Mala Noche (1985): Van Sant’s Queer Movie

Like other liberally curious, intellectually-bent youths who came of age in the 1960s, Gus Van Sant opened himself up to the subcultures of the Hippie and Beat Generations.  He read and cherished such writers as the Beatnik Jack Kerouac (his seminal “On the Road”), the gay Jewish poet Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”), and especially the surreal, drug-infused literature of William S. Burroughs Jr. (“Naked Lunch”).  Van Sant has never concealed his experimentation with drugs, as he confided in 1989: “Drugs played a big role in my life in the 1960s and 1970s, and I was pretty familiar with pot and LSD during that period.”

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

Like Almodovar, who is older by three years, Van Sant has made eighteen features to date, though unlike Almodovar and Haynes, at least half of Van Sant’s features are based on previously published sources, or scripts not written by him.  As writer and director, he has adapted to the screen Tom Robbins’ novel, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” which features a diverse cast (Keanu Reeves, Roseanne Barr, Uma Thurman, and k.d. lang).  “My Own Private Idaho,” his most original and celebrated film, which featured two up-and-coming stars, Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, also derives from existing sources on which he has unmistakably put his idiosyncratic signature.

mala_noche_9_gus_van_santBased on relatively low budgets, Van Sant’s movies have examined the lives of individuals who inhabit society’s underground. However, despite their bleak circumstances, his films display a nihilistic, often subtle humor, but decidedly not camp. Van Sant has made wildly subjective pictures that celebrate outsiders: illegal immigrants, male hustlers, dropouts, drugstore cowboys. In depicting drug addicts and male prostitutes, Van Sant has revealed their humanity without exploiting their tawdriness. His eccentric P.O.V. provides an intimate look at down-and-out characters–individuals on the fringes of society—that he neither glorifies nor condemns. He doesn’t expect his audience to take such a stance, either. It’s as if his camera were looking through a peephole, dropping in on secret lives and exposing their elements. Though drawn to realistic issues and grounded characters, Van Sant treats them playfully. The “Village Voice” critic Jim Hoberman has justifiably singled out, “the unabashed beatnik quality to Van Sant’s worldview.” Van Sant’s attraction to street youths and their sordid milieu is based on his belief that they are more interesting to observe, and that there’s more drama in their lives than is the case of bourgeois characters.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

In his first three films, which are thematically linked, Van Sant showed a natural lyrical touch and instinctive feel for recording lowlife, which is free of any judgment—there was neither condescension nor romanticizing.

mala_noche_7_gus_van_santVan Sant’s first feature, “Mala Noche” (“Bad Night”), put him on the map of the then nascent independent cinema. “Mala Noche” follows the doomed infatuation of Walt (Streeter), a clerk in a skid-row convenience store, with the hunky Mexican immigrant and street hustler Johnny (played by the Native American Pueblo Indian Doug Cooeyate), who barely understands English. The film’s source material is a novella by Walt Curtis, a Portland street poet.  Van Sant kept the manuscript, which was “sexually explicit like a dirty book,” under his bed for years, reading and rereading it, eagerly waiting for the time he could translate it into a personal film.  

mala_noche_6_gus_van_sant“Mala Noche” begins with images of outsiders, down-and-out characters in the marginalized section of Portland’s inner city.  After the credits, there is a slogan, “If you fuck with the bull, you get the horn.” Walt, a thirtysomething white man who works as a liquor store manager, is a well-adjusted homosexual who likes the company of migrant workers.  Van Sant cast local Portland figures in the leads that do not look like Hollywood actors playing male hustlers, such as the handsome Richard Gere in Paul Schrader’s glorified portraiture, “American Gigolo.”  Thus, Walt is played by the plain, chubby, ordinary-looking Tim Street who’s a Seattle stage actor.

mala_noche_5_gus_van_santThe main thread of the plot is Walt’s sexual attraction to Johnny, an illegal newcomer who wanders into his shop.  Van Sant shows the Northwest landscape from Johnny’s P.O.V., first seen on a railroad boxcar.  The narrative, which is slight in ideas but rich in imagery, unfolds as a variation of “amour fou,” a one-sided love by a mature Caucasian man, first infatuated and then obsessed with a Mexican youngster who doesn’t care about him. By standards of most characters in American cinema, Walt is a loser–he is unkempt, unshaven, wearing an old and dirty raincoat, spending hours in seedy bars drinking. He proudly declares to a female friend: “I’m in love with this boy.  I don’t care even if it jeopardizes working at the store.  I have to show him I’m gay for him.”

