven by a solidarity vvith. and passion for. the redemptive povver of artists and art. "l’here was a great controversy about the artist vvho created the blovv tip painting of Myra llindley a while ago and. true to form. the media reacted vvith outrage. declaring that this is indecent. insulting but actually these interpretations can be appeasing. generous and informative in a vvay that media coverage has never been.‘
As for Van Sant‘s nevv film. it deserves every avvard going. It is a \vork of parenthesis. of the periphery. delicate and ultiruately immensely moving in its distant. blurry gave. it is hard to think of a recent film that has come out of America that is more intelligent. more thought provoking or artfully oblique. It is a film that underlines the point that there are a thousand vvays to commit suicide. and some of them take l7 years.
Elephant is on selected release from Fri 30 Jan. See review, page 24.