Upstream Color: Trippy, Wormy, Piggy

Shane Carruth‘s Upstream Color is the only Sundance film I’ve seen thus far that totally jettisons narrative in favor of an impressionist, oddly spooky, catch-as-catch-can paint-splatter whatever experience. It’s very cool and commanding and climatorial. I became an instant fan. You’re free to piece together all the fragments and good luck with that, but Upstream Color has something to do with 21st Century anxiety, malevolent micro-manipulation, love, bodily invasions, Ridley Scott-like worms and definitely pigs. Lots and lots of little pigs.

You don’t want to hear what I think it all amounts to. Whatever I might write would just get in the way or feel like a mosquito. It’s entirely between you and Upstream Color.

Director-writer-producer Carruth is self-distributing Upstream Color on April 5th. HE readers are advised to grapple with the experience. All serious cineastes, I mean. I honestly don’t think you’ll be able to call yourself a man if you don’t.

It’s certainly worth catching for Amy Seimetz‘s mesmerizing lead performance. And Carruth’s costarring one, come to think. They play lovers (named Chris and Jeff) who may have been invaded/afflicted by the same William S. Burroughs-ian bad guys, and Carruth is cool — a fascinating actor in that he doesn’t seem to “act” much but is indisputably interesting. His intense eyes especially. But Semetz (an indie actress-director who strongly resembles early Juliette Binoche) is the shit. She’s the primary victim, the person who struggles with weird micro-aggression and malevolence that makes no real “sense,” who tries to hold on, who bears the burden and somehow muddles through. Seimetz has been around for years, but this is the first time I’ve sat up and said “wow.”

(I was amazed, incidentally, that a publicist actually disputed my impression that Seimetz resembles Binoche as she looked when she made Louis Malle‘s Damage, only with lighter hair.)

I was told last night by a publicist that Carruth is in Park City but isn’t doing Sundance interviews, only interviews geared to the 4.5 release. “He’s not approachable at all?,” I asked. Oh, he’s around, she said, but he’s avoiding the spotlight and hanging with old friends. A friend/colleague of the publicist suggested Carruth was following the reclusive Terrence Malick playbook. “Oh, I get it,” I said. “He’s one of those. A mysterian, an artful dodger.” I asked if Carruth risks going to restaurants and ordering the occasional hamburger or salad. Does he have a driver’s license, or is that too much of an exposure, giving his personal information to “them”? Who are the 2013 brain police? Are they watching me also?

An hour later I tweeted the following: “J.D. Salinger, Glenn Gould, Thomas Pynchon, Terrence MalickShane Carruth!”

  • cricket

    Glad to hear this is good. Carruth’s first flick, “Primer”, is something special indeed.

  • moviesquad

    It’s been way too long for Shane’s followup. He’s obviously a very talented director.

    I’m not sure your chances of getting an interview with him… ever… went up after your Twitter storm yesterday Wells.

  • Rashad

    Primer is an ugly looking bore. Somehow he passed off convoluted mumbo jumbo for profundity

  • Raising_Kaned

    Interesting that you mention Carruth in the same breath as Malick; the cinematic style of this trailer has me believing he has the potential to be an American version of Gaspar Noe. Hopefully this film is successful because he’s far too young — and talented — to work so infrequently in the medium (which I understand isn’t entirely his fault).

  • Raising_Kaned

    In a way, though, isn’t this molasses-output sort of the curse of a unrelentingly detail-minded, vertically-integrated, control-freak auteur? Kubrick became increasingly obsessed with every single solitary step of the filmmaking process (right down to how it was being projected in individual theaters), and we probably got to see a handful of fewer movies from him as a result. I’m not complaining, mind you, I’m just saying.

    Read the LA Times article, Rashad — I have a feeling he wouldn’t entirely disagree with your take on Primer (although — considering that was his very first flick — I think you’re being unnecessarily harsh on it).

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    I was really impressed with the trailer for this. I dunno if this is the beginning of a vogue for trippy, impressionistic si-fi flicks, but anybody who likes hypnotic, virtually plotless sci-fi mind-benders should also check out last year’s Beyond the Black Rainbow:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1ertVYn750

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    Primer don’t do a whole for me either. I liked it at first but I think it just degenerated into an engineering puzzle. Upstream Color looks like a far more interesting proposition, though.

  • Raising_Kaned

    I just hope he knows what he’s doing on the business-end of things. $15 for a digital download of Primer through his site seems way too high (even if it is in HD with 5.1 sound). If anything, he should be offering that for free, at least in the couple months leading up to the release of UC.

  • ghost of a ghost

    “Who are the 2013 brain police? Are they watching me also?”

    1. Go to bathroom
    2. Look in mirror

    Good for Carruth.

  • coxcable

    Primer works quite well as a mood piece. Malick isn’t a wrong comparison. It has the heart of a great horror film… Stripped down, eerie, icy… even if its more The Social Network in plot.

    But as something to conciously get your head around, it comes up short. And I had a feeling the director’s next effort was going to doubledown on the weird. Or hell… quadrupledown.

  • cricket

    Primer is certainly flawed as a film, but it’s the most serious take on time-travel I’ve ever seen in a movie, bar none. No loopholes, no fudging — every “convolution” is accounted for.

  • French Ant

    FYI, Carruth has already scheduled his next movie, “The modern ocean”. Shooting starts this summer.

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  • cyanic

    Somehow he passed off convoluted mumbo jumbo for profundity

    You saw Holy Motors too?

  • Storm Serge

    With our Merican overlords desperate to turn drones loose on us, why wouldn’t you run without a driver’s license if you could manage?

    Liked the (Dallas, yeah?) Exurban milieu of Primer more than anything. Guys with Bud Lights and still in their cheap work shirts tearing holes in the universe in their garage. Haunting.

  • Rashad

    No sex, violence, drugs, anger or visual style = he’s no Gaspar Noe.

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