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Peter T Chattaway

Upstream Color (2013)

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Wow, wow, wow, what a movie.

Here's what I posted on FB...

UPSTREAM COLOR. The new film from Shane Carruth, the guy who wrote and directed PRIMER. Imagine if Terrence Malick made ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, but the characters were so mentally compromised that we're not sure which tracks of the story are actually happening, which are straight metaphor, which are dreamed, which are hallucinated, or which are happening on some spiritual-warfare level. Imagine Malick forbade himself to use interior monologues. Imagine that he watched REQUIEM FOR A DREAM several times before he started. Imagine that he drew a lot of ideas from Radiohead songs. And about a third of the movie is set in a pig farm. Okay, now we've scratched the surface of this movie, which is as original and invigorating as anything currently in theaters. You may not understand it the first, or the fifth, time through. But you'll never forget it. If you're lucky enough to find it in a theater this weekend, go see it.

Yes, Radiohead songs. "Fitter. Happier. More productive... a pig, in a cage, on antibiotics."

And, "Where I End and You Begin."

And a lot of Scriptures came to mind too (as they did during Primer).

The musical score is extraordinary. The cinematography is incredible. The echoes — deliberate or otherwise — of Wings of Desire, Stalker, Pi and Requiem for a Dream — are all worth considering.

I'm now going to go back and read this thread and the linked articles. I'm blown away.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

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I also liked it quite a bit, by am wary of Carruth's reliance on formula.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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From M. Learly's review:

But, it really only takes a few minutes and the back of a napkin to sort these films out.

Really? Maybe I need to read more reviews until I find the right "napkin."

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.

My Mac won't allow me to visit this link, saying there is malware there that will infect my Mac. Hmmm.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

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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.

My Mac won't allow me to visit this link, saying there is malware there that will infect my Mac. Hmmm.

My Mac doesn't have a problem with it. Maybe it's a browser thing? (I use Firefox.)


It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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From Andrew's review:

The Sampler removes the larvae from the Thief’s victims and transfers them to pigs, which he puts in a small pen and cares for.

The Thief is unquestionably real, but the same can’t quite be said of the Sampler, who seems to exist on another plane. When he walks through the pen, hands extended, he’s in two places at once, with both the pigs and their human counterparts, unseen but watchful. He’s godlike, but almost ambivalently so; he looks weary more than anything else, worn down by the responsibility of caring for these animals.

This is the part of the film that intrigues me most. The Sampler is like a Wings of Desire angel in the way he listens in on people with curiosity and puzzlement.

And he is God-like in his control, in the way he "sends the demons into the pigs," and in his shepherd-like role.

BUT...

In his forceful uprooting of the worms, he reminds me of the Scripture about the dangers of tearing out the wheat with the tares. I began to wonder about his connection to religion rather than God, to an institution that tries to redeem by force, that tries to purge the sin in ways that we are unable to achieve in this world. By contrast, healing seems to happen in the pool (of baptism?), where, whenever Kris is submerged, she is surrounded by images of the cross, and is able to take hold of natural beauty in a way that seems uncorrupted by the Sampler.

Further, the Sampler takes things from the natural and the industrial world (sounds) and manipulates them into tools of power and control, rather than letting them do their own work. Again, this makes me think of the tactics of exploitative religion, or some kind of "program" like the one in The Master.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

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Really? Maybe I need to read more reviews until I find the right "napkin."

This one seemed pretty straightforward even, once you accept that the connections between various causes and effects just can't be completely defined. I obviously like the film a great deal, and what Carruth has done with these two films. I am just very wary of formula.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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My Mac doesn't have a problem with it. Maybe it's a browser thing? (I use Firefox.)

Ah, it's a Chrome thing, then. Thanks.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

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BUT...

In his forceful uprooting of the worms, he reminds me of the Scripture about the dangers of tearing out the wheat with the tares. I began to wonder about his connection to religion rather than God, to an institution that tries to redeem by force, that tries to purge the sin in ways that we are unable to achieve in this world. By contrast, healing seems to happen in the pool (of baptism?), where, whenever Kris is submerged, she is surrounded by images of the cross, and is able to take hold of natural beauty in a way that seems uncorrupted by the Sampler.

Further, the Sampler takes things from the natural and the industrial world (sounds) and manipulates them into tools of power and control, rather than letting them do their own work. Again, this makes me think of the tactics of exploitative religion, or some kind of "program" like the one in The Master.

