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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Sundance Review: Upstream Color

“Love, love Amy Seimetz’s pixie cut. Love,” I wrote on Twitter directly after the press and industry screening of Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color as a couple of colleagues disagreed loudly nearby. I meant those words as highest praise: the remarkable Seimetz is as central to the film as women in Kieślowski’s late films, like Irène Jacob in Three Colors: Red and The Double Life of Véronique, or Juliette Binoche in Three Colors: Blue. The Pole’s project was always to make the indelible prompt the ineffable. Carruth’s ambition, after a decade in the weeds unable to make his epic “A Topiary” script, rises to Kieślowskian ambition in the insistence on sensations of the body and eruptions of memory and the tactile artifacts of the material world: consciousness is broken apart for the viewer to reconstruct. (“Enjoy your trip back to Philistinea!” the first colleague said banging the Holiday Village door open onto the bracing chill.) Openly, literally filleting and repurposing Thoreau’s “Walden”—among its several manifestations is a manuscript copied out page for page by hand and then joined link-by-link into a paper chain like a second-grade teacher might encourage her students to make—Upstream Color likely is embedded with myriad allusions to other literature as well as deeply-impacted personal concerns. Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” came to mind in some of its choppy bursts of language that resound like music but then refuse to yield as sense, only beginning with the all-encompassing opening lines of “Wake,” “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay.” (The inscribed paper chain also reminded me of poet John Ashbery’s comment that poetry runs in his head all the time, he just sits down once in a while to cut off a length.) At only one glance, attempting synopsis is the wrong work to try, especially of its opening passages that suggest a science fiction mysterium of physical dread and sonic paranoia (See: under: Philip Kaufman’s 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers) that observes a character called the Sampler in search of sounds in a muddy pig-lot filled with domesticated piglets as well as abductions that lead to samplings of bodies (and presumably souls). Resistant symbols recur and bloom, as blood and parasite and flora. The largely plein air cinematography (by Carruth) is specific and contemporary and near peerless. But above all it is a sensational accumulation of the resoundingly concrete and gorgeous and specific: that bob of hair above Seimetz’s keenly lost features once her character has given herself over to simple paranoiac reactivity; basins of ice cubes; sheets of inscribed stave paper or of corporate hoo-ha cascading from a bridge down to a river and from a elevated walkway to an emptied lobby; multiple occurrences of the drape of lank fabrics on Seimetz’s form (like each physical detail, the costume design is simple yet exemplary); flexing hands or flexing feet; a woman’s black tights shredded at the toes as toes worry, worry; a plump pale grub sluggish yet undulant against a tan palm, its lines as prominent as the veins on the back of leaf; a hand pocketing a phial of hotel shampoo at waist height; a fearful couple retracting into a cluttered bathroom, embracing, clothed, in the bathtub with an oversize wood axe at hand. In a city, on a train, a man pursues a woman. He is Jeff (Carruth), she is Kris (Seimetz). He is forward and assertive even as she shoulders on her damaged tremulousness. Kris smiles, truly smiles, but once, in the middle of this relationship that could be a week or take place across several years, her gleaming dimply grin in the foreground [see photo above] as in the background grackles black the sky. Several montages compress, repeat, redesign man-woman exchanges: there’s one of “I love you” and “those are just words”; another of the get-to-know-you “I like you”s and there is another of a liar and thief or a man who is lying about being a liar and thief confessing forward and backward repeatedly in patterns of cubist-style editing (co-cut by Carruth and David Lowery). They flurry like regret distantly recalled but never truly dismissed, the math of the mind that calculates quietly over what we’ve lost or what we’re losing right in front of ourselves: the editing is like the self-editing of the memories that will not let us go. Is it a succession of clues or a crazy quilt of occurrence that resists ready discernment? In some ways, it’s like a pulping of the phenomena of the oddities case-studied by Dr. Oliver Sacks. And the dialogue is necessary banality itself: “I like your scarf.” “I like you so much.” “We should take a trip.” And Carruth’s throb and thrum of a score ennobles the proceedings: it is a warm and stately gloom. Upstream Color is daunting tapestry, the sort that unfurls only in memory or in heated contestation and conversation. To turn to the nether end of Joyce’s dream salad of an epic novel and its closing line, “A way a lone a last a loved a long the,” Mr. Carruth acts, wrote, operated, shot, directed, co-produced, co-edited, composed the music and is self-distributing. A way a lone a last a loved, indeed.

2 Responses to “Sundance Review: Upstream Color”

  1. David says:

    Do you mean “Walden” by Thoreau?

  2. Ray Pride says:

    Erp. My personal nostalgia is for copyeditors. Thank you kindly.

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook