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Peter T Chattaway

Upstream Color (2013)

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I'm seeing it in Philly Wednesday night and New York Saturday night. Carruth will be at both. Bought my NY ticket before I heard about the Philly screening but I figured I can benefit from seeing this one twice.

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New Yorkers: Soderbergh will be moderating a Q&A at a screening on Saturday April 6th. This doesn't surprise me as the film borrows stylistically and at times thematically from 'Solaris'.

This is one of those films that most people, including myself, will call more of an "experience". At the same time, there is a strong story here and it's very gettable, especially after seeing it a second time.

I've read just about every review and this one most accurately matches my feelings on the film: http://www.chud.com/127987/review-upstream-color-sxsw/

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Wired ran a *long* profile of Carrutha few weeks ago.

Which touches very briefly on his religious upbringing, FWIW.

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Richard Brody:

“Upstream Color” is different. Although its story is meticulously conceived and covers a much broader span of action and group of characters, it conveys a sense of having been invented spontaneously by means of the camera, as if Carruth were discovering the story in real time rather than realizing it as planned. The difference—the advance—involves more than aesthetic pleasure or even existential risk; it’s a crucial deepening of Carruth’s ideas, which are among the most philosophically sophisticated in the contemporary cinema. He works in a distinctive mode: science-fiction with overtones of transcendence. His distinctive visual style is one of spiritual impressionism, similar to that of Terrence Malick’s agile, luminous rapture—but Carruth’s images are harder-edged, more confrontational, and, above all, non-religious. Where Malick’s images are tactile, Carruth’s are physical; where Malick’s are metaphysical, Carruth’s are diaphysical—he doesn’t sanctify the mystery but reveals it through hidden realms of the material world. Carruth fulfills the basic premise of science-fiction, to tether the impossible to rational explanations—but the impossible results that he seeks to explain are of the sort that are commonly taken to be religious. His subject is identity—the hazy border zone where the mental shifts, by means of self-consciousness and other, perhaps vaguer biochemical processes, into some higher essence of selfhood that is ordinarily called the soul.

Not sure what I make of this bit. Hoping to watch this film again before reviewing for next week.

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Counting down until I get to see this on Saturday. I revisited PRIMER a couple weeks back and remain a huge fan.

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Richard Brody:

“Upstream Color” is different. Although its story is meticulously conceived and covers a much broader span of action and group of characters, it conveys a sense of having been invented spontaneously by means of the camera, as if Carruth were discovering the story in real time rather than realizing it as planned. The difference—the advance—involves more than aesthetic pleasure or even existential risk; it’s a crucial deepening of Carruth’s ideas, which are among the most philosophically sophisticated in the contemporary cinema. He works in a distinctive mode: science-fiction with overtones of transcendence. His distinctive visual style is one of spiritual impressionism, similar to that of Terrence Malick’s agile, luminous rapture—but Carruth’s images are harder-edged, more confrontational, and, above all, non-religious. Where Malick’s images are tactile, Carruth’s are physical; where Malick’s are metaphysical, Carruth’s are diaphysical—he doesn’t sanctify the mystery but reveals it through hidden realms of the material world. Carruth fulfills the basic premise of science-fiction, to tether the impossible to rational explanations—but the impossible results that he seeks to explain are of the sort that are commonly taken to be religious. His subject is identity—the hazy border zone where the mental shifts, by means of self-consciousness and other, perhaps vaguer biochemical processes, into some higher essence of selfhood that is ordinarily called the soul.

Not sure what I make of this bit. Hoping to watch this film again before reviewing for next week.

Man, that's absolutely brilliant. If someone can write a review like that about this film, I'm pretty sure it's going to be everything I want it to be.

It's so exciting to see, in real-time, the birth of a potentially great director.

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Wow, just wow. This film is so up my alley in its thematic concerns and narrative style: subjectivity, identity, and, as Carruth phrased it after the film yesterday, exploring the boundaries of a question through narrative. It's less a puzzle like PRIMER, and more something you experience and get a sense of. While I'd be hard pressed to give a concrete plot summary, I will say that one comes away with a series of impressions that are fairly concrete. One of the best film going experiences I've had in a long time.

More later.

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Another quick comment. My friend commented on the sense that he had of the way film represents in some ways an "aesthetic of collapse." I thought it was very interesting to hear Carruth note that the roots of this came out of conversations with his brother during the financial crisis. It's also appropriate that Jeff (Carruth's character) is some kind of financial worker (though I don't want to reveal more).

