Upstream Color

Upstream Color is the second feature by Shane Carruth, the actor, director, writer, co-producer, director of photography, co-editor and musical composer of this film as well as his début feature, 2004’s Primer. Carruth, who also self-distributed this acclaimed movie to a fairly substantial theatrical audience, has been hailed as a new kind of wunderkind filmmaker for the post-post-post-modern school of self-produced, micro-budgeted, socially-networked cinema. He is a filmmaker every bit as concerned with how his films are marketed, discussed and contextualized as he is with the pictures themselves. I am sure the positive reaction to this movie has as much to do with the tenacity of the filmmaker as with the artistic success the film, but there is certainly more to Upstream Color than just a success story that gives hope to millions of wanna-be upstart filmmakers. That said, I am clearly not the audience for this movie.

Upstream Color is an impressionistic film that conveys its story, themes and ideas through emotional and visual logic rather than traditional narrative storytelling. There certainly is a story here--a kind of sci-fi romance about two people mysteriously connected via unknowingly ingesting a kind of psychotropic maggot that renders them so susceptible to suggestion that they are now unaware of who they really are. The story is told in a non-linear fashion that some will consider beautifully poetic and others will call frustratingly dull and pretentious. Not surprisingly (since I get most excited about cinematic poetry when it is expressed within the tight confines of the traditional three-act form) I am in the latter camp. However, I think I would have enjoyed Upstream Color far more if it had not been made in the current aesthetic of most self-produced indies--endless extreme close-ups that intentionally drift in and out of focus, and editing so choppy it becomes physically tiring about 40 minutes into the picture. I get that this style is well-suited to micro-budget movies shot on consumer level video cameras in practical locations, but that doesn’t do much for my appreciation for the movie while I’m sitting through it.

But Upstream Color is no sloppy, randomly shot mess. This is a carefully considered and diligently constructed work. Were it shot on film with a larger budget, it might come across as an interesting blend of the early films of Terrence Malick, David Cronenberg and David Lynch.  However, this “personal essay” style movie bears far more resemblance to the more recent work of these directors--work from which I get very little satisfaction. Upstream Color’s style of storytelling is the kind now found both in older filmmakers who have grown tired of traditional cinematic narratives and the cumbersome filmmaking process they require, and younger filmmakers who never had much interest in these things to begin with. A middle-aged guy like me is just not going to get what I want from this kind of movie, at least not in its current post-egg but not yet larval stage.

Directed by Shane Carruth
Produced by Shane Carruth, Casey Gooden, and Ben LeClair

Written by Shane Carruth

With: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins, Kathy Carruth, Meredith Burke, Andreon Watson, Ashton Miramontes, Myles McGee, Frank Mosley, and Carolyn King

Cinematography: Shane Carruth
Editing: Shane Carruth and David Lowery
Music: Shane Carruth

Runtime: 96 min
Release Date: 30 August 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1