Towards an Agreed Understanding of Greatness

Jereme says Paranoid Park was more interesting and challenging than Milk, but less important. His words seem accurate, but is he right? The short answer must be it depends on your beliefs about art, and as the answer gets longer things become slippery.


Milk is great, incredibly important, and one of its breakthroughs is that it is both unapologetically queer and completely conventional. It is a biopic and nothing about it steps out of the confines of the genre. Paranoid Park, though, gets at a deeper truth of things, and is perhaps even revolutionary.


The experiment Van Sant began with Gerry and began to perfect in Elephant finds its perfect culmination in Paranoid Park. Van Sant’s suggestion is that at about age 16, a boy is about as in touch as he will ever be with the essential and vaguely erotic truth of things. Or as our greatest critic, Manohla Dargis, says, the film is a “voluptuously beautiful portrait of a teenage boy who, after being suddenly caught in midflight, falls to earth…’Paranoid Park’ is about bodies at rest and in motion, and about longing, beauty, youth and death, and as such as much about the artist as his subject. It is a modestly scaled triumph without a false or wasted moment.”


Heavy shit, that, but it doesn’t need to be said with so many words. In this movie where we don’t even see the faces of adults, after the death at the train yards, we see the boy stripped down to almost nothing, the vitality of youth totally exposed as he sneaks across the room. The camera, that voyeuristic camera, is peering through the windows from the cold outside. The terrain here is extremely interesting, and important, and vital, but isn’t going to change any minds, isn’t going to have folks reconsidering things like Prop 8 or the more urgent issues of identity and self-expression.


So which is it? Maybe we stick with the short answer: depends on your beliefs about art.



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