Pretty Boys

I watched Elephant last night and involuntarily came up with another paper topic: Gus Van Sant and the Gay Male Gaze in Mainstream Cinema. Someone’s probably written on something like that before though. The film seems like it’s more about gazing at pretty boys than about a school shooting. The camera gazes adoringly at them, girls gaze lusftully after them, and they sit passive and empty and unaware of all the attention. Van Sant has somehow created a high school where boys have zero attraction to females. There’s one hetero couple, but even they seem awkward together and just plain wrong. The females in the film are pushed off to the side and completely uninteresting, while the film gets lost seemingly forever in the blonde locks of John Robinson. When I think of this film, I remember his image, not the brief shootings. It’s odd, and I guess a bit refreshing, to see a film that makes pretty boys the object of desire rather than pretty girls, which is what every other mainstream film obsesses over.

You may not call this a mainstream film though. But Van Sant is pretty mainstream these days, and this film is an HBO film.

I’m going to check out some reviews and see what others say and be back with more…

4 Responses to “Pretty Boys”

  1. Chuck
    July 22nd, 2004 | 12:16 pm

    I think I accidentally cancelled my last comment instead of submitting it, but this reading of the film makes a lot of sense. I think John Robinson’s blonde hair and soulful eyes are the iconic images from this film.

    I also felt that GVS seemed to have trouble portraying interesting female characters. Most of the high school girls are either foils for John R. or the photographer (I forget his name), or they are portrayed as shallow “malrat” types. In fact, I found the “bulimia scene” to be a little mean.

    I do think he got one thing right: the long tracking shots pretty effectively conveyed the boredom and drift associated with wandering the halls in high school.

  2. Chuck
    July 22nd, 2004 | 12:16 pm

    That should say “mallrat.”

  3. cynthia rockwell
    July 22nd, 2004 | 1:08 pm

    i agree, the depiction of girls was quite shallow and stereotypical and i grimaced at the ridiculous scene where they vomited together in the girls’ bathroom. we all like parodies but this film is not a parody–when the rest of the film is going for some kind of realism, and this scene is included in that context, it suggests this is what van sant thinks actually goes on in girls’ bathrooms.

  4. Bren
    July 22nd, 2004 | 9:24 pm

    Maybe Gus Van Sant is a Freudian and considers Women to be a “dark continent”. So he doesn’t bother trying to understand them in order to develop non-stereotypical characters.

    I liked Elephant despite the fact that nothing happened in the first hour or so. Which I usually can’t stand, I must have been in the right mood that day. My favourite scene would have been when one of the killers is playing the piano… very haunting.

    In my opinion the school in Elephant is more realistic than most other cinematic high schools, but is still far off the mark from my own experiences at high school. (Though I have to admit – the school I went to is incredibly liberal)