Tom Wolfe’s inside-mocking-without brand of satire was never more pungently amusing than with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which was published forty-years ago. I haven’t read the book since high school, and can’t imagine how any of it will speak to our intensely connected age; all due respect to Ken Kesey, but to drop out nowadays is to give up on a troubled reality that demands our attention lest it all get away from us. Though I think he’s on the wrong end of the political spectrum, Wolfe is a great writer who is at his best diagnosing the American sickness of meaningless ambition; he misses when tackling social issues that require actual human empathy.
Gus Van Sant doesn’t specialize in empathy either; rather, he’s a master aesthete who lately has excelled when mining his Bela Tarr fetish in the name of extreme cinema. I’ve heard that Paranoid Park is Van Sant’s most affecting movie in years, so maybe he’s ready to do something interesting with Wolfe’s LSD-tinged travelogue, but his collaboration with Big Love writer Lance Black leads me to believe he’s going to bracket the entire story with quotation marks. (Big Love ain’t bad, but it sure lacks for humanity.)
Van Sant and Black are also developing a Harvey Milk biopic, which is far more relevant today given the begrudging acceptance of homosexuality as a non-elective orientation (Scandal!). But Van Sant’s been worshipping at the Kesey altar for decades; he probably needs to get this out of his system. Richard Gladstein will be producing, which means we may not see this movie until 2010, since the completed-ages-ago Killshot and The Nanny Diaries are gathering dust on The Weinstein Company’s shelf.
I love Gus and wish him the best; better him than anyone else.