Shane Carruth Answers All Our Questions About ‘Primer,’ ‘Upstream Color’ and ‘The Modern Ocean’ – The Awl

byMark?

Allen

FilmmakerShaneCarruth,whosehomemadeandaward-winningdebutPrimerconfusedandseducedeveryonein2004,hasanewbrain-burnerhittingscreenstomorrow:UpstreamColor。

IfwatchingPrimerfeltliketryingtosolveaRubik’scubethatyouswearwasmissingsomepieces,watchingUpstreamColorfeelslikeusingmemoryregressiontosolveasimilarone。

Butthemissingpiecesarethereforareason。

Withrapideditingandimaginative,oftenjarringuseofsound,Carruth’ssecondfilmreplacestheformer’sfluorescent-litminimalismwithakaleidoscopeofspinningclues:amanandwoman(CarruthhimselfasJeff,andanexcellentAmySeimetzasKris)aredrawntogetherbyatragiceventfromtheirpasttheycan’tidentify,anddon’tknowtheyshare。

Theyoungcoupleunknowinglysearchfortheunknownwithinthefilm’shypnoticstyle,resemblingabewilderedMulderandScullycastadriftinsomethinglikeGodard’sPierrotleFou。

Romantic?

Yes。

Interesting。

Youbet。

Casualviewing?

Notreally。

UpstreamColorisaromancepictureturnedoutsidein,andfindsitselfinleaguewithofsomeofthebetterbrain-tripsofrecentyears。

(AmorecompactEternalSunshineoftheSpotlessMind?

AnInlandEmpireforfirstdates?

)IspokewithCarruthabouthisnewmovie。

Readersshouldknowthatsomeplotpoints(conceptpoints?

)arediscussedinthisinterview…notthatitmatters,probably?

Itkindofdoesn’t?

really!

UpstreamColorbeginsanengagementatIFCFilmCentertomorrow,andarrivesinLosAngeles,Chicago,SeattleandmanyothercitiesonApril12th,withmoretofollowthismonth。

OnMay7th,it’llbereleasedon-demandandonDVDand?

Blu-ray。

(Savethisforlaterwith?

Pocket。

)

MARKALLEN:ThefirstimpulseIhadafterseeingUpstreamColorwastoimmediatelygoseeitagain。

AudiencesgenerallyseemedtoembracePrimerasa“puzzle”tobesolved。

Thisnewmoviealsofeelslikesomethingaudienceswillbeinspiredtotakeapartandputbacktogetheragain。

Arepuzzlessomethingthatattractyou,andisthatkindofreactionsomethingyou?

like?

ShaneCarruth:That’snotsomethingIgooutofmywaytodo,butit’ssomethingthat,onceitbecomesclearisgoingtobecomeanartifactofsomethingbigger,I’mnotworriedabout。

Myaimasafilmmakeris,bytheendcredits,tohavedeliveredanemotionalarc?

—?

and,hopefully,asomewhatcohesivenarrative。

Myaimisnottosumeverythingupandmakeeverythingthatistelegraphingmeaningtonecessarilybeknownbytheend。

Idon’tshyawayfromdenseness。

Iwanttheretobeacipherofsomekindthatgivestheaudienceconfidencethatthefilmispurposefulandplacedinthereforareason,andhopefullythere’ssomefractionofthatcomingacrossbytheend。

Iwanttogivetheaudienceconfidencethatiftheyweretospendtimethinkingbackonorrevisitingit,itwillbearoutandbeworth?

that。

That’smainlyhowIenjoyfilms。

Andtobehonestthere’snotalotofmodernfilmsthatdothatforme。

CertainlythingslikeTheMaster,forexample。

IknewI’dseensomethingbytheendofit,butIdidn’tnecessarilyknowwhatitwasallmeantfor。

SothenIrevisiteditandfeltrewardedbyinvestingthetimeinwhatI’dbeenchallengedby。

Soifthat’shappeningwithmyfilms,Iwouldcallthatsuccess。

AlsoifI’vemadeittooobtuseandit’snotregisteringwithanybody,thenthat’sanerroronmypart,I?

think。

Theposterissoodd。

I’mcuriouswhyyouchosethatparticularimageasthefirstthingmanypeoplewillseeaboutUpstream?

Color?

Ifeltitwasagoodcontextualizationofwhatthemovieitselfisinterestedin。

Therewerealotofwaystotakesomeofthemorestrikingimageryfromthemovieandsellit,like,“Whoa,you’vegottoseethismoviefolks!

There’spigsandworms!

Andwow,heylook:guns!

”Therewerewaystotryandsellthingsandtrytogeteverylastdollar。

ButwhenIseethatimageoftwofullyclothedpeopleinabathtub,andthedistressthat’sinvolved,Iwanttoknowsomethingaboutit。

Nothowcrazytheplotisthatgotthemthere,butsomethingmore。

Whatemotionalstatedidtheyhavetogetinforthisoddthingto?

happen?

OnethingInoticedafterwatchingthefilmwasIthinktherewerenocellphonesorinternetbeingusedinanyscenesinthefilm,besidesatthebeginningwithKrisatherjob。

AmI?

right?

That’sinterestingbecause,ohwait…there’sacellphonethatringswherethey’reinahotelroomtogether。

Hmm。

Andthere’sacomputer…butit’s?

analog。

IguessInoticedthelackofit。

Itseemseveryfilmthesedaysusesthatunthinkingly,almosteverysequencehastoinvolveacellphoneortheInternetasarule,likeit’ssaying,“Okay,thisishoweveryonelivesnow,folks,sogetusedtoitandohalsopleasegetexcitedaboutthenew?

iPhone。



Ihavesortofaweirdaversiontoanytechthat’stoomodern,infilms。

Buttypicallythat’sfromtryingtoshowsomethingthat’snottooidentifiable,likefortheaudiencenottobeabletosay,“Oh,that’sacertaincity,”or“that’sacertainplaceorbuilding。

”That’sjustmyownpersonalaesthetic,wantingthingstofeelalittlemoretimelessoruniversal。

BeforeIsawthefilmIheardthesoundtrack?