Pool/baptism... I like that. I took that whole phase of the film as a great analogy for divine revelation. But yeah, the thief and the Sampler are cut from the same cloth.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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My review, in which I bring up Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Wings of Desire, and Facebook accounts.

I also think the strongest director comparison is this: imagine if Terrence Malick directed a Hayao Miyazaki story. You've got hypnotic imagery and cinematography, and you've got pig-people.

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Our very own Victor Morton:

UPSTREAM COLOR (Carruth, USA, 2013, 1) Why did I even bother with this latest in Exposition Iz 4 Suckaz Cinema (and criticism)?

Honestly ... makes TO THE WONDER look like a model of exposition and universe-assumption. Carruth dead to me now.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Alissa Wilkinson:

Where Oblivion is a graphic novel, Upstream Color is one of those Sigur Ros songs that isn't in any language at all but sounds vaguely Icelandic: you know it must mean something, but you're not sure what. . . .

While you can unravel Primer with enough work and a bit of digging on the Internet, Upstream Color staunchly refuses to be untwisted. Images appear and disappear—at times, it feels not unlike the sort of videos people make with the Vine app on their phones: staggered, even surreal. . . .

In interviews, Carruth has said that his film is about that eerie feeling in which you don't know why, exactly, you're doing what you're doing—that something beyond you is guiding and affecting your actions, whether it is an unconscious belief or inborn leaning or something else. I don't know: sure, you can read that interpretation into the film, or a bunch of other interpretations, too. Or you can just choose to not read anything into the film, to let it flow over you as an aesthetic experience.

Yet you probably won't be challenged to think of your own world and life differently; there's no thesis to Upstream Color. Carruth has nothing to say about that eerie feeling—just that it's there sometimes and it can be weird. That's fine: if beautiful, well-made expressionism is what you're after, see Upstream Color. But if you want thought-provoking science fiction like Primer, you won't find it here, despite the film's premise. . . .

The techno/cultural reference points are interesting. I've heard of Sigur Ros, and even watched a documentary about them out of the corner of my eye, but I don't think I've ever heard of "the Vine app".


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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:

Yet you probably won't be challenged to think of your own world and life differently; there's no thesis to Upstream Color.

Couldn't disagree more. Without giving anything away, the film has a lot to say about identity and I certainly thought about my own life differently after seeing it.


"I am quietly judging you" - Magnolia

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I found it to be "intensely thought-provoking science fiction."

Yet you probably won't be challenged to think of your own world and life differently;

Wow. I was challenged to think about my world and my life within the first fifteen minutes.

If Alissa replaced the "you" in her review with "I" ... I wouldn't argue. That was her experience. I believe her. At least she said "probably." Because, well, I found a thesis in it, but perhaps I'm an "improbable" viewer. And, to the film's credit, it's not a thesis I could easily paraphrase. That's why I like it.

I thought it was actually kind of obvious in its poetic exploration of several themes and ideas. For starters...

  • the ways in which we are caught between animal behavior and the potential for something greater;
  • the way our lives are corrupted by the paradigms that are presented to us as options, and how difficult it is to awaken ourselves to those forces and learn to resist them;
  • the ways in which we are taught to understand our own story, and the importance of challenging those narratives;
  • the way consumerism teaches us to steal only trace elements of things (the sound collector) instead of taking things as a whole;
  • the way a consumer-driven society ends up popularizing shortcuts to emotional and sensual highs, highs that end up disrupting our capacity to experience life the way we were designed to experience it;
  • the healing power of ritual, and the way that nature speaks truth in ways that manmade environments do not;
  • the necessity of forgiveness and grace in cultivating real love.

I could go on and on. I've been waiting for the chance to review it, but it's going to take a substantial amount of time and effort.

Still, it hurts to see the film written off as having nothing at all to say when I sat there giddy with just how much it was saying... or suggesting... to me.

If you want the experience of watching really great sci-fi—if you want to be challenged, if you want moments of recognition and promptings to think about your own life along with your explosions and aliens and spaceships—you might be best off looking to television, which is a medium that really lets you track with character and story development, that can fully develop its plotlines and make you think. I'd say to start with Battlestar Galactica, the show that made a convert out of me and that's ripe with ethical, moral, and cultural questions presented in ways that force you to think about your answer. It's worth your time, and it manages to find the sweet spot between entertaining and deep.

Sure, Battlestar Galactica is great narrative sci-fi. Comparing that to Upstream Color is like comparing The Wire to Stalker.

