Shane Carruth – Interview

Shane Carruth - Upstream Colour

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to speak to Shane Carruth about his new film Upstream Colour. As a big fan of his first feature Primer I was excited to speak to the auteur and a little nervous in case he asked me what I thought of his new film; I’ve written the review and I’m still not entirely sure what I think. Naturally this combination of excitement and nerves meant that I failed to record the interview properly and am forced to rely on my notes instead. Ever the professionals here at Mild Concern

I began our conversation by making myself sound slightly foolish. It being nine years since Primer I asked Carruth if he had intended to leave it so long before making his second feature and was met with some friendly sarcasm, “I was trying to hold out for a full decade but accidentally turned a camera on and started shooting.” Suitably, and frankly charmingly, chastised I moved on to ask about A Topiary which was the failed production that took up much of the last nine years for Carruth. He described how he had wasted a lot of years working on the film and waiting for funding to be finalised but that “financing was always just a few weeks away but never came together”.

An entry on Carruth’s IMDb page, vital research territory for any interviewer, credits him as receiving special thanks on Rian Johnson’s time travel masterpiece Looper. I asked about his involvement in the film and he confessed than he had “very little material involvement.” Aside from working on some cloud like special effects for when Bruce Willis’ character’s past is changing (these weren’t used which is why you can’t remember them) Carruth was mostly on hand to help Johnson as a friend and check the script’s time travel logic. Anyone who has seen Primer will know that time travel logic is something of an area of expertise for Carruth.

Upstream Colour - Shane Carruth

After the failure of A Topiary Carruth considers himself lucky to have had another project to fall back on in the form of Upstream Colour. When I asked if the success of Primer had made the financial negotiations any easier I was met with a wry laugh. After Primer Carruth had failed to finance A Topiary and so when it came to Upstream Colour there was no funding to get; instead the whole production was financed by Carruth and some friends.

Having struggled to describe the plot of Upstream ColourĀ to anyone since seeing the film I asked if Carruth was able to give me a quick synopsis. His answer was simple, “I wouldn’t try to summarise it”. He went on to explain that a synopsis can describe exactly what happens in a plot but it still won’t accurately describe the film. After reading a synopsis you will either watch the film and think it is far better than the description or that it is far worse than you expected. I have to agree with Carruth here as I will never be able to convey the experience of Upstream Colour to you unless you go and watch it for yourself. Please do. I need to talk to you about it.

Wanting to reassure myself I asked Carruth if we should expect to fully understand the film in one sitting. “No.” Shane very interesting described the film he had tried to make as being like “literature” rather than a film; “you should trust that the film has not been put together without any thought and trust the director to take you on a journey”. I felt like he was speaking directly to me (well… he was) as someone who was perhaps trying to over think the film and so struggled to enjoy it. The comparison to literature is an interesting one as Carruth is not a film maker who limits himself to the conventions of cinema and require plenty of re-examination and ready between the lines. If Upstream Colour were a text it would have a hell of a lot of subtext to go with it*.

Upstream Colour - Shane Carruth 2

With Carruth so far having taken on so many roles in his films including but not limited to writing, acting, and directing I wanted to know if there was any role in particular he preferred. Carruth replied that writing and directing were his main passions and that after this latest film that composing music for a film had become part of the process. They are all parts of the whole creative film making process and from our conversation I can safely say that Carruth has no plans to ever be less involved in any of his future films. I mooted the idea of him writing a film and letting someone else direct or him directing someone else script and the response was a simple “no”.

Before the interview I had asked on Twitter if anyone had any questions for Carruth. Only one sensible response came in, more on the less sensible replies shortly:

Mark Tweet

When I raised the idea of Kickstarter, something we have looked at on this blog, Carruth seemed intrigued but cautious. “I’m not really comfortable with the idea of having a fan base,” he explained and said that he didn’t like the idea of people donating money in exchange for getting a sticker with the film’s logo on it. Carruth is keeping his eye on the situation and hopes that there will be a model where “fans” or their equivalent can properly invest in a film rather than simply donate to it.

