Upstream Color

Upstream Color

The long-awaited second film from Shane Carruth is a mind-bending puzzle filled with striking images and sounds.

Back in 2004 Carruth startled audiences at Sundance with his ultra low-budget time travel drama Primer, which has since become a significant cult film.

He quickly became something of an enigma – apparently one long cherished project was stuck in development hell – prompting questions about when and what his new film would be.

But earlier this year he was back at Sundance (nine years after his debut film) with Upstream Color, which prompted eager anticipation.

Suffice to say, Carruth has lived up to expectations with a film that is both absorbing and uncompromising.

When a young woman (Amy Seimetz) is involved in a bizarre series of events after being drugged, she forms a connection with a man (Carruth) who has had similarly surreal experiences.

Although that is a very basic outline of the story, part of the pleasure is seeing how it veers into surreal realms encompassing roundworms, pigs, flowers and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

Just trying to describe the film in words feels futile as this is one that should be experienced on a audio-visual level.

The sound design by Pete Horner and Chad Chance is a huge part of the film and the seemingly omnipresent synth score is hypnotic.

The visuals too have a strange, sinister beauty as most of the time Carruth and his co-editor David Lowery cut in an interesting way, cramming a kaleidoscope of images into the 96 minute running time.

Such specificity of vision is probably due to Carruth’s array of talents: he serves as actor-writer-director-producer, cinematographer, composer, co-editor and one of the camera operators.

In a time where too much information is poured out before a film’s release, he has been refreshingly enigmatic in interviews promoting it.

What is it really about?

You could say the film is about recovery and reconnection, but it is intentionally ambiguous and presented with a sense of mystery at almost every turn.

The way images, both urban and rural, are blended with sound is hypnotic, putting us into an almost trance-like state.

Because the film is so unconventional in its approach, some might dismiss it as pretentious or incoherent.

It isn’t a mainstream film by any means, but in an era of manufactured franchises it is heartening to see such singularity of vision in US cinema.

Like Memento (2000) and Mulholland Drive (2001) it keeps the audience in a state of suspense at what may happen in the next sequence, which is quite a feat in an era noted for its adherence to more rigid forms of storytelling.

If Primer explored time travel and engineering, Upstream Color delves deep into the mysteries of identity and human connection.

The best compliment I can pay it is that as the final credits rolled in the cinema, I immediately wanted to experience it all over again.

> Official site
> Reviews of the film at Metacritic

Plein Soleil (Purple Noon)

Alain Delon in Plein Soleil

Although later adapted in 1999 by Anthony Minghella, the first film version of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley was a French adaptation, directed by Rene Clement.

It follows the adventures of Tom Ripley (Alain Delon), hired by the father of rich playboy Phillipe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), with instructions to bring his wayward son home from Italy.

But Phillipe, his fiancee Marge (Marie Laforet) and Tom decide to stay in the Mediterranean, divisions start to arise.

Clement made his name as a director just after World War II, with Beyond the Gates (1949) and Forbidden Games (1952), both of which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Plein Soleil a.k.a Purple Noon (1960) came at an interesting point in world cinema, just as the French New Wave was taking the world by storm with Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) and Godard’s Breathless (1960).

Some of the younger directors were critics who had derided Clement, most famously Truffaut in his famous diatribe “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema“.

Although at that time he was seen as part of the establishment, this could be seen as something of a bridge between the old guard and the up and coming autuers.

Ironically, Plein Soleil was enriched by cinematographer Henri Decae, who had shot Truffaut’s landmark debut film the year before.

Here he basks in the vivid colours of the Mediterranean and visually the film is a treat, with Bella Clement’s ultra-stylish costumes adding to the mix.

But the really big deal with this film was that it cemented the arrival of Alain Delon as a bona fide movie star, with his smooth charm and young good looks.

He would swiftly become an icon of European cinema with appearances in Visconti’s The Leopard (1963), Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (1962), and Melville’s Le Samourai (1967).

The comparison with Anthony Minghella’s 1999 version is fascinating because although Clement arguably captures the spirit of Highsmith’s novel better, he fudges the ending (Minghella’s was more ambiguous), incurring Highsmith’s displeasure.

That said, there is much to feast on here and this UK disc features some notable extras.

BONUS FEATURES

  • Interview with Alain Delon: A new interview wih the French actor in which he discusses working with Clement and the importance of Plein Soleil in establishing his career. (19 mins)
  • Rene Clement at the Heart of the New Wave: A documentary by Dominique Maillet focusing on Clement and his legacy featuring interviews with director Jean-Charles Tacchella (Cousin Cousine), actress Brigitte Fossey (Forbidden Games), Alain Delon, film historian Aldo Tassone, director and producer Dominique Delouche (L’homme de désir), assistant cameraman Jean-Paul Schwartz (Purple Noon), producer Renzo Rossellini (Don Giovanni, Death Watch), and costume designer Piero Tosi (The Leopard, The Damned). (67 min).
  • The Restoration: A short video showing selected scenes in split screen comparing the old footage alongside the new 4K restoration. (5 min).

