Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2013 3:58 pm 
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SHANE CARRUTH AND AMY SEIMETZ IN UPSTREAM COLOR

Lovely creepy conundrum

For a long eight years since Shane Carruth's 2004 feature debut, the deliciously mystifying zero-budget time-travel film Primer. people have been waiting to see what would come from him next. Now it comes: Upstream Color, a love story embedded in a kidnap plot that also in the blurb's version of it explores "life’s surprising jumps and science’s strange effects," leaping "with great audacity through its sequences, a cinematic simulacrum of the way we reflect on our lives, astonished at, as in the title of Grace Paley’s fiction collection, our 'Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.'" Indeed its Carruth's rapid-fire visual storytelling that stands out. It's nothing like its predecessor except in its reliance on odd science and intentional puzzlement. It's great fun and a visual delight if you like being challenged and having a residue of mystery always kept. If not, it could seem a congeries of meaninglessness. But Primer became a cult film and this will too. In between, what has Carruth, who plays a sexy criminal lover here as well as shot, produced, directed, wrote, did the music, co-edited, and is distributing, been doing with himself? Well, for one thing he consulted with Rian Johnson on time-travel for Looper. Upstream Color is a unique visual and (slightly too loud? but rich) audio experience that's absolute catnip to younger film critics, and acknowledged as brilliant, however reluctantly, by older ones. Think Terrance Malick meets David Lynch. If you are into film as art I would consider this one of the year's musts so far, and it should become in some form available to everyone, even with limited theatrical release.

"Upstream Color certainly is something to see," wrote McCarthy, "if you're into brilliant technique, expressive editing, oblique storytelling, obscuritanist speculative fiction or discovering a significant new actress" (he refers to the female lead Amy Seimetz). Justin Chang of Variety noted it's "a warmer, less foreboding picture than Primer, not moving in any conventional sense, but suffused with emotion all the same." Elaborare summaries in their review by Rodrigo Perez in Indiewire and Todd McCarthy in Hollywood Reporter will not only spoil the movie for you but may partly, perhaps unduly, horrify you at what's in store. Upstream Color may be a readymade cult film of surpassing beauty but is is also not only more rather than less mystifying than Primer, but initially rather creepy and disgusting, whereas Primer was more scary and haunting. But if you're a cinephile, and maybe none of that will matter anyway, you'll have to see it because its sensuous beauty washes over you "like a sonorous bath of beguiling visuals, ambient sounds and corporeal textures" (Perez). And Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxed who unlike some thinks the film "almost syllogistically clear," proclaims it"a towering achievement." "Syllogistically clear" may ignore many small visual details that are hard to integrate, but the film is straight chronological storytelling. And however mystifying, it gives you such basic movie elements as mystery, thriller, crime, love story. Carruth does join the ranks of the younger American movie masters here, but less mainstream than most.

Carruth was a Texas software engineer when he made Primer for $7,000. His sound design this time won him a Special Jury Prize at 2013j Sundance (the film was nominated for the Grand Jury one): he is not a musician, but using instruments, synthesizer, and sampling (with some location sound effect recording shown as part of the film action), the audio he created as he went along is unusually dramatic and integral, almost on a Kubrick level though without Kubrick's brilliant use of received music. The rapid cutting in dialogue passages is almost hyperactive, but the scenes with Carruth and Seimetz do have a strange intimacy.

Upstream Color, 96 mins., debuted at Sundance January 2013, showed also at SXSW ant the Berlinale and was screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincon Center-Museum of Modern Art joint series, New Directors/New Films (which runs March 20-31, 2013) it has already received many reviews and been given a Metacritic rating of 85 (though based so far on only five reviews). It opens theatrically in New York on April 5, 2013 at IFC Center with US DVD and Blu-ray versions coming May 7. The sound track is out too, even in a vinyl version (edition: 500).

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