The intersection of parasitism and philosophy
August 16, 2013 11:27 PM   Subscribe

The Thoreau Poison - Caleb Crain of The New Yorker takes a closer look at the ideas explored in Upstream Color (spoilers)
posted by Blazecock Pileon (19 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Upstream Color was pretty, and there were some pretty great performances in it, but I didn't find the whole mishmash nearly as challenging as Primer.
posted by lumensimus at 11:40 PM on August 16, 2013

That's nice. I once took a long hike. Another time I played a game of tennis.

I found the former challenging in different ways than the latter.
posted by converge at 12:57 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

After both adventures, I had a beer. That was nice for me.
posted by converge at 12:58 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great article but FFS can somebody please buy Shane Carruth some damn health insurance?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:44 AM on August 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

So far Upstream Color is my favorite movie of this year but that may have more to do with how terrible movies have been this year.
posted by octothorpe at 5:04 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I went to a viewing and Q&A session with Carruth at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and got to ask him a couple questions (Q: Did you intend your movies to be viewed multiple times? A: I wanted to make the kind of movies I'd want to watch myself, and that's how they turned out.)

Someone asked him about Walden and how closely Upstream Color was tied to it. His answer was that he got to a point in the script where he needed some book for the characters to read as they were being controlled by the Thief. He somehow came upon Walden, and found as he started reading it that it was uncannily similar in tone and imagery to the practically-finished script. For example, references to light in the book perfectly mirrored his use of light to represent the Sampler's presence. References to rocks and flowers and worms all tied together. Happy accident.

Although, after reading this article, I'm not entirely sure I believe his answer.
posted by cthuljew at 6:24 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

The last half-hour or so of “Primer” wasn’t parsable without repeat viewings and many consultations of Google

Which made for a mostly unsatisfying movie experience. Stopping RTFA to say I loved the first half hour - it was an incredible mix of body horror, science fiction and beautiful film-making. The second half hour was confounding and engaging and full of anticipation for where this thing was going and how it was going to get there. just dissolves. The third half hour felt disappointingly vague and aimless, with the distance from the characters increasing in a frustrating way. It's definitely 2/3 of a great movie, though.

Thanks for the link, Blazecock.
posted by mediareport at 6:38 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Upstream Color was beautiful, and this article definitely helped me appreciate what I'd seen more. It's such a private film.
posted by Nelson at 8:27 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Disagree. The last part was a tour de force of visual storytelling.
posted by whuppy at 8:56 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The last half-hour or so of “Primer” wasn’t parsable without repeat viewings and many consultations of Google

I had heard this before going in to the movie, and took it as a personal challenge. I was going to figure the movie out on first viewing! But there came a point where I had to just throw my hands up and admit defeat.
posted by painquale at 9:02 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It must suck to spend a bunch of time teasing out the hidden message of a film and then have the author casually demolish your theory.

Upstream Color is the most memorable and beautiful film I've seen in a long time. Big screen recommended. My only complaint is that there are 10 intense minutes which rule it out for a bunch of people who would love it otherwise.
posted by nixt at 10:39 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It must suck to spend a bunch of time teasing out the hidden message of a film and then have the author casually demolish your theory.

Just so. I'd go even further than that -- I thought it was way better before the characters had names.

"You know...that guy...that guy with the recording equipment and the running his hands along interestingly textured surfaces and lives and does he even really exist?" is a lot more dreamlike than "The Sampler."
posted by lumensimus at 11:18 AM on August 17, 2013

But even calling him The Sampler preserves the mystery. It's not like his story was made any clearer for having been named as such.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:25 PM on August 17, 2013

Vaguely reminds me of The Book of the Dun Cow and The Book of Sorrows by Walter Wangerin, Jr. . Has anyone read these books?
posted by RuvaBlue at 1:44 PM on August 17, 2013

Oops, I thought that quote I quoted was talking about Upstream Color, not Primer. I loved Primer start to finish. Sorry.

Upstream Color is the body horror/scifi flick that astonishes in the first half hour, opens up and intrigues in the second half hour, and then dissolves into a fairly dull and uninvolving mush in the third half hour. S'what I get for posting pre-coffee, sorry.
posted by mediareport at 3:38 PM on August 17, 2013

I think people who criticize the later parts of Primer for being intelligible are slightly missing the forest for the trees. Primer is mechanically extremely complex but thematically very simple: if you give someone the power to revise history it's all going to go to shit.

Upstream Color, on the other hand, is mechanically simple but thematically complex (as the author notes). It will resonate with people differently depending on their experiences. I think the author's interpretation of the liberating effect of the whole parasitism/bankruptcy experience would be strengthened if he had brought up Carruth's struggle to get his screenplay for A Topiary produced. After Primer he got involved with Hollywood-folk and wrote A Topiary, but no one would fund it. He spent years trying to get it produced but eventually gave up and made Upstream, a film about people trying to rebuild their lives after losing everything. I think for Carruth it's about moving on from a failed project that he put his all into, while for other people it might be about relationships or deaths or lost friends or whatever.
posted by edeezy at 4:19 PM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

It must suck to spend a bunch of time teasing out the hidden message of a film and then have the author casually demolish your theory.

I don't think Crain was necessarily doing that here - she spends most of the article giving a rough overview of the transcendentalist mindset, then briefly pointing to different parts of the film that could be viewed from that perspective. She's not saying that Caruth explicitly made a transcendentalist film, but that through whatever magic it is that led him to make this movie it became thematically aligned to Emerson/Thoreau.

This movie was better than Primer, and I don't think Caruth gets enough credit for making a sci-fi movie that refuses to answer most of its questions, a movie that doesn't even pretend that there is an answer for a lot of them. It was a risky move.
posted by Think_Long at 7:10 AM on August 18, 2013

If Carruth wanted to raise some money for his own films, he could really hire himself out as a cinematographer. Upstream Color looked better than movies that cost 100 times more and from what I've read, he used a ~$1000 Panasonic SLR to "film" it.
posted by octothorpe at 10:38 AM on August 19, 2013

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