There was never any doubt that I would at least like UPSTREAM COLOR. I was a big Primer fan and all of the pre-release material looked intriguing to me. I saw it the first time when Shane Carruth was in town doing a few preview screenings with Q&A and that experience was great. Carruth’s films can seem completely opaque at times, so seeing him as a very real person in the Q&A setting retroactively makes the film seem more relatable.
I went to see UPSTREAM COLOR a second time yesterday and was able to finally confirm my love for it.
I won’t spoil anything or go into detail but the most amazing part of the experience was realizing how many pieces of the film had not been retained in my memory of seeing it the first time. Throughout the 96 minute run time I kept wondering if somehow I hadn’t been shown a different cut, that maybe what I had mistakenly attended before was in fact a preview-screening which Carruth used to gather notes for further edits. But I knew that wasn’t right. I was just scrambling for excuses as to why I seemed to be forgetting so much vital plot and character information from a movie I really enjoyed.
I estimate that I retained 60%-75% of the film. Needless to say the forgotten 30% improved the movie greatly and I developed a theory for how I was able to forget so much. UPSTREAM COLOR relies almost entirely on visuals. Very few lines are spoken onscreen which means all the plot information is delivered to the audiences visually, making it effectively a silent film. I think audiences have the cognitive abilities to handle this, but what the through me off was seeing a story of this complexity told entirely through visuals.
Traditional silent films have very simple plots. Or scenes that are built out of a single goal that a character must accomplish, each scene or shot requires a point A to B progression that keeps audiences engaged like a trail of breadcrumbs.
But imagine what a headache it would be to make a silent film version of something like The Matrix or Blade Runner. Both films tell large amounts of their story using incredible visual technique, but both rely heavily on a few long scenes of people talking in order to explain themselves or the world they live in. The information is being balanced between the audience’s sense of sight and their sense of sound, alternating the experience, allowing us to relax one muscle while another is being exercised. All this to say, that UPSTREAM COLOR miraculously doesn’t do that at all. Carruth manages to tell his complex narrative almost entirely through the visuals, which creates a very unique and wonderful experience but also one (in my case) that exhausted my ability to visually process and retain 100% of the information in the movie.
So yeah, that second viewing really helped fill the gaps. And if this sounds interesting at all I encourage you to see the film (which should be out on DVD/BluRay this week) or you already saw it once, consider seeing it again.
When I sat down to see To The Wonder my overriding feeling was gratitude. I was grateful that another Malick film existed for me to experience. I wasn’t expecting it to be the revelation Tree of Life was for me, (and no one was claiming that it was).
What it ended up being, on the other hand, was the most straightforward Malick film since Days of Heaven. A fairly easy to explain story of romance and spirituality. It stars four famous people, and a bunch of seemingly local Oklahoma residents, which make it almost part documentary. And its worth mentioning that this is the first Malick film to be set in contemporary time, which means we get to see his trademark “wandering spiritual camera” observe things like highschool football games and fast food restaurants, the effect of which is memorizing and jarring at the same time.
(I haven’t really gathered my thoughts here, so this is jumping all over the place but I want get down these initial impressions, sorry.)
-watching the film with a packed house in west LA further underlined the weird incongruity that currently exists with Malick’s films in relation to his “audience” the problem has a few parts to it:
1. in some ways he the The Most American Filmmaker possible. Specifically in his past two films, the themes, characters and settings have all been very traditional or old-fashioned America (after all he is almost the same age as my grandparents) the America where people still go to church on sundays and men silently labor away at vague industrial jobs to provide for their families. It’s an America that should be more recognizable to people in the south or mid-west, and one that should seem justifiably foreign to the movie-going-audiences in cities like New York and LA. And to add further to that disconnect he uses traditional American settings as starting point for explorations of spirituality that come from a very mainstream western christianity (aka poison to intellectual NY/LA audiences).
2. But of course he is delivering all of this in a package that is considered “boring” or “incoherent” to the audiences who would connect with the settings/themes/ideas (i.e. people in the south, christian audiences, etc.) and in many cases called out as “overdone, excessive and pretentious” by audiences who should have the film knowledge/experience to appreciate what he’s doing. So the sort of Venn Diagram of who will connect with his movies is very very small (and apparently getting smaller, considering that To The Wonder was the first Malick film to not receive a wide release). I count myself in that percentile, but I’ve run out of energy trying to “explain” Malick to people who have an automatic negative reaction to his work.
And yet after all of that I will still recommend To The Wonder to anyone interested. It’s beautiful and moving and one of the best things I’ve seen so far this year. (I’ll probably write more about it later once I get some perspective on it)
I never would have been able to imagine that ten years after I first saw Gaspar Noé’s IRREVERSIBLE it would become a favorite movie of mine. And while the unsettling, disturbing parts are no less-so than they ever were, the overall aesthetic rigor has made it a stylistic touchstone for me. The images and sounds are so strong. All movies should be made with this level of care.
Paul Thomas Anderson and Fiona Apple being super 90s.
PT looks like he’s about to hand you a flier for a medical weed doctor on the venice beach boardwalk
(Source: stanivision, via jasonwolfe)