mala_noche_4_gus_van_santJohnny, like other runaways and street hustlers, enjoys playing with his buddies in a video arcade.  Insisting he is straight, Johnny says he doesn’t like “putos,” a pejorative term for homosexuals; the Spaniard Almodovar uses the equally pejorative term “maricones.”  Nonetheless, Johnny makes exceptions if the gringos have money–cash money–and cars. Socializing with white gay men is tolerated so long as they provide materialistic favors, functioning as “friends with benefits.” Essentially, Johnny exploits Walt, eating at his expense, driving around in his car.  Never mind that the vehicle is ramshackle, it still enables Johnny to show off to his Mexican mates, who are poorer than him.

Johnny’s closest buddy is Roberto, nicknamed Pepper, played by the local amateur boxer, Ray Mongue.  Based on mutual exploitation, the relationship between Walt, as the older mentor-tutor, and Johnny and Pepper, as the uneducated but desirable simpletons, is peculiar, to say the least.  It is defined by occasional sexual encounters, and laced with touches of sado-masochism. When Walt allows Pepper to drive his car, the boy proves to be a lousy driver, landing the car in a ditch, despite Walt’s careful instruction. “You drive like you fuck,” the exasperated Walt says.

When Johnny mysteriously disappears, Walt switches his attention to Pepper, taking care of him when he is ill, trying to have sex with him (in any position Pepper consents to).  Melodrama kicks in, when the police arrives at Walt’s place, and Pepper, afraid of being deported, attempts to flee with a stolen gun in his hand, forcing the police to shoot him.  All that Walt can do is hold the dead boy in his arms.

mala_noche_2_gus_van_santIn the next sequence, Walt spots Johnny, who had been sent back to Mexico as an illegal alien, but managed to come back to Portland.  Their friendship resumes, until Johnny finds out about Pepper’s death, for which he unfairly blames Walt. Rushing out in anger, he writes ‘puto” on Walt’s door and leaves.  Unfazed, the passive-aggressive Walt continues to pursue Johnny, and the tale ends ambiguously with Walt driving down the street.

It’s hard to describe Walt’s encounters with Pepper as real love-making, reflecting Van San’t shy personality, conservative upbringing, and the refusal of his “actors” to be shown naked, or engaged in explicit sexual positions. There’s extreme cautiousness in showing briefly frontal nudity, when Walt strips off his clothes. Van Sant just shows Pepper spread on a sleeping bag on the floor. Through meticulous editing and darkly-shadowed intercuts, Van Sant creates the illusion of intercourse, focusing on the participants’ faces rather than bodies.  As director, he didn’t like the way sex was depicted in Hollywood movies, because “a lot of times sex scenes become a bumping and grinding activity, which is not particularly sexy.”[iii] This ultra-careful approach to sex would continue to characterize Van Sant’s films, even when they concern straight love-making, such as the oral sex between Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix in “To Die For.”

mala_noche_1_gus_van_santVan Sant’s motivation behind “Mala Noche” was to make an honest, non-judgmental movie about a subject that mainstream Hollywood would never touch.  Self-financed, the film was shot on cut-rate stock in black-and-white.  The meager $25,000 budget came from Van Sant’s savings after years of working at an advertising agency in New York.  Low as its price was, however, it took almost a decade for the low-budgeter to recoup its expense.

Van Sant said that “Mala Noche” was inspired, among other things, by the commercial appeal of the 1981 gay movie, “Taxi Zum Klo” (“Taxi to the Toilet”), which screened at the New York Film Festival and then played commercially in New York’s Cinema Studio (my neighborhood) for six months.[iv] In that personal movie, the German director Frank Ripploe chronicles in graphic detail and with dark yet realistic humor, the sexual adventures of a gay schoolteacher in West Berlin. The film culminates boldly with the teacher’s coming out (in drag) in front of his pupils in class. Other artistic influences on van Sant included David Lynch, who shot his first two movies, the underground “Eraserhead” in 1977, and the 1980 studio-financed, star-driven “The Elephant Man,” in heightened black-and-white contrasts.  Lynch’s 1977 AFI-made debut was particularly influential in its lighting style and expressionist visuals.  “Mala Noche” contains expressive close-ups of Mexican youths, dark shots of ashtrays, cigarettes, and smoke, and other images that fit into the tale’s nocturnal nature.