Come to think of it, this review really makes me wonder what Alissa would say about Stalker or Zerkalo. I suspect she'd come to the same conclusions.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

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Having said all of that, I'd go farther and say that I don't think we need to be able to explain — especially after one viewing — what the "thesis" of a work of art is. Art is greater than argument because it "ministers," for lack of a better word, to our head and hearts in ways both rational and, no, not irrational, but extra-rational. I've seen paintings and sculptures, and I've heard instrumental music, that gave me no clear sense of a "thesis" — and yet, I have been moved and changed and left with an unshakeable sense that what I experienced was meaningful. Sometimes it won't become clear to me until much later.

I'm not saying Alissa should have praised the film even though she didn't get anything out of it. But I think it's overstepping the bounds of helpful criticism to just declare that it is, altogether, pretty much meaningless. I might not "get" a musical composition by Philip Glass or a painting by Pollock, but I hope I wouldn't shake my head and say, "Totally empty. Here, let me show you what good painting is."

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

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I'm with you JO. This is one of my favourite films in a long while because of the wealth of things to think about in both form and content, and how intricately they are meshed here. And like you, I realize it's going to take some serious effort to write and talk about it. My brother's and I are working on a "roundtable" discussion on the film, and I'm happy with how some of the connections are getting fleshed out without feeling compelled to come to a conclusion about what it's ultimate value is.

Also, I'd love to invite Alissa to join the conversation and offer some push back here.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I saw the film tonight (and am planning on seeing it again Saturday, if I get a chance).

Some initial thoughts: I like the move Carruth's made here. While Primer has elements of a lot of Nolan's work (in that, most of the 'work' the viewer does simply goes into making sense of the plot), Upstream Color is a really strong move toward filmmaking that's more overtly philosophical. it's about character and meaning - not about making sense of the plot. Though, to my mind (and after only one viewing), I think Upstream Color's 'plot' is probably a good deal more 'parse-able' than Primer

Does anyone else think "what is that sound?" would be a good title for a good part of the middle-section of the film. To me, Upstream Color very much seems like an invitation to look and listen. What is that sound that Kris can hear that Jeff can't? A lot of Upstream Color is about paying attention to the things you normally wouldn't. The way a rock dropped against a metal underpass sounds, etc.

What about looking at the film as something like an aesthetic search for the 'god-particle.' While watching the film I, like some others, thought of Wings of Desire.

Oh, and also: what are we to make about the death of god here?

Edit: In response to Jeff: I just saw Stalker in theaters a week or two ago (and I watched Solaris this past weekend). That's an excellent comparison for the kind of thing Carruth's trying here, I think.

What a film Stalker is, too. I can't think of another film I've seen recently that's so deeply concerned with God, spirituality, metaphysics and our culture's (both Tarkovsky's and our own) general disregard for those things. Stalker, to me, is structured on a narrative level as a pilgrimage.

Which poses an interesting question. What, if anything, is Upstream Color structured as? The film seems to have a lot of the same core concern for spirituality, nature, etc. that Stalker does, but I didn't immediately detect any structural meaning at hand.

Edited by Timothy Zila

@Timzila

"It is the business of fiction to embody mystery through manners, and mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind." (Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners).

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Comes out next week in a blu-ray/DVD combo package that is only $17.99 in a Barnes and Noble pre-order. Wow.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

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Come to think of it, this review really makes me wonder what Alissa would say about Stalker or Zerkalo. I suspect she'd come to the same conclusions.

I also thought this was stellar sci-fi, falling very neatly in the camps of near-sci fi as speculative fiction and the really odd body sci-fi of Rudy Rucker or Jeff Noon. The film is straight out of Flurb. But, as one for whom the two films you name are among my favorites (as in - top tenners), I think someone could respond to all these films in different ways. Both Tarkovsky films lack the rube goldberg vibe I get from Carruth.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Been away from this thread for awhile. Jeff, if you (or anyone) had problems accessing the article, that's because the Observer site had some issues recently. There wasn't an actual Malware problem, but that's what it would say if you tried to go there. That's fixed now.

On the Sampler--he's by far my favorite character. Godlike, but we're never sure what to think of him. What he does with the piglets seems cruel, but was it maybe necessary? He doesn't seem to be connected to the thief, and yet that's never really brought up or discussed. So what happens in the end...it's tragic, but we also don't really know how we should feel. I love that ambiguity. When I talked to Carruth, he said it was about giving you a kind of sunny ending, but with a twist since we have information the characters don't. They think they know what's going on, but they really don't. Incredibly destabilizing and complex--I love it.

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The DVD will be available from Netflix next week, too.

DVD availability on Netflix is now "unknown."


It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
Twitter Blog

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