Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Drugstore Cowboy, Gus Van Sant, USA 1989

It seems hard to fathom that van Sant's films should have its 20th anniversary this year - Drugstore Cowboy comes along as so fresh, so contemporary, and so modern that one is led to believe that it's a new release.

Nevertheless, I'd remembered van Sant's now classic film about Matt Dillon aka Bob's pharmaceutical extravaganza in somewhat more vivid colours, since for all its lurid subject-matter, it is a very low-key film. But then there are also the 20 years that separate the young green-horn 'movie-buff' that I was when I first saw this film from the middle-aged, jaded 'cinephile' that I have since turned into, and which makes it increasingly impossible for me to get a rise out of almost any film.
Drugstore Cowboy is essentially a story of redemption - at times outright hilarious, at others eerily gripping - with a, perhaps, courageous, Greek-Tragedy showdown van Sant got away with as Drugstore Cowboy was an independent production. The showdown turns into an open ending which, it turns out, is also the film's beginning as the story is told in flashback.
The casting is excellent, starring Matt Dillon, who proves once more that he is almost infallible in picking his roles, as the junkie-lead and Kelly Lynch (whatever became of her???) as his renegade girlfriend. The cast's highlight, though, surely has got to be William S. Burroughs, who aptly plays a drug-addicted ex-priest. I mean, talk about inspired casting!

In hindsight Drugstore Cowboy, which was one van Sant's earliest films, can be regarded as a typical film of his in terms of pacing, subject-matter, production values (gritty, grainy cinematography, editing) and story-telling (non-linear narrative, open ending, etc.), foreshadowing masterpieces like Elephant (USA 2003) and Paranoid Park (France/ USA 2007). However, although not made by van Sant, Drugstore Cowboy also brings to mind Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream, which has a very similar storyline, but was made exactly 10 years later.