Gus Van Sant (born Gus Green Van Sant, 24.7.1952)
Gus Van Sant is an American film director, producer and screenwriter, as well as a musician and author. Amongst his most recognised works are Good Will Hunting, Milk and Elephant.
Gus Van Sant: Childhood
Gus Van Sant was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, by his mother, Betty and his father, also named Gus Green Van Sant Sr. His father worked as a clothes manufacturer and travelling salesman. Gus attended Darien High School and the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon. He showed an interest in painting and filming on Super-8 cameras, even whilst he was at school.
In 1970, Gus Van Sant enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design, along with David Byrne of Talking Heads. It was here, that Van Sant was introduced to the works of Jonas Mekas and Andy Warhol. Van Sant is openly gay, and once lived with Harvey Milk, as well as having had a relationship with Sir Ian McKellan.
Gus Van Sant: A Career in Film
Gus Van Sant moved to Los Angeles in 1976, after spending some time in Europe. In LA, he began working with Ken Shapiro, a film writer and director. Then, in 1981, Van Sant made Alice in Hollywood, though the film was never released. During these early years in Los Angeles, Van Sant became interested in the seedier underworld of Hollywood. This interest culminated in the release of his 1985 film Mala Noche, two years after he had moved to New York to work at an advertising agency, saving the money that he earned in order to finance the film. The story for the film was based on Walt Curtis's novella of the same name.
Major studios, such as Universal quickly became interested in Van Sant, but they were not so interested in the ideas that he had. He soon moved back to Portland, Oregon and began working on those rejected ideas. In 1989, he released Drugstore Cowboy, featuring Matt Dillon. Two years later, he released My Own Private Idaho, the critically acclaimed film that featured River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves. It was an especially important film for Keanu Reeves, as it helped him to shake off the bad reputation that had pestered him since he starred in the Bill and Ted movies.
In 1993, Gus Van Sant released Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, an adaptation of the Tom Robbins book, featuring River Phoenix and his sister Rain Phoenix, Uma Thurman, John Hurt and Keanu Reeves. The response to the film was poor.
Thankfully, two years later, the director released his next project, entitled To Die For, starring Matt Dillon and Nicole Kidman in an adaptation of a Joyce Maynard novel. The film also starred another Phoenix sibling, Joaquin Phoenix, a year and a half after River's death from a drug overdose. To Die For was Gus Van Sant's first project working for a major studio. He also worked as an executive producer on Larry Clark's controversial movie Kids.
Acceptance into the mainstream proved favourable for Gus van Sant. In 1997, he made Good Will Hunting, starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams and Ben Affleck. The film won a number of Academy Award nominations, including a Best Director nomination for Van Sant. Damon and Affleck parodied themselves later in Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Van Sant was then offered the chance to remake Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, He did so, and enlisted Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche and Julianne Moore. The film received a moderate response from critics and public alike.
2000's Finding Forrester turned out to be a bigger success, starring Rob Brown and Sean Connery. Following this release, Gus Van Sant returned to making low-budget arthouse films, inspired by the likes of John Cassavettes and Bel Tarr. He made Gerry, with Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, which polarised opinion at the Sundance Film Festival.
Elephant was Van Sant's take on the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre and featured local Portland teenagers, untrained as actors. Again, reactions to the film were dramatically polarised. 2005 saw Van Sant release Last Days, fictionalizing the days leading up to the death of Kurt Cobain, of the band Nirvana. The film starred Michael Pitt in the lead role.
Paranoid Park was release in 2006. Based on the book by Blake Nelson, the film starred Gabe Nevins and Taylor Momsen. Van Sant also contributed a short film to Paris, je t'aime, a collection of shorts, featuring Natalie Portman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elijah Wood and Steve Buscemi.
One of Gus Van Sant's most popular films, Milk, was released in 2008. The biopic centered on the life and career of the US politician, Harvey Milk, as played by Sean Penn. The film won two Oscars, a Best Actor award for Penn and Best Original Screenplay for Dustin Lance Black.