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Drugstore Cowboy DVD A seminal offering from the early days of the 1990s indie film boom, "Drugstore... more info $14.98was $14.98 Buy Now

Elephant (HBO) DVD Legendary filmmaker Gus Van Sant helms this heart-wrenching, poignant drama... more info $5.98was $5.98 Buy Now

Milk DVD Experience the inspirational triumph of one of America's greatest heroes.... more info $14.98was $14.98 Buy Now

Psycho DVD Gus Van Sant helms this shot-by-shot, updated-in-color remake of Hitchcock's... more info $14.98was $14.98 Buy Now

To Die For DVD Black comedy at its very best! Nicole Kidman stars as Suzanne Stone in "To Die... more info $9.98was $9.98 Buy Now

Good Will Hunting DVD This 1997 drama follows the story of Will Hunting, an MIT janitor and genius,... more info $9.98was $9.98 Buy Now



Also Known As: Gus Green Van Sant Jr., Gus Van Sant Jr. Died:
Born: July 24, 1952 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Louisville, Kentucky, USA Profession: director, screenwriter, film editor, producer, guitarist, teacher, painter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Oscar-nominated writer and director Gus Van Sant was a key figure on the American independent film scene of the 1980s and 1990s, offering p tic yet clear-eyed excursions through America's seamy underbelly in films like "Drugstore Cowboy" (1989) and "My Own Private Idaho" (1991). Openly gay, Van Sant dealt unflinchingly with marginalized subcultures. Even as he segued into the mainstream with "Good Will Hunting" (1997) and "Milk" (2008), he stayed true to his artful, gritty vision. Van Sant was the rare filmmaker who dipped in and out of the studio system with ease, and while his more experimental, limited release works were some of his strongest, he had a remarkable ability to stay true to his striking visual style and penchant for societal outcasts, while at the same time, crafting widely appealing films.Van Sant was born in Louisville, KY on July 24, 1952 and was raised all over the United States as the child of a salesman. He was interested in filmmaking from an early age, and put together his own Super-8 home movies in addition to experimenting with photography and painting. After graduating from the progressive Catlin Gabel School in Portland, OR, Van Sant studied painting and film at the Rhode...

Oscar-nominated writer and director Gus Van Sant was a key figure on the American independent film scene of the 1980s and 1990s, offering p tic yet clear-eyed excursions through America's seamy underbelly in films like "Drugstore Cowboy" (1989) and "My Own Private Idaho" (1991). Openly gay, Van Sant dealt unflinchingly with marginalized subcultures. Even as he segued into the mainstream with "Good Will Hunting" (1997) and "Milk" (2008), he stayed true to his artful, gritty vision. Van Sant was the rare filmmaker who dipped in and out of the studio system with ease, and while his more experimental, limited release works were some of his strongest, he had a remarkable ability to stay true to his striking visual style and penchant for societal outcasts, while at the same time, crafting widely appealing films.

Van Sant was born in Louisville, KY on July 24, 1952 and was raised all over the United States as the child of a salesman. He was interested in filmmaking from an early age, and put together his own Super-8 home movies in addition to experimenting with photography and painting. After graduating from the progressive Catlin Gabel School in Portland, OR, Van Sant studied painting and film at the Rhode Island School of Design where his exposure to the films of Andy Warhol inspired him to follow in the silver-haired one's experimental footsteps. During several years in Hollywood, Van Sant gained production experience and became fascinated by the fringe-dwelling street characters of rundown Hollywood. "I guess I'm interested in sociopathic people," he stated, "in life and in my movies." Their stories remained fixed in his mind while he spent two years producing commercials at an advertising agency in New York. With money he saved in the lucrative position, Van Sant retreated to Portland, where he directed music videos, commercials and began work on his first feature. "Mala Noche" (1986), a dreamy black-and-white rumination on the doomed relationship between a teen Mexican migrant worker and a liquor-store clerk, was a hit on the festival circuit. Made for $25,000, the film won a Los Angeles Film Critics Award as the best independent/experimental film.

The buzz over Van Sant's debut achievement led to meetings with Hollywood studios, though the courtship came to an end when Van Sant revealed the seedy, decidedly un-Hollywood stories he had in mind for his next features. One of those ideas eventually became "Drugstore Cowboy" (1989), which chronicled the exploits of a rootless druggie (Matt Dillon) and his "crew" who survive by robbing West Coast pharmacies. Lyrically shot around Portland, and boasting superb performances from Dillon and co-star Kelly Lynch, the film earned heaps of critical praise, including the Best Film and Best Director titles from the National Society of Film Critics. Van Sant further explored the themes of alienation and non-traditional "family" within marginalized societal groups in his 1991 feature, "My Own Private Idaho." Van Sant won an Independent Spirit Award for his first original screenplay, about a narcoleptic male prostitute (River Ph nix) and his well-heeled companion (Keanu Reeves) - son of the local mayor who, like Shakespeare's Prince Hal, slums amongst the low-lifes before reclaiming his place in society. Unified by p tic visual imagery, the film combined a less than successful retelling of the Bard's "Henry IV" with a harsh, unsentimental and nonjudgmental look at the lives of hustlers.

Van Sant hovered in familiar territory with another indie road picture centering on an outsider, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" (1994). Adapted from Tom Robbins' 1976 cult novel about a young woman whose outsized thumbs make her a formidable hitchhiker, "Cowgirls" was highly anticipated after the attention-getting success of Van Sant's preceding features. The film's editing was reportedly rushed to be ready for the international film festivals, and after underwhelming audience response at the 1994 Toronto Film Festival, "Cowgirls" returned to the editing room for extensive recutting. Nonetheless, the final product was deemed a tedious bore, top heavy with would-be quirky characters, and it fizzled with both critics and audiences. The flop could have derailed Van Sant's career had he not already committed to helming "To Die For" (1995), his first project for a major studio. Scripted by Hollywood veteran Buck Henry, "To Die For" was inspired by the true story of a high-school teacher who seduced her teenage lover into murdering her husband. The film was a modest commercial success and critical hit for everyone involved, particularly Nicole Kidman who portrayed the tirelessly ambitious local weathercaster who romances Joaquin Ph nix into murdering Matt Dillon.

The same year, Van Sant served as executive producer on Larry Clark's "Kids," a 'verite'-styled drama about the sex and drug habits of a group of middle-class Manhattan teens as well as one of the more controversial films of 1995. Some found the work profound, while others found it troubling for its "exploitive" use of young actors. Van Sant returned to the director's chair and helmed his first major box office success "Good Will Hunting" (1997), about a working class underachiever and undiagnosed genius (Matt Damon) championed by a state-mandated therapist (Robin Williams) and a charismatic best friend (Ben Affleck). Written by Damon and Affleck, the well-crafted film was somewhat predictable but Van Sant's sure-handed direction and authentic sense of place (set in blue-collar South Boston) overcame any deficiencies. And while "Good Will Hunting" might have seemed an unlikely (and overtly commercial) choice for the director, its themes of outsiders struggling to connect to the mainstream place it squarely in his uvre. The film's $200 million box office success and Van Sant's Oscar nomination moved him closer to mainstream Hollywood, but he nearly derailed his prospects out of the gate when he opted to direct a shot-by-shot 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic "Psycho," a bizarre career move which left film purists fuming and audiences unmoved.

Van Sant's misstep was fairly redeemed with "Finding Forrester" (2000), a conventional but mostly effective tale in which a reclusive, J.D. Salinger-like author (Sean Connery) mentors an inner city p try prodigy (Rob Brown). After this commercial and critical success, Van Sant returned left of center with a pair of non-studio productions directing "Gerry" (2002), co-written by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck who also starred in the unusual film in which two men named Gerry are hopelessly lost during a hiking expedition. Hypnotic and unorthodox, to say the least, the film was received as a definite "love-it-or-hate-it" prospect, but Van Sant seemed squarely back on the road to more personalized and experimental filmmaking. He remained independent with the arresting and remarkable "Elephant" (2003), an abstract exploration of the contrast between banality and violence in American life which stubbornly refused to embrace any sort of conventional narrative. Named for the aphorism about the problematic pachyderm in the living room that is so big that it g s ignored, the star-less film followed students at a Portland high school where violence erupts, delivering Van Sant's take on the murders at Columbine High School. The crisp, spare film, which offered no easy answers, earned the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

