Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Gus Van Sant

Gus Van Sant (b. 1952) is an Academy Award-nominated film director, photographer, musician, and author who is pointedly based in Portland, Oregon, instead of L.A. or NYC. It is Van Sant's view that living in the city where he attended high school and learned his craft is a way to keep his head and art clear of a sort of alien residue that it might take on if he worked somewhere else.

Openly gay, he has dealt unflinchingly with homosexual themes in which his characters are more often misfits than role models. As a writer and director, he created My Own Private Idaho (1991) and an adaptation of Tom Robbins' novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993). His mainstream triumph, as director of Good Will Hunting (1997, photo with Matt Damon, below), led to an unusually faithful remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho, a disappointment that met with equal parts curiosity, skepticism, and derision from industry insiders and the public alike.

Van Sant seems equally at home with major studio projects and low-budget independent films, and he is known for being a low-key writer/director who tailors his characters to the cast. The Columbine-themed Elephant (2003) unexpectedly won the Palme d'Or and a Best Director award at Cannes. With the period film Milk (2008) Van Sant returned to mainstream film making; its budget of $20 million was more than his four previous films combined. Milk was a biopic of openly gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk (portrayed by Sean Penn, photo at end of post)), who was assassinated in 1978. The film was released to much acclaim and earned accolades from film critics and guilds and was a major hit with the public. Ultimately, it received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Van Sant. It won two Academy Awards, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Penn and Best Original Screenplay for writer Dustin Lance Black.

His next project will star Taylor Lautner (who has had to remind us for the thousandth time that he’s “straight” – funny how that concept just doesn’t stick in our heads) in a movie about illegal underground boxing matches in NYC’s Chinatown in which the participants are buffed male models. Based on a non-fiction  article that appeared in New York magazine on February 13, 2011 (Fight Like a Pretty Boy by Alex Morris), it will give Mr. Lautner (abs-featured photo below) an excuse to take off his clothes for “his art” (not his fan base) and Van Sant an excuse to inject heaps of homoerotic subtext in a film for a mainstream audience.

Ms. Morris wrote, “They come for the sheer violence – the wormhole back to a long-lost New York. But they’ve also come for the spectacle of beautiful boys stripping to the waist and submitting their features to a thorough pummeling.”

Alrighty then. I give the project my vote, as it seems a perfect match for Van Sant and Lautner, and I hereby cease my bitchy comments about the über-straight Mr. Lautner. Filming is to commence any day now.

I should also note that Gus Van Sant has written one novel, Pink, and published a book of his photography, called 108 Portraits. He has also exhibited original art works (watercolors), made music videos and has released two CD albums on which he sings and plays all instruments.

Below: Van Sant with Sean Penn, star of Milk.

My Own Private Idaho stars Keanu Reeves (Scott) and River Phoenix (Mike) as street hustlers. In this scene drug-addicted Mike, who suffers from narcolepsy, professes his unrequited love to Scott; Phoenix himself expanded Van Sant’s original 3-page scene into an 8-page confessional that clears up the ambiguity of his character's sexual orientation. The film, whose title is derived from the song "Private Idaho" by the B-52s, is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, with the character of Scott (Keanu Reeves) based on Prince Hal. The plot, which centers on death and betrayal, provides roles of great density, rare offerings for such young actors. River Phoenix received enormous praise for his performance. Tragically, two years after the release of this film, Phoenix collapsed and died of drug-induced heart failure on the sidewalk outside West Hollywood’s Viper Room nightclub, at the age of 23.

"Campfire Confessional" scene from My Own Private Idaho:

No comments:

Post a Comment