Plein Soleil is re-released at selected UK cinemas from Friday 30th August and is out on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 16th September

> Pre-order the Blu-ray at Amazon UK
> Get local showtimes via Google Movies

The Future of Movies (1990)

The Future of Movies in 1990

Back in 1990 the late Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel hosted a TV special which featured directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese discussing the future of movies.

Spielberg and Lucas made headlines earlier this summer by predicting the implosion of Hollywood’s current economic model, but what did they feel 23 years ago?

The answer lies in this programme – recently discovered by Cinephilia and Beyond – where they not only discuss the future of movies but also their careers and a good deal else beside, including:

  • The possibility of a sequel to E.T. (1982)
  • Spielberg’s interest in a Howard Hughes project
  • Lucas on the Star Wars prequels
  • Scorsese on Goodfellas (1990) and commercial success
  • The sex scene in Don’t Look Now (1973)
  • HD television
  • Film preservation

You can watch the full programme here (along with the fast-forwarded ads):

> RogerEbert.com
> Find out about 1990 on film at Wikipedia

Blu-ray: Pi

Sean Gullette in Pi

Darren Aronofsky’s debut feature about a troubled mathematician is a reminder of his precocious gifts as a writer-director.

Shot in black and white on location in New York, it made a big impact at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998 and fifteen years on still holds up very well.

When the obsessive maths genius Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) becomes involved with a numerical pattern which may or may not explain the patterns of the stock market, he soon attracts the attention of a shady Wall Street firm and a Kabbalah sect, both of whom take an interest in his work.

But his frequent headaches, obsessive nature and paranoia all conspire to drive him to the brink of madness despite the best efforts of his former professor (Mark Margolis) to reign him back.

Made for just $60,000, it heralded the arrival of a precocious talent, who would go on to direct Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Fountain (2006), The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010).

But there is something special about Pi in the way it completely rejects indie movie clichés to create something distinct and memorable as the protagonist pursues the meaning of an elusive number rather than a one dimensional villain.

It isn’t everyday you see a film featuring the Fibonacci sequence and the board game Go, but whilst the subject matter is unusual the film is successful blend of genres (Wikipedia describes it as a “surrealist psychological thriller”) which Aronofsky somehow ties together.

Mixing black and white film stocks, unorthodox angles and camera rigs, as well as an excellent sound design by Brian Emrich, we are plunged into Max’s neurotic world of migraines, computers and numbers.

The urgency of Clint Mansell’s high-tempo electronic score is also brilliantly effective and would mark the start of a long collaboration with the director.

As for the acting, it is on par with the fine work behind the camera: Sean Gullette manages to capture the magnificently tortured soul of Max – a man whose brilliance is only equalled by his mental and physical torment.

In key supporting roles, Mark Margolis as his mentor and Ben Shenkman as a rabbi stand out, whilst Aronofsky makes clever use of extras in exterior locations – especially Chinatown and the New York Subway.

It won the Directing Award at Sundance in 1998 and during the following summer grossed over $3 million, more than making its money back.

More importantly it established Aronofsky firmly on the filmmaking map, although he has kept mainstream Hollywood at an intriguing arms length.

Despite being attached to big studio tentpoles such as Batman: Year Zero (which eventually became Batman Begins) and The Wolverine (later taken over by James Mangold), he has always been drawn back to passion projects like The Wrestler and Black Swan.

Whilst studios such as Fox Searchlight have distributed his recent films films, he has always retained a degree of control on the fringes of the system (his upcoming biblical film about Noah will be interesting as it is co-financed by Paramount, perhaps the most cautious of the major studios).

The roots of that creative defiance can be seen in this 15th anniversary release of his first film, which combines unconventional ideas with technical flair.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Commentary with Darren Aronofsky: A very detailed audio commentary which describes many aspects of the production from set design, camera moves and a whole host behind the scenes info.
  • Commentary with Sean Gullette: A more considered audio commentary from the lead actor, describing his role and the experience of playing the tortured Max Cohen.
  • Deleted Scenes: Include a scene where Max gets confronted outside his apartment and one with a slinky that ironically became one of the press images despite the scene not making the final cut.
  • Behind the scenes montage: An 8-minute featurette shot in colour showing how some scenes were filmed, including one inside Max’s apartment and another with the Hasidic Jews, as well as some footage from Sundance 1998.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Original Trailer
  • Music Video

> Buy Pi on Blu-ray at Amazon UK
> Official site from 1998
> Darren Aronofsky at the IMDb