The locations in “Mala Noche” are the grim sites of Portland’s Burnside region: Shabby buildings, rundown motels, cheap grocery stores, filthy streets. Mixing distinctive exterior vistas of the Pacific Northwestern with nihilistic, darkly humorous sensibility marked the arrival of an exciting talent. The “New Yorker” critic Pauline Kael singled out the “authentic grungy beauty,” and its “wonderfully fluid grainy look,” which she found expressionist yet made with improvised feel that recall Jean Genet’s short film, “Un Chant D’Amour.” (Genet proved to be inspirational figure to all the filmmakers in my book).  “Mala Noche” received scant attention before winning the L.A. Film Critics Association Award for Best Independent Film, in appreciation of its authentically personal nature. This recognition emphasized the importance of critics for the promotion of esoteric fare, turning “Mala Noche” into a staple of the festival and art-house circuits.

It took years for “Mala Noche” to get a legit theatrical distribution beyond the festival circuit, in December 1989 to be exact. By that time, Van Sant was already in his late 30s and about to release his next feature, “Drugstore Cowboy.” Following Kael, the other critics responded favorably, as evident in Peter Rainer, a Kael protégé, in his review: “The ardor in this film isn’t only in its love story; it’s also in Van Sant’s experimental, poetic use of the medium.” Rainer stated that “Van Sant can’t pretend true nihilism, because he is too enraptured in the possibilities of his new-found art.” Other critics also singled out Van Sant’s penchant for depicting the romanticism of losers, without succumbing to soft-headedness or sentimentalism. In the “Washington Post,” Hal Hinson observed: “Van Sant is fascinated by the poetic allure of poor beautiful boys riding the rail into the Promised Land and ending up dead, crumpled on the pavement in the middle of a street, thousands of miles away from home.”

“Mala Noche” still remains a model of film grunge for young independent directors. The film displays ideas and themes that would recur in Van Sant’s future works: unfulfilled love, unrequited romantic yearning, and a vivid sense of life’s ironies and absurdities. Most relevant to this book’s concerns is Van Sant’s refusal, from the beginning of his career, to treat homosexuality (and sexual orientation) as a “problem,” or a phenomenon that needs to be discussed or judged—in any explicit way. The sexual orientation (lesbians and straights included), sexual practices, and sexual identities of his characters are taken as given, alongside other social attributes. In “Mala Noche,” Johnny and Pepper’s Mexican backgrounds, minority status, social class, and outsiders’ position are more important than whether or not they sleep with Walt, or how they perceive themselves sexually. Van Sant doesn’t define Johnny or Pepper as male prostitutes; they are just street hustlers who would sleep with anyone for a few bucks.

Earning acclaim beyond the festival circuit, “Mala Noche” soon attracted Hollywood attention, and Van Sant was courted by the major studios, such as Universal.  He pitched some ideas (“Drugstore Cowboy” and “My Own Private Idaho”), but the established companies showed no interest.