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Richard Brody:

“Upstream Color” is different. Although its story is meticulously conceived and covers a much broader span of action and group of characters, it conveys a sense of having been invented spontaneously by means of the camera, as if Carruth were discovering the story in real time rather than realizing it as planned. The difference—the advance—involves more than aesthetic pleasure or even existential risk; it’s a crucial deepening of Carruth’s ideas, which are among the most philosophically sophisticated in the contemporary cinema. He works in a distinctive mode: science-fiction with overtones of transcendence. His distinctive visual style is one of spiritual impressionism, similar to that of Terrence Malick’s agile, luminous rapture—but Carruth’s images are harder-edged, more confrontational, and, above all, non-religious. Where Malick’s images are tactile, Carruth’s are physical; where Malick’s are metaphysical, Carruth’s are diaphysical—he doesn’t sanctify the mystery but reveals it through hidden realms of the material world. Carruth fulfills the basic premise of science-fiction, to tether the impossible to rational explanations—but the impossible results that he seeks to explain are of the sort that are commonly taken to be religious. His subject is identity—the hazy border zone where the mental shifts, by means of self-consciousness and other, perhaps vaguer biochemical processes, into some higher essence of selfhood that is ordinarily called the soul.

Not sure what I make of this bit. Hoping to watch this film again before reviewing for next week.

I'm glad Brody makes THE MASTER connection here.

Also, that ending of the review is pretty interesting.

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I'm still feeling an urge to offer some push back against Brody re: Carruth's "nonreligious" images, particularly when he unpacks what he means by that in the next sentence with "physical" and "diaphysical."

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I'm still feeling an urge to offer some push back against Brody re: Carruth's "nonreligious" images, particularly when he unpacks what he means by that in the next sentence with "physical" and "diaphysical."

I agree with you on this count. Sometimes Brody is just a little bit too clever for his own good. I'm not sure I understand what he means by diaphysical.

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I'm still feeling an urge to offer some push back against Brody re: Carruth's "nonreligious" images, particularly when he unpacks what he means by that in the next sentence with "physical" and "diaphysical."

I agree with you on this count. Sometimes Brody is just a little bit too clever for his own good. I'm not sure I understand what he means by diaphysical.

Perhaps, but Brody's review is still brilliant. I love his analysis of the difference between Malick and Carruth.

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Another quick comment. My friend commented on the sense that he had of the way film represents in some ways an "aesthetic of collapse."

Yes, that is a very good description. I finally caught up with an online screener, though I really wish I had the full experience of this film given both its sense of composition and all that extra aural stuff going on.

I also like the flatness of Carruth's style. I assumed the production values of Primer were the first cause for the similar vibe in that film, but it appears again here in full force. We are released at times from his typical tight focus, low depth of field, yet lengthy shot length - but even then cases of deeper depth of field really only frames scenes that do not offer us much visual detail. Which I like a lot. If each frame were busier, I think this film would have crumbled under the sense that there is just too much going on.

--

I have a nagging issue that I can't quite tease out. It has to do with the way the film seems very abstract and complicated, but really isn't either. As with Primer there is a backbone of narrative that seems complicated to us because we haven't gotten any exposition about it. We are left to feel as if something really crazy is going on, though when we have time to diagram it later on a napkin, it turns out to be really simple. I am okay with this in theory. Many of my favorite sci-fi novels, for example, are based on very simple concepts (Ubik is a good example).

But here is the catch. I am fine with someone evoking really big existential ideas about love, loss, and collapse through odd little narrative concepts that seem inscrutable even if they aren't. But the payoff has to be there. The effect of the work has to outweigh its own simple mechanics.

I think that may be the case here, but I am on the fence.

Edited by M. Leary

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Just got back from viewing this in Vancouver (with fellow A&F folks Peter Chattaway and Nathan Douglas in the same theatre!), and here is my initial impression: this is a film that has to be heard. The visuals and script impressed me, but the sound made the experience something altogether unique. More thoughts to come later.

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Really liked this review of Upstream Color in Under The Radar magazine, by John Everhart, so thought I'd quote it here.

"Art shouldn't offer answers, only questions," filmmaker Michael Haneke stated in a recent interview. Not exactly a surprising declaration from a provocateur of his stature, but it is an imperative that modern cinema largely lacks. Shane Carruth, however, is the embodiment of Haneke's edict. His first film, 2004's Primer, was a Byzantine tangle of time travel schemas, replete with attendant ethical quandaries. His newest film, Upstream Color, raises the stakes significantly in its sheer visceral impact.

It is incomprehensible on the surface - Kris (Amy Seimetz) is attacked and seemingly brainwashed after being forced to swallow a worm. She loses her savings and her job, and eventually crosses paths with Jeff (Carruth). The pair shares an ineluctable bond, with the implication being that Jeff has also lost everything due to a similar encounter. Their memories fold in on one another, images loop, and they struggle for redemption together, all with dreamy undertones reminiscent of Tarkovsky's The Mirror.

Little is explicated, and the final third of the film takes place without dialogue, and yet it's barely noticeable. Ultimately, in the sweet rush of emotion it inspires, the film suggests that the only questions even worth asking are the ones without answers.

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I've probably tooted my own horn enough on Facebook and Twitter, but I wanted to share this here as well. I had the good fortune to write an article on Shane Carruth for the Dallas Observer. It's my first serious print article and my first cover story. Very, very excited.

Well done, Andrew.

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So is the whole pig thing an allusion to the bit in the gospels where the demons are cast out of the demoniac and into the pigs?

(I'm sure it's a lot more than that, natch. But still.)

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