Study day Expanded Gus Van Sant (Toulouse)

Study day “Expanded Gus Van Sant”

May 23, 2023, Toulouse Cinematheque

On the occasion of Gus Van Sant’s visit to Toulouse to present his play Trouble (2021) at the Théâtre de la Cité, and a partial retrospective of his film work at the Cinémathèque de Toulouse, this study day proposes to reflect on the links between Gus Van Sant and the arts. Reflecting his desire to put the arts in dialogue, this musical show, which he wrote, staged, and for which he composed the music, is built around Andy Warhol, during his Factory period. From this figure – perhaps – guardian of his work, Gus Van Sant inherited the taste for experimentation at the crossroads of the arts and image practices: cinema, photography, visual arts, television, music, music video. , publicity.

Critically, the work of Gus Van Sant has mainly been studied in the light of two tendencies. The first, centered on the queer dimension of his feature films (Mala Noche, My Own Private Idaho), made Gus Van Sant the champion of a post-Beat Generation independent cinema (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Drugstore Cowboy). The second mainly focused on the Gerry – Paranoid Park period, with an easily identifiable aesthetic, made up of minimalist narratives (Gerry, Last Days) giving pride of place to a formal experimentation with emptiness. A tenacious opposition comes to redouble this critical tendency: the one which puts in tension “commercial” cinema, with productions supported by large studios and intended for a large audience (Ready for anything, Meet Forrester, Harvey Milk, Promised Land) and a cinema standing on the fringes of the Hollywood system (Will Hunting, Gerry).

The term Expanded Cinema (VanDerBeek, 1966; Youngblood, 1970), has been circulating more and more widely over the past ten years to designate a progressive enlargement of cinematography to other fields of human experience, linked to the expansion of audiovisual means. We propose to demarcate this expression to question the span of Gus Van Sant’s artistic practice, which extends beyond cinema to embrace the plastic arts, painting, exhibited cinema, music, theater, literature , photography and video games, arts which can either be represented or called upon in its cinema, or be the subject of dedicated creations. The study day will focus on the less studied aspects of his work, taking as a starting point the crossing and hybridization of practices. Among the perspectives for reflection, we can question:

Gus Van Sant and the visual arts: many contemporary artists have worked to revisit classic Hollywood cinema (Douglas Gordon, Christian Marclay, Peter Tscherkassky) by varying the conditions of its projection or by altering its images or sounds. To what extent does Gus Van Sant inherit or draw inspiration from such practices; how do these open up his cinema to the field of contemporary art?

Gus Van Sant and music : if all of Gus Van Sant’s cinema gives a special place to music, some of his films intensify this sensitivity, in particular by filming music played (Elephant), or by picturing the last days of a fictional Kurt Cobain (last days). He also composed folk-rock albums (for example Eighteen Songs about Golf, Pop Secret, 1998). Moreover, on the sidelines of his activity as a filmmaker, Gus Van Sant devoted himself to the production of music videos (David Bowie, Tracy Chapman, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elton John, Chris Isaak, …). Are these audio-visual objects a place of continuity with his cinematographic practice or are they the occasion for new formal experiments?

• Gus Van Sant and literature: Filmmaker openly influenced by the writers of the Beat Generation, whose writings he adapts (short films A discipline of D.E, Thanksgiving Prayer, and Ballad of the Skeletons) or invites authors into his films (Burroughs in Drug Store Cowboy and in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues), while not hesitating to parody its tropes (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues), Gus Van Sant demonstrates that his interests in literature are more extensive. Making a writer, Forrester, the central figure in one of his films, he makes a filmmaker the hero of his novel, Pink, which recrosses some of his feature films (figure of River Phoenix, addiction to drugs, etc.)

• Gus Van Sant and the video game: Whether Gerry experiments by shifting the stakes of the device of the exploration video game, by extracting from the video game universe a mode of movement of the characters in space, while doubling the reference to the video game of a long discussion on a game of strategy, Elephant radicalizes this reference first by placing a video game called “Gerry” in the hands of its characters, then by shooting part of the film according to the device of the FPS (First Person Shooter[1]). Beyond these two films, are there other crossover points between Gus Van Sant and video games?

• Gus Van Sant and the theatre: In addition to the play he comes to present in Toulouse, Gus Van Sant has a strong interest in theatre, which some of his films reflect. My Own Private Idaho reread for example Henry IV (Shakespeare) of which he mobilizes some of the narrative and scenographic issues by transposing them into contemporary urban America.

• Gus Van Sant and the series: One may wonder to what extent, beyond the character of a young marginal with blue hair and the look of a skater lost in the credits of the series Boss (Starz2011-2012), developed with Farhad Safinia and of which he only directs the pilot, Gus Van Sant’s style permeates the series in which he participates (The Devil You Know2015 ; Feud, FX, 2017).

• Gus Van Sant and photography: Gus Van Sant has been practicing photography since the cast of Drug Store Cowboyduring which he begins to feed the series of shots on which will be composed his book of photographs of young actors and actresses in black and white 108 Portraits (Twin Palms Publishers, 1993). All framed according to the same device, the actors of the emerging generation of independent American cinema of the 1990s follow one another in front of the lens of Gus Van Sant. This attraction for the portrait and the still image leads us to question the possible dialogue between the photographic and the cinematographic.

Communication proposals (abstract of 200-300 words, indicative bibliography, short biography) should be sent for the February 15 to the following addresses:,,
The study day will be held on May 23 at the Cinémathèque de Toulouse.


ARNOLDY Edward, Cinema between the clouds, Yellow Now, coll. “Cinema side”, 2009.
BOUQUET Stéphane and LALANNE Jean-Marc. Gus Van Sant. Cinema notebooks2009.
CALVET Yann and LAUTE Jérôme, Eclipsesn° 41, “Gus Van Sant, inde-trend”, 2007.
DROIN Nicholas. Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park: Variations and Repetitions. YellowNow, 2016.
Gus Van Sant: Icons. The French Cinematheque and Actes Sud, 2016.
L’ÉCOLE SOLNYCKINE Sophie, “Boss, Notes for an ecotopia”, La Furia Umana.
LOBRUTTO Vincent. Gus Van Sant: His Own Private Cinema. Praeger, 2010.
RIVER Benoit, An aesthetic approach to cinematographic rhythm in the work of Gus Van Sant: grasping the construction of the senses, Doctoral thesis in Arts and sciences of art, under the supervision of Dominique Château, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2016.
TYLEVICH Katya. Gus Van Sant: The Art of Making Movies. Laurence King Publishing, 2021.

Study day Expanded Gus Van Sant (Toulouse)