xosotin chelseathông tin chuyển nhượngcâu lạc bộ bóng đá arsenalbóng đá atalantabundesligacầu thủ haalandUEFAevertonxosokeonhacaiketquabongdalichthidau7m.newskqbdtysokeobongdabongdalufutebol ao vivofutemaxmulticanaisonbetbsport.fitonbet88.oooi9bet.bizhi88.ooookvip.atf8bet.atfb88.cashvn88.cashshbet.atbóng đá world cupbóng đá inter milantin juventusbenzemala ligaclb leicester cityMUman citymessi lionelsalahnapolineymarpsgronaldoserie atottenhamvalenciaAS ROMALeverkusenac milanmbappenapolinewcastleaston villaliverpoolfa cupreal madridpremier leagueAjaxbao bong da247EPLbarcelonabournemouthaff cupasean footballbên lề sân cỏbáo bóng đá mớibóng đá cúp thế giớitin bóng đá ViệtUEFAbáo bóng đá việt namHuyền thoại bóng đágiải ngoại hạng anhSeagametap chi bong da the gioitin bong da lutrận đấu hôm nayviệt nam bóng đátin nong bong daBóng đá nữthể thao 7m24h bóng đábóng đá hôm naythe thao ngoai hang anhtin nhanh bóng đáphòng thay đồ bóng đábóng đá phủikèo nhà cái onbetbóng đá lu 2thông tin phòng thay đồthe thao vuaapp đánh lô đềdudoanxosoxổ số giải đặc biệthôm nay xổ sốkèo đẹp hôm nayketquaxosokq xskqxsmnsoi cầu ba miềnsoi cau thong kesxkt hôm naythế giới xổ sốxổ số 24hxo.soxoso3mienxo so ba mienxoso dac bietxosodientoanxổ số dự đoánvé số chiều xổxoso ket quaxosokienthietxoso kq hôm nayxoso ktxổ số megaxổ số mới nhất hôm nayxoso truc tiepxoso ViệtSX3MIENxs dự đoánxs mien bac hom nayxs miên namxsmientrungxsmn thu 7con số may mắn hôm nayKQXS 3 miền Bắc Trung Nam Nhanhdự đoán xổ số 3 miềndò vé sốdu doan xo so hom nayket qua xo xoket qua xo so.vntrúng thưởng xo sokq xoso trực tiếpket qua xskqxs 247số miền nams0x0 mienbacxosobamien hôm naysố đẹp hôm naysố đẹp trực tuyếnnuôi số đẹpxo so hom quaxoso ketquaxstruc tiep hom nayxổ số kiến thiết trực tiếpxổ số kq hôm nayso xo kq trực tuyenkết quả xổ số miền bắc trực tiếpxo so miền namxổ số miền nam trực tiếptrực tiếp xổ số hôm nayket wa xsKQ XOSOxoso onlinexo so truc tiep hom nayxsttso mien bac trong ngàyKQXS3Msố so mien bacdu doan xo so onlinedu doan cau loxổ số kenokqxs vnKQXOSOKQXS hôm naytrực tiếp kết quả xổ số ba miềncap lo dep nhat hom naysoi cầu chuẩn hôm nayso ket qua xo soXem kết quả xổ số nhanh nhấtSX3MIENXSMB chủ nhậtKQXSMNkết quả mở giải trực tuyếnGiờ vàng chốt số OnlineĐánh Đề Con Gìdò số miền namdò vé số hôm nayso mo so debach thủ lô đẹp nhất hôm naycầu đề hôm naykết quả xổ số kiến thiết toàn quốccau dep 88xsmb rong bach kimket qua xs 2023dự đoán xổ số hàng ngàyBạch thủ đề miền BắcSoi Cầu MB thần tàisoi cau vip 247soi cầu tốtsoi cầu miễn phísoi cau mb vipxsmb hom nayxs vietlottxsmn hôm naycầu lô đẹpthống kê lô kép xổ số miền Bắcquay thử xsmnxổ số thần tàiQuay thử XSMTxổ số chiều nayxo so mien nam hom nayweb đánh lô đề trực tuyến uy tínKQXS hôm nayxsmb ngày hôm nayXSMT chủ nhậtxổ số Power 6/55KQXS A trúng roycao thủ chốt sốbảng xổ số đặc biệtsoi cầu 247 vipsoi cầu wap 666Soi cầu miễn phí 888 VIPSoi Cau Chuan MBđộc thủ desố miền bắcthần tài cho sốKết quả xổ số thần tàiXem trực tiếp xổ sốXIN SỐ THẦN TÀI THỔ ĐỊACầu lô số đẹplô đẹp vip 24hsoi cầu miễn phí 888xổ số kiến thiết chiều nayXSMN thứ 7 hàng tuầnKết quả Xổ số Hồ Chí Minhnhà cái xổ số Việt NamXổ Số Đại PhátXổ số mới nhất Hôm Nayso xo mb hom nayxxmb88quay thu mbXo so Minh ChinhXS Minh Ngọc trực tiếp hôm nayXSMN 88XSTDxs than taixổ số UY TIN NHẤTxs vietlott 88SOI CẦU SIÊU CHUẨNSoiCauVietlô đẹp hôm nay vipket qua so xo hom naykqxsmb 30 ngàydự đoán xổ số 3 miềnSoi cầu 3 càng chuẩn xácbạch thủ lônuoi lo chuanbắt lô chuẩn theo ngàykq xo-solô 3 càngnuôi lô đề siêu vipcầu Lô Xiên XSMBđề về bao nhiêuSoi cầu x3xổ số kiến thiết ngày hôm nayquay thử xsmttruc tiep kết quả sxmntrực tiếp miền bắckết quả xổ số chấm vnbảng xs đặc biệt năm 2023soi cau xsmbxổ số hà nội hôm naysxmtxsmt hôm nayxs truc tiep mbketqua xo so onlinekqxs onlinexo số hôm nayXS3MTin xs hôm nayxsmn thu2XSMN hom nayxổ số miền bắc trực tiếp hôm naySO XOxsmbsxmn hôm nay188betlink188 xo sosoi cầu vip 88lô tô việtsoi lô việtXS247xs ba miềnchốt lô đẹp nhất hôm naychốt số xsmbCHƠI LÔ TÔsoi cau mn hom naychốt lô chuẩndu doan sxmtdự đoán xổ số onlinerồng bạch kim chốt 3 càng miễn phí hôm naythống kê lô gan miền bắcdàn đề lôCầu Kèo Đặc Biệtchốt cầu may mắnkết quả xổ số miền bắc hômSoi cầu vàng 777thẻ bài onlinedu doan mn 888soi cầu miền nam vipsoi cầu mt vipdàn de hôm nay7 cao thủ chốt sốsoi cau mien phi 7777 cao thủ chốt số nức tiếng3 càng miền bắcrồng bạch kim 777dàn de bất bạion newsddxsmn188betw88w88789bettf88sin88suvipsunwintf88five8812betsv88vn88Top 10 nhà cái uy tínsky88iwinlucky88nhacaisin88oxbetm88vn88w88789betiwinf8betrio66rio66lucky88oxbetvn88188bet789betMay-88five88one88sin88bk88xbetoxbetMU88188BETSV88RIO66ONBET88188betM88M88SV88Jun-68Jun-88one88iwinv9betw388OXBETw388w388onbetonbetonbetonbet88onbet88onbet88onbet88onbetonbetonbetonbetqh88mu88Nhà cái uy tínpog79vp777vp777vipbetvipbetuk88uk88typhu88typhu88tk88tk88sm66sm66me88me888live8live8livesm66me88win798livesm66me88win79pog79pog79vp777vp777uk88uk88tk88tk88luck8luck8kingbet86kingbet86k188k188hr99hr99123b8xbetvnvipbetsv66zbettaisunwin-vntyphu88vn138vwinvwinvi68ee881xbetrio66zbetvn138i9betvipfi88clubcf68onbet88ee88typhu88onbetonbetkhuyenmai12bet-moblie12betmoblietaimienphi247vi68clupcf68clupvipbeti9betqh88onb123onbefsoi cầunổ hũbắn cáđá gàđá gàgame bàicasinosoi cầuxóc đĩagame bàigiải mã giấc mơbầu cuaslot gamecasinonổ hủdàn đềBắn cácasinodàn đềnổ hũtài xỉuslot gamecasinobắn cáđá gàgame bàithể thaogame bàisoi cầukqsssoi cầucờ tướngbắn cágame bàixóc đĩa开云体育开云体育开云体育乐鱼体育乐鱼体育乐鱼体育亚新体育亚新体育亚新体育爱游戏爱游戏爱游戏华体会华体会华体会IM体育IM体育沙巴体育沙巴体育PM体育PM体育AG尊龙AG尊龙AG尊龙AG百家乐AG百家乐AG百家乐AG真人AG真人<AG真人<皇冠体育皇冠体育PG电子PG电子万博体育万博体育KOK体育KOK体育欧宝体育江南体育江南体育江南体育半岛体育半岛体育半岛体育凯发娱乐凯发娱乐杏彩体育杏彩体育杏彩体育FB体育PM真人PM真人<米乐娱乐米乐娱乐天博体育天博体育开元棋牌开元棋牌j9九游会j9九游会开云体育AG百家乐AG百家乐AG真人AG真人爱游戏华体会华体会im体育kok体育开云体育开云体育开云体育乐鱼体育乐鱼体育欧宝体育ob体育亚博体育亚博体育亚博体育亚博体育亚博体育亚博体育开云体育开云体育棋牌棋牌沙巴体育买球平台新葡京娱乐开云体育mu88qh88