With "Last Days" (2005), a fictional rendition of the last days before tortured rocker Kurt Cobain's self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head, Van Sant again crafted an innovative and hypnotic film. Starring Michael Pitt as Blake, an introspective artist buckling under the weight of fame, stardom and mounting isolation, "Last Days" borrowed liberally from Cobain's own story while maintaining its independence and claim of being a work of fiction. Reviews were mainly positive but "Last Days" received only limited release in a mere 12 theaters. The following year, Van Sant contributed to the Paris-set short film collection "Paris Je T'Aime" (2006), writing and directing a humorous vignette about a crossed-signals attempt at a pickup. Van Sant's 2008 film adaptation of the novel "Paranoid Park" was not released in U.S. theaters despite positive reviews, but later that same year, he scored with "Milk" (2008), a biopic drama about assassinated San Francisco politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn). A fascinating hybrid of cultural history and character study, the film which Van Sant had been trying to bring to the screen since 1992 made an even stronger mark than it might have earlier when its fall 2008 release coincided with the defeat of a proposition legalizing marriage between same sex couples in California. The docudrama earned nearly unanimous praise - while Van Sant received a nomination for Best Director at the Academy Awards - even though its culturally significant and timely subject matter received limited release.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
2.
  Restless (2011)
3.
  Milk (2008)
4.
6.
  Last Days (2005) Director
7.
  Elephant (2003) Director
8.
  Gerry (2002) Director
9.
  Finding Forrester (2000) Director
10.
  Psycho (1998) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Canyons, The (2013)
4.
 Last Days (2005)
5.
7.
 Guns on the Clackamas (1995) Himself
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Moved extensively around the country with his parents as a child before settling in Darien, CT
1967:
Landed a summer advertising job on NYC's Madison Ave. at age 16
1968:
As an art student, discovered the work of Andy Warhol; inspired to start making films
:
Shot his first painterly, animated films with an 8 millimeter Kodak
:
Moved to Portland, OR at age 17 with family
:
Collaborated with future cinematographer Eric Edwards in high school film project "The Happy Organ"
1976:
Worked as an assistant to Ken Shapiro ("Groove Tube"), working on comedy scripts
1978:
Received credit for the sound on the comedy film "Property"
:
Made feature film directing debut in "Alice in Hollywood," an attempted screwball comedy that was never released
:
Moved back in with parents back in Darien, CT and worked for his father in a New Jersey warehouse
1981:
Moved to New York; created commercials for a Madison Ave. advertising firm
1982:
Short film "The Discipline of D.E." debuted at New York Film Festival
1983:
Returned to Portland, OR to write and direct films, commercials and music videos; also briefly taught film production at the Oregon Art Institute
1986:
Wrote, edited, and produced first widely acclaimed feature "Mala Noche"
1989:
Directed first film with a sizable budget "Drugstore Cowboy," made between $4 and $7 million; also first feature in color
:
Made rare TV appearance, interviewed by film critic Charles Champlin on "Champlin on Film" on Bravo
1991:
Wrote first original feature film screenplay "My Own Private Idaho"; also directed
1992:
Directed TV short "Thanksgiving Prayer," a segment of PBS compilation special "American Flash Cards"
1993:
Signed a contract with The Gap to film commercials
1993:
Helmed an adaptation of Tom Robbins' novel "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues"
1995:
Executive produced first film, Larry Clark's "Kids"
1995:
Directed first film he did not write,"To Die For" starring Nicole Kidman
1997:
Helmed mainstream drama "Good Will Hunting," co-written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck; received first Best Director Academy Award nomination
1998:
Signed to make a color version of "Psycho" using Joseph Stefano's original script
2000:
Directed Sean Connery in "Finding Forrester," about an African-American teen writing prodigy who finds a mentor in a reclusive author
2002:
Directed "Gerry," which starred and was written by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck; nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
2003:
Wrote and directed "Elephant," which was inspired by the mass shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999; nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
2005:
Helmed "Last Days," loosely based on the final hours of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain
2006:
Wrote and directed "Le Marais" segment of film anthology "Paris, je t'aime"
2007:
Helmed "Paranoid Park," a film about a teenage skateboarder who accidentally kills a security guard; earned an Independent Spirit Award Nomination for Best Director
2008:
Directed "Milk," a biography of openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk (Sean Penn)
2008:
Nominated for the 2008 Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film ("Milk")
2009:
Nominated for the 2008 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Directing ("Milk")
2011:
Directed Mia Wasikowska, playing a terminally ill teenage girl in "Restless"
2011:
Executive produced Starz crime drama series "Boss," starring Kelsey Grammer
2012:
Directed "Promised Land"; film co-written by Matt Damon and John Krasinski based on a story by Dave Eggers
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Catlin Gabel School: Portland , Oregon -
Rhode Island School of Design: Providence , Rhode Island - 1976
Rhode Island School of Design: Providence , Rhode Island - 1976

