Paranoid Park

Have I mentioned that I am a cineaste? My first arthouse cinema experience was when my Mom took me to the Rialto in South Pasadena to see Bergman’s ‘The Magic Flute’ when I was nine. I’ve been a fan of foreign and independent films ever since. Cinema is probably my favorite art form. I love the combination of story and visuals and soundtrack. A good cinematic experience combines the best of reading a book, looking at art and listening to music all at the same time.

Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” -Ingmar Bergman


I saw ‘Paranoid Park’ a couple of nights ago. Really liked it. It’s about Alex (Gabe Nevins) a teenaged Portland-based sk8er. In outline, it’s a pretty straightforward rite of passage story – Alex is conflicted about his friends, his divorcing parents, his sexuality. He becomes involved in an act of violence when he goes by himself to Paranoid Park, an illegal skate park frequented by the city’s throwaway kids. What makes this story different is the narrative, the cinematography and the soundtrack.

Director Gus Van Sant’s inspiration is to shoot the movie playing over and over in Alex’s head – a jumbled loop of vivid images, blurry motivation and an underlying numb pain. The story is told through chronologically scrambled, layered flashbacks cued by the diary Alex is writing about the incident. Rather than being disjointed, the narrative is totally seamless and works really well.

The cinematography, courtesy of Christopher Doyle, is amazing. The film lapses into reveries of skate footage of floating teenage figures around parks, streets, empty swimming pools. Highlights are the opening shot of Portland Bridge; a shower scene; a shot of Alex skateboarding with an open umbrella; a sequence in a skating tunnel with a light at the end; and close-ups of Alex’s face, the face of a kid who is so scared and confused he can only stare back at the world.

And the soundtrack . . . . . it’s really more of an aural landscape: natural and artificial sounds are used to sparing but brilliant effect. Ranging from blippy electronic soundscapes to excerpts from Fellini scores via thrash metal, hip hop and traditional country the soundtrack feels at times comically incongruous, at others absolutely spot on.

Oh yeah and there’s a reference to Napoleon Dynamite, another one of my favorite films.

The film is based on the novel ‘Paranoid Park’ written by Blake Nelson. Since reading is another one of my passions I’ll have to check it out, although my experience of films based on books is usually disappointing. Still, whether or not this film stands up to the book doesn’t matter. I thought it was great as a piece of cinematic artwork.

ps I probably wouldn’t have gone to see this film based on the European release trailer, but I found a link to the US release trailer which I like better. It captures more of the dreamy essence of the film.


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