I saw Gus Van Sant‘s movie “Paranoid Park” on TV recently. Van Sant is well known for his controversial cinematic endeavours between mainstream success like “Good Will Hunting” and arthouse cinema as in his “death trilogy” comprising “Gerry”, “Elephant” and “Last Days”. What ever one might think about his film work, from a sound perspective those films of the trilogy and “Paranoid Park” offer really interesting insights since they are the only movies to my knowledge utilizing sound art works for dramaturgic reasons in a pertinent manner. The subject in all those movies is the alienation and solitude of younger people in modern society. In “Elephant” and “Last Days” the steadycam follows some of the characters on their walks through schools and parks while we hear sounds that obviously are not part of the natural surrounding. The sounds can be easily mistaken as displaced sound effects, but they are actually soundscape compositions of Canadian composer Hildegard Westerkamp. In both films her pieces “Beneath the Forest Floor” and “Türen der Wahrnehmung” are used to highlight the strangeness in which the main characters are situated. Randolph Jourdan writes about Van Sant’s films that they “employ the disenfranchising of sound from conventional relationships to the cinematic image as a foundation for exploring the cultural environment of disenfranchised youth.” In his article for “offscreen” he also asked Westerkamp about her view on the use of her works in the films of the “death trilogy”.
In “Paranoid Park” the compiled soundtrack is even more strange and at odds with what we would expect in a movie about young skaters. Nino Rota’s score for Federico Fellini’s masterpieces “Amarcord” and “Juliet of the Spirits” is set against the young protagonist walking down the street or drowns his girl-friends rant against him. But there are some sound art works hidden in the movie as well. I couldn’t spot a part of Bernard Parmegiani’s “Dedans Dehors” which is credited at the end, but Frances White’s “Resonant Landscape No. 2” is clearly recognizable under the shower scene where the young guy washes down his guilt from the incident which lead to the death of a police officer. Most appealing though are the Ethan Rose tracks from his release “Ceiling Songs” underlying the grainy Super-8 shots in the skater hangout called Paranoid Park that dives the whole spot into a mystical scenery. I wish more filmmakers would be as courageous as Van Sant in their use of sound. Check this excerpt from “Paranoid Park” with music of Ethan Rose: