Portland, Oregon, has been a very good town to the director Gus Van Sant since he began his film career. And, outside of last year's misunderstood Portland-based "Restless", most of his films have been filmed in P-Town where the backgrounds for his painterly eye are easy to find on every local street corner or park. But when "Milk" went mainstream at the Oscars in 2008, one had to wonder if Van Sant would continue to film in his adopted cinematic city without making it look obvious he was now a major Hollywood player.
Above-mentioned "Restless" is arguably his most expressive cinematographic view of the Portland area. And it also seemed a too deliberate attempt to go back to his smaller roots as a filmmaker. The failure of the film at the box office was perhaps a flag-waving signal that Van Sant can't go back to the way he was prior to "Milk" without arguably repeating himself.
Yes, "Restless" showed us that his fixation on death in his Portland-set films has uniformly become the equivalent of a run-on sentence. "Milk" took Gus Van Sant away from his usual themes and home city for the first time and it proved a massive success. Now the same could be applied to "Promised Land" where we see a return to a film about a boiling hot political subject and more chance for fracking Oscar glory.
Of course, as with all directors who end up in the bigger arenas, is a change in direction really a healthy move for such an individualistic director such as Vant Sant? When it comes to filming in Portland, there may be a notion that you have to be a strict indie adherent to make a successful film there. The reality is that Portland is becoming as mainstream as ever in filmmaking, plus even more so in TV with three popular shows currently filming on P-Town's streets.
For authenticity, Van Sant had to film "Milk" in San Francisco based on the geographic dissimilarity between Portland and the city by the bay. That change, though, put Van Sant in a place where he now has a divide going between his mainstream efforts and his more personal projects. Yet, what would have happened had "Promised Land" decided to film in Portland?
With Matt Damon co-producing "Promised Land", the offer for Van Sant to direct appears to have come from Damon himself to save Van Sant's directing career. The city of Pittsburgh was also likely picked because of its industrial nature as an apropos background to hydraulic fracturing. Then again, the purity of the small town could have easily fit better in a Portland setting.
In fact, Oregon couldn't be a better place to film to contrast fragile ecosystems with the alleged dangers of fracking. Setting it in a small Oregon town would have been ideal as well, even if Van Sant obviously had no say in the matter. Regardless, we have to remember that his mainstream hit "Good Will Hunting" with Damon 15 years ago was filmed entirely in Boston and Toronto rather than Portland.
For the time being, Van Sant filming outside of Portland seems better for him economically. Those two worlds will likely continue to exist in his new cinematic dichotomy. Any difference may come if the politics behind "Promised Land" hurts any chances for hinted success and awards, hence Van Sant precipitating a career reboot in Portland with entirely new themes.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Gus Van Sant