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An overwhelming artistic exercise in confusion worth experiencing
As you all know, with PRIMER, Shane Carruth announced himself to the world as a naturally gifted talent, one who could rival the likes of James Cameron. Of course, it never happened as he struggled to get his second film off the ground.
Nine years after PRIMER Shane Carruth's long awaited second film is as dense as expected, with an impossible to understand third act that still manages to intrigue due to its sheer technical mastery. With UPSTREAM COLOR Carruth proves he is not a one-shot wonder. He also proves he is the ultimate NYC and L.A. art-film director incapable of adapting to more mainstream story telling.
Much has been written about the plot so I will not get into the specifics here. What I will say is that I think Carruth purposely holds critical information from his films as a way to challenge viewers and force them to think. This is admirable. But in the end, a bit frustrating because with just a few answers both PRIMER and now UPSTREAM COLOR would be fit for the masses without compromising artistic integrity.
The film made sense to me for about an hour and then it started to slip away. Like with Primer, I just lost my footing and could not gain hold. Amazingly enough, I still enjoyed the experience and was never bored, In fact, at times I was held in genuine suspense.
The third act has been described as 30 minutes without dialog and that simply is not true. There are numerous sequences without dialog and about halfway through we get a major sequence of events told with visuals and music. Then we have some more conventional filmmaking (conventional is really not the right word) followed by what I think might be around 15 minutes of dialog free visuals. The ending makes no sense to me, but I will see the film again and hope to sort it out.
Carruth designed the sound and composed the music and let me tell you, he hit both out of the park. The man could work scoring films and make a great living. The same goes for his sound design.
I watched the film at IFC in New York City and they have a pretty good sound system. What they don't have is a great screen. It might be the proper widescreen aspect ratio, but the images appeared darker in sections and that harmed Carruth's amazing visuals, rumored to have been captured with a hacked $700 Pansonic DSLR (the GH2). The image is akin to a RED or Alexa and throughout Carruth plays with shallow depths of field. This results in some shots missing the sharply focused mark, but for the most part the visuals shine. This film proves you do not need Hollywood style lighting and equipment to make Hollywood level films.
The Blu-Ray will be out in May and I have already put it on order at Amazon. There is no question in my mind that by year's end I will have sat through UPSTREAM COLOR numerous times.
I look forward to Carruth's next film, but with the hope for a little more clarity in his narrative.
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