Until delving into the lecture, I did not realise that Gus Van Sant’s film “Elephant” was considered an avant garde film. I remember watching it for the first time when I was roughly thirteen, back in the day when Blockbuster stores were still aplenty and I was in the beginning phase of my “cinephilia”. Youth made the film haunting, cold and mildly traumatising. Retrospect, however, did not take away from this original consensus, rather it added to it. I found something incredibly beautiful in the way the tragedy was shot, the sheer simplicity of its sequences. The allowing of the imagery to speak for itself.
Over the years I have found art cinema’s ability to explore culturally taboo subjects to be fascinating. Trauma, in all of its forms, will never cease to be something near impossible to reflect on publicly without backlash, however art cinema often takes the approach of “less is more”. We are presented with imagery and we take something from it. I believe this is one of the best ways to communicate tragedy.
Van Sant’s employment of tracking shots and non-diegetic soundtrack are arguably the staples of Elephant; the give the impression of perspective and yet at the same time enter the mind of the character. We simply observe. It is an approach that leaves the viewer unsettled and yet mesmerised, despite minimal effort to create characters in any traditional sense. This technique gives way to a powerful rawness, something that a more mainstream film would lose.