Is Last Days an extension of Gerry and Elephant? ^ In some ways yes. All three films take place in limited settings. In “Last Days,” the characters are generally in this one house. The films were similar as far as the size of the effort, with a limited cast, but also a limited crew. Stylistically they were trying to get away from some kinds of movie conventions such as using multiple angles to describe scenes.
Are there similar themes running through all 3 films too? ^ They’re all about death pretty much. There’s a trilogy- films that were inspired by stories published/that appeared in the paper. (“Gerry”: two guys who got lost in the desert “Elephant”: school shootings and “Last Days”: the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994.)
You’d met or spoken to Kurt Cobain. How did that impact your approach to “Last Days”? ^ I met him just once at his manager’s house. The only other contact came when Kurt called me on behalf of a friend of his, about a job. This was very nice of him. So those two instances didn’t really have any impact on shaping the film.
I was moving from Vermont to LA when KC died and it shook my confidence in my self and my art. How did Cobain’s death affect you? ^ It’s one of those suicides like Hunter S. Thompson or Elliott Smith. It’s always affecting.
It’s sad and you feel his loss. At the time (April 1994) right after, River Phoenix had just died the October before, so I had already gone through an even huger and much more cataclysmic event with a really good friend, a really close friend just dying. And that was the hugest thing ever. You want to turn the clock back and you can’t. I wanted to do that with River. Because you know he didn’t want to die and I knew that wasn’t his plan. At least I felt that way.
Back to Blake and developing “Last Days.” Did you remove elements connected to the circumstances of Blake’s life? ^ Yeah when you first see him, you don’t really know where he’s coming from, he’s just wandering through the woods. He could be anybody. For me, it made it more elemental and existential. It’s just one man wandering through the 3 elements: earth, fire and water.
He could be a caveman and then all of a sudden there’s a big giant train – almost like a Machine Age image – so you know it’s today. It just makes it more austere and basic for what I thought was going on.
Can you talk about the writing process for the film, in terms of script evolution? ^ It started in 1996 as a list of things that this guy was doing around his house, and he never left his house. This was the guy who would become Blake, at the time he didn’t have a name. At one point he wasn’t even a young man, it was just a kid alone in the house making Mac & cheese, watching TV and avoiding the telephone.
He was wandering outside for brief periods. He was writing. It was a very distant relationship to the Kurt Cobain story. The young boy just filled out his day. I don’t even think there was a death with this particular character.
Does “Last Days” speak to your own desire or disdain of celebrity? ^ I suppose. It’s the same period of time. I couldn’t get arrested until I made “Drugstore Cowboy” in 1989. It was really a Portland/Northwest kind of piece but it also brought this community attention as REAL filmmakers.
18 months later, Nirvana did a similar, though much more giant thing in music. All of a sudden they were #1. Another similarity between the people in Seattle that were part of that music movement and the people here in Portland was that we all wanted to stay regional.
Get the rest of the interview in part three of GUS VAN SANT: LAST WORDS ON “LAST DAYS”>>>