And then we have Stephen’s question…

Stephen Tweet

Thankfully Carruth took the question in the spirit it was intended and replied with deadpan wit, “I wasn’t always like this. It took years and years of practise.”

Shane Carruth was a very friendly man to chat to and was remarkably funny and unpretentious. I may have struggled with Upstream Colour but it is clear to me that this is a case of someone genuinely trying to make art in the form of a film for the sheer love of it. Carruth puts his money where his mouth is and makes only the films he wants to make. Upstream Colour is on limited release from 30th August 2013 and you should see it so that you can explain it to me.

To close we have our soon to be traditional quick fire round that inevitably requires more thought than the rest of the interview:

The Lee Questionnaire:

What is your favourite carb?
Pizza. (In truth Carruth mentioned a specific Pizzeria that my phone failed to record. Apologies.)
What did you eat this morning?
Coffee, I don’t eat until 1pm
What is the first thing you said this morning?
“Hello” on the phone
If you could be any stationery product what would you be and why?
I just bought a fountain pen which has a really nice weight to it so I would be that
If you were to die tomorrow who would you like to punch in the face before you go?
Whoever invented the plastic packaging that you can’t open with your hands and end up cutting yourself if you try. Not the inventor, it’s not their fault, but whoever insists on continuing to manufacture it

*That sentence makes sense in my head at least

Top 10 Films of 2012

2012

It’s finally here! Welcome to my obligatory annual blogger’s list in which I try to rank incomparable films that share one thing in common – a 2012 UK release date. I tried to limit myself to just 10 films this year after finding 20 a bit too many in 2011. I managed to whittle my list down to 10, then added two I felt I just couldn’t leave out. It’s my top 10, I can have 12 if I want to.

12 - Holy Motors

Holy Motors starts the list in a cautious manner. I slept through a lot of the film and confessed as much in my review. Watching a famously mind-boggling film in French while half asleep was a terrifying experience. I could barely read the subtitles and would often wake up to find the lead actor was playing a different character to when I was last conscious.

The film follows a mysterious man as he travels between appointments in a stretch limo. What appointments are these? I couldn’t even begin to explain. Suffice to say that each time the limo stops a different character step out to play a minor or major role in someone elses lives. The end is so bizarre I thought I had actually dreamt it. One of the Jo(h)ns I saw the film with has tirelessly defended it over the past three months and I couldn’t not include it in my extended top 10. In Jon’s own words:

“It came out of nowhere, it was beautiful, strange, intriguing and was utterly compelling even though I don’t think I really understood it. Just like a girl I used to fancy.”

No other film on this list includes two erect penises.

11 - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

How could I not? This film about a retirement home in India catering only to British actors of the finest pedigree. It was a film featuring both Dame Judi and Maggie, comprised of a myriad of storylines and was consistently funny and touching for the entirety of its two-hour running film.

Many have said that the success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is down to its ability to pick up the grey pound. While I admit that this is one of very few films last year that could be said to specifically cater to the older generation I think the appeal expands far beyond the wrinkled amongst us. As I exited the screening at 20th Century Fox in Soho Square (ahem) I instantly texted both my mum and my sister (such is the life of the single blogger) to let them know that their new favourite film was hitting cinemas in a couple of months.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a warm hug that everyone can enjoy and famously (well, not really) made me want to whisk Judi Dench off to India and retire in a dilapidated hotel.

And now for the proper Top 10: Continue reading

Looper – Film Review

In the future time travel has not been invented, in the future’s future it has. Naturally the technology has been made illegal and is only used as part of organised crime. Mob bosses send targets back in time to be killed by assassins known as Loopers. A Looper lives a life of luxury and excess thanks to each victim travelling back in time with four gold bars strapped to their back. A Looper is released from their contract when they complete their Loop and the mob sends their future self back to be killed. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a Looper who comes a cropper when his future self (Bruce Willis) arrives and goes on the run.

