It's no surprise at all that Gus Van Sant's name pops up as an executive producer of Wild Tigers I Have Known. Cam Archer may be the writer/producer/director, but this tale of a sexually confused and very skinny teenage boy is right out of the Van Sant playbook, not that there's anything wrong with that.
Beautifully, I mean really beautifully, shot, the film follows young Logan (Malcolm Stumpf) around the empty streets and schoolyards of Santa Cruz as he tries to come to terms with all the ways he feels "different" from the other kids. His freaky daydreams, many of which involve spiders, are woven into what little narrative there is, and minutes go by without Logan saying a word. (In that sense, it may remind you of Van Sant's Elephant or Last Days.)
What little equilibrium Logan has in his life is thrown off when he encounters Rodeo (Patrick White), an attractively sullen hoodie-wearing school skipper two years older than himself. Rodeo is, of course, very good looking, and Logan soon finds a way to become his friend. For his part, Rodeo is amused by the distraction and not unaware of his power over both boys and girls.
But how will this all turn out? Logan is continually emotionally abused by his witch of a mother (Fairuza Balk), and when his locker is vandalized with homophobic signs, the clueless teachers hold an assembly to unveil their new "tolerance totem" to lots of apathy and eye-rolling. A spunky guidance counselor is fascinated by Logan, but he is unable to communicate what's really going on in his head. She can't help him at all.
Experiments in cross dressing and phone sex suggest that Logan is going to get worse -- and perhaps run into a lot of trouble -- before he's old enough to fully embrace his gay adult self. The movie leaves him hanging. We can only hope for the best.
Archer's screenplay features little dialogue and lots of long meditative walks along back roads and beach boardwalks. Luckily, everything is so wonderfully framed and edited that you can't take your eyes off the screen. I even found myself thinking that stills taken from the film would serve nicely as fine art photography.
It's too bad Wild Tigers I Have Known got little to no distribution, but luckily the DVD is out there waiting for you to take a look. If you've ever enjoyed Gus Van Sant's technique or world view, you'll love it. Cam Archer is a worthy acolyte.