Notes

"He has used 'Hollywood' actors, but he keeps them shabby, quiet, and unglamorous--and he helps them be better than any system has alloed: Matt Dillon in 'Drugstore Cowboy' and River Phoenix in '[My Own Private] Idaho'. Van Sant is gay, gritty, and arty all at the same time. There is no trace of camp or swishiness: he is determined on heartfelt feelings and commonplace tragedy. He has a great eye, and an even better sense of adjacency--not quite cutting, but a feeling for cut-up simultaneity." --David Thomson, "A Biographical Dictionary of Film"

Van Sant won second place as Best Director and "My Own Private Idaho" came in second as Best Picture in the 1991 New York Film Critics Circle Awards. River Phoenix also came in second as Best Actor for "My Private Idaho".

"I've tried to be as intimate with film as the written word is. There are all these little metaphors about how the clouds look like mushrooms. Or a writer can talk about the color of the sky for a paragraph. But how to do that in film was my big problem--how to take that imagery into a theater and have it be accessible, or, at least, watchable." --Gus Van Sant (THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, September 15, 1991)

"'He's got a real voyeuristic side to him; he's tricky that way,' says Matt Dillon. 'He's always got this look on his face like there's some private little joke in the back of his mind.' His films share that sensibility: they're filled with off-balance images and quirky jokes--not standard gag lines, but wry turns that take a moment to sink in. . . . The jokes hang in the air before the payoff kicks in--and so do the movies themselves. Like the film maker, they don't give much away on the surface; they hold their secrets closely." --Thomas J Meyer (THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, September 15, 1991)

"When he was a child, dreaming of making movies, Van Sant suspected that his reserved nature might preclude his chosen career. 'I thought that film makers were really gregarious partiers who were able to convince everybody to be in their movies because they were just social butterflies. . . . So I thought it really wasn't a good job for me.' As it turns out, his films have done the talking for him." --Thomas J Meyer (THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, September 15, 1991)

"Since he came to film making by way of painting, Van Sant is obsessed with controlling the cinematic frame; his films rely as much on the ability of pictures themselves to tell stories as on narrative structure.

The films are punctuated with close-up images shot at odd angles: the grille of a car with clouds rushing over head; the edge of a pack of gum; the printing on the top of a light bulb . . . The close shots yield moments that are at once anchoring and unsettling, giving the audience an intimate link to the setting, but showing it from an eccentric point of view.

"The director also encourages surprises in the filming process by being so prepared that there's room for accidents. He puts great time and effort into rehearsing scenes and having actors assume their roles off camera, so that when the time comes to shoot, they're able to go with the impulse of the moment." --Thomas J Meyer (THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, September 15, 1991)

Family close complete family listing

father:
Gus Van Sant Sr. Clothing manufacturer.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Pink" Doubleday/Nan Talese

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