And this is where my review falls apart. There is so much complexity beyond the initial set-up that has left my mind reeling for the past four days but none of it can be discussed in a spoiler-free review. The marketing for Looper has cleverly kept a whole farm/child based part of the plot completely under wraps and I’m not going to go ruining that here.

As a result Looper is a rare example of a film in which you do not know how it will end, nor for that matter what is going to happen in the very next scene. Apart from being gorgeous and clever (much like the team here at Mild Concern) Looper is surprising in the avenues it take you down as it explores love, self-sacrifice, and the importance of good parenting.

Rian Johnson may have lost some of the visual flair he had back in the days of Brick but this is still a stunning film and he has created a fully realised and thoroughly lived-in futuristic world. For every hover bike there are a dozen old cars with solar panels clumsily strapped to the roof. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are fantastically matched as opposite sides of the same coin and the facial prosthetics were nowhere near as distracting as I’d feared. Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels, and Emily Blunt are great too but all are outshone by Pierce Gagnon, a young boy in a pivotal role that I refuse to discuss.

Time travel films will never fully make sense but, as Willis tells us near the start of Looper, it really isn’t worth bothering about. This film shows that sci-fi and action can be both clever and fun and don’t have to involve a climactic battle at a ski resort for no reason (I’m looking at you Inception).

Absolute Amazement
Easily one of the best films of 2012.

Out Now – 28th September 2012

Looper
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT!!!
RIAN JOHNSON!!!
TIME TRAVEL!!!
BRUCE WILLIS!!!
NO OTHER FILM MATTERS TODAY!!!
NOT EVEN FELICITY JONES IN A FILM ABOUT VIBRATORS BEATS THIS!!!

Resident Evil: Retribution
The fifth (fifth!?) instalment in the Resident Evil series. Milla Jonovich is clearly terrible at killing zombies.

The Campaign
It’s funny comedy time as Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis play rival candidates for US congress. Not as funny as it should be say the reviews I have hastily read. Not enough time travels say I.

Barbara (limited release)
When I was 7 I found out that my teacher’s name was Barbara and it felt like the world’s most explosive revelation. Now Barbara is a film about a “doctor working in 1980s East Germany finds herself banished to a small country hospital.” So a German Doc Martin then?

Holy Motors (limited release)
Controversial art house drama about a man who is driven around town in a limo/dressing room taking on various guises/roles/characters. Essentially a series of short vignettes in which each shares a character playing a different character. Does that make any sense?

Husbands (limited re-release)
“A common friend’s sudden death brings three men, married with children, to reconsider their lives and ultimately leave together. But mindless enthusiasm for regained freedom will be short-lived.” Stars the late Peter Falk. Sad face.

The Babymakers (London only)
After a man’s sperm becomes lazy he plots to steal back some of his less lazy sperm from the sperm bank in order to impregnate his wife. He clearly should have put his sperm into a current account rather than whatever strict saver he seems to have become stuck in.

Cross of Honour/Into the White (limited release)
English and German pilots shoot each other down and are forced to struggle for survival together in the same isolated cabin in the Norwegian wilderness. With Rupert Grint among the cast this feel like the angsty camping segment of Deathly Hallows but with less sexy Emma Watson.

Looper – New Trailers

Looper, the indie sci-fi action thriller about a man contracted to kill his future self sent back from the future, has a second slightly longer UK trailer and a UK poster to boot.

Directed by indie film wunderkind Rian Johnson and starring Bruce Willis alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt with Bruce Willis’ face Looper has easily become my most anticipated film of 2012. It even comes above Katy Perry: Part Of Me which is saying something.

Oooh trailer!

Ooh posters! (click to see versions larger than you know what to do with)

You may notice a UK mobile phone number written on the door in the poster, I called it and just got the message “calls to this number are barred”. However a trip to www.07153902935.com reveals a viral website featuring a single film still. I expect more will come over time.

UPDATE: There’s a new US trailer now too!