Gus Van Sant | Good Will Hunting
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Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant has made a wide variety of Hollywood and experimental films.
Good Will Hunting
Links with Elephant
Good Will Hunting looks different, now that Gus Van Sant
has made Elephant. Both films have an academic setting,
showing mainly young students, plus a few professors, floating
around school buildings. Both films have a pair of alienated students
as prominent characters; both pairs of students erupt with vicious
violence against the other students.
Many of the young men in both movies wear brilliantly colored
shirts with emblems on them: the hero's tee shirt with a geometry
diagram in Good Will Hunting, the lifeguard's red shirt
with a cross or the shirt with a bull in Elephant. These
meaningful, symbolic emblems recall super-hero comic books, and
the emblems worn on many super-hero's costumes. They seem to symbolize
something about the character and abilities of the men who wear
them. One also recall the emblem filled tunics worn by the men
of Krypton, in Superman comic books.
Good Will Hunting has long school building corridors, down
which the characters move, just as in Elephant:
Such stately camera moves down school building hallways are at the center of
Elephant. Here they are in Good Will Hunting, apparently
long before Gus Van Sant had his encounter with the films of Béla Tarr.
Both of these scenes involve the math professor's encounters with
other people, just like the hallway encounters that dominate Elephant.
- The math professor first encounters the hero, when he is writing on the
blackboard in the corridor outside his classroom. The professor
starts following the hero, while Gus Van Sant's camera tracks
both down the hallway. Both next turn into another hallway at
right angles, which is also explored by the camera.
- We first see Robin Williams, when the math professor
moves down the hall outside of Williams' classroom. The complex
screenwork in this hall seems more psychologically open and human-friendly,
than the underground tunnel effect of the math professor's building.
The math in Good Will Hunting is largely graph theory.
One sees the hero making a series on graphs on the hallway blackboard.
The long tracking shots to come in Elephant can perhaps
be seen as a similar kind of graph.
The color in Van Sant's remake of Psycho (1998) is fascinating.
It is a mixture of blue and red-orange, with an occasional bit
of cool lime green thrown in.
This is a color scheme with a long history. It appears in such 1950's films as A Star is Born
(George Cukor, 1954) and William Castle's
Western Masterson of Kansas of the same year. Vincente Minnelli
used it in The Reluctant Debutante (1958) and Some Came
Contemporary filmmakers who employ it regularly include
Pedro Almodóvar and Gus Van Sant. Their films are symphonies
constructed out of the two colors. I went to see Gus Van Sant's
Psycho twice, the second time just to watch the colors
unfold on screen. One can also see a variation on this color design
in Trainspotting (Danny Boyle).
An Orientation Reversal
The other notable aspect of the remake is the "orientation
reversal". Norman Bates is played by a gay man in Hitchcock,
and his victim Janet Leigh is a straight woman; in Gus Van Sant's
remake, we have a straight Norman Bates and a gay woman as victim.
This reverses a long and extremely dubious tradition in Hitchcock,
in locating the abnormal in the gay - see Rope or Saboteur,
I tried to get co-workers to go see Van Sant's Psycho in
1998, when it came out. They were adamant that they Did Not Want
to See It. I have no idea why! Perhaps the ad campaign was too
successful. It painted the remake as the ultimate and most scary
horror film, and maybe people thought the film would put them
through some sort of trauma. Actually, it was just a fascinating
drama. In any case, it proves once again the truth of Billy Wilder's
dictum, "If the public doesn't want to see a film, nothing
can stop them".