—?

whichyoucreatedyourself?

—?

anditremindedmeoflate-70selectronicstufflikeClusterorEno。

ThenwhenIsawthecharactertheSamplerrecordingsoundsfrommachinesandnaturearoundhimandturningitintomusic,Ihadatotallydifferentopinionaboutyourpossibleinfluences。

Iswhatwe’reseeingSamplerdointhefilmbasicallyhowyoucreatedthemusic?

itself?

Actually,thereisalotofthatstuffinthesoundtrack,atleastnow。

Goingback,firstIwrotethefullscorewhileIwaswritingthescript,whichwasn’tsynth-yatall。

Therewerestrings,anditwasmeanttobeperformedbyasymphonyofsomekind。

Butwhenallthedifferentelementsinthefilmbegantocometogetherandreacttoeachother,onceitbecameclearthissoundscapewaspartofthecharacters’non-verbalcommunicationandwaspartofthewayweweregoingtoconveyideaswhenwecouldn’tsaythemoutloud,that’swhenIchangedmymindaboutthestringsonthesoundtrackandbegantotakesamplesfromthesoundsIwasrecording。

ThesymbolisminPrimerseemedcovert。

InUpstreamColorthesymbolismseemsmoreblatant,especiallyinthelastthird。

Thecharactersareinanunbelievablesituation,butthroughoutareoftenshownswitchingbetweenseeminglyactuallifeanddream-likescenariosthatseemmetaphorical。

UpstreamColorismoreovertinitssymbolismthanPrimer,andI’mokaywiththat。

Ifeellikethingshavetakenaweirdturninfilms。

Themeaningorsymbolism…ormaybeliteraryvalueinfilmseemstohavereachedapointwhereitcaneitheronlybesosimplisticthatit’snotinteresting,orsoobscurethatit’sdifficulttotearapart。

IthinkwhatI’minterestedin,gettingbacktothingsthatarealmostaseasytounderstandasfables,likesay,TheTortoiseandtheHare…wellmaybenotquitethatsimplistic,butsomethingthat,ifyouweretopullitapartandputitdown,itwouldhavethatsimplenessoruniversalitytoit。

Thatwayyoucanexploreitmorelyrically。

Youcanmaybefindsomenuanceintheedgesofhowit’sdefined,insteadoffindingnuanceinmakingitsomassivelycomplexinmeaning。

Ifeellikeinsomefilmsit’salmostlikethingsgettoocomplexandwealldothatthingwhereit’s,“Oh,itmeanswhateveryouwantittomean!

Itmeansdifferentthingstodifferentpeople!

”Andthat’ssomethingIdon’tsubscribeto。

Really?

No。

DespitethepathyouseemtobefollowingfromPrimertoUpstreamColor,whichasyousayisfarmorecomplexandmetaphorical?

YesIdo。

ButIthinktheconsensusaboutUpstreamColoralready?

—?

andthefilmisn’tevenoutyettheatrically?

—?

isstrikinglyclosetotheintentionsIsetouttoportray。

SoIthinkthere’sonlyonewaytoviewthisfilm:inawaywhereallthepiecesmakesense。

Imean,therearelotsofpeoplewithdifferenttheories,butIdon’tbelievethosetheoriesbearoutoncethefilmhasbeenstudiedorrevisited。

Iguesswe’llsee…butIfeelprettyconfident。

Ononehand,maybeUpstreamColorjustfeelsmoreopen-endedtomebecauseit’snew,thesamewayPrimerwasin2004,andmaybepeoplehavehadenoughtimetosortoffigurethatoneout。

WithUpstreamColorIhearpeoplesayingthosesamethingsalloveragain,youknowlike,“Ineedtowatchitagain!

Whatdoesitallmean?

Let’smakeawebsitewith?

charts!



Yes!

InUpstreamColor,isallofthissurrealstuffreallyhappeningtoKrisand?

Jeff?

Well,Iwouldsayyes。

Butit’sbecausetheplotitselfisaboutbeingaffectedfromorobservingatadistance。

Forinstance,whenwe’reinthatemptyofficeroominthesceneattheend,thenyes,Jeffishavinglunchthere。

AndthenI’dsayit’supfordebatewhoelsewasactuallyinthatroomornotwithhim。

ThatwouldincludetheSampler,whosuddenlyappearsintheroom,butwe’vealreadylearnedhasanabilitytoobservepeoplefromadistancewithoutbeingseenbecausehehasthissortofgoldfishbowl-likepigcorralthathesampledotherpeople’semotionalexperiencestocreate。

Sothequestionis:whereisKris?

IfKrisiswalkingintothisroom,whereisshe?

Hopefully,that’sacompellingquestionand,oncewegetaresolution,we’llseeshe’sactuallyinthepigcorralherselfandhasfoundawaytocross?

over。

So,fromaplotperspective,that’sthequestionattheendoftheday:whatofthisis?

real?

Butfromasubtextualperspective,italmostdoesn’tmatter。

ThisisHeartofDarkness,thisisgoinguprivertosolvetheprobleminsomeway,putanendtothethingorpersonwho’sbeenfoundresponsible。

Sothat’sthewayIsortofthoughtofit:wearenowbeyondplotorquestions,wearesimplywatchingitplay?

out。

What’sstrangeisIdidn’tevennoticethelastthirdhadnodialogueuntilIreadaboutitlater。

Howdidthat?

happen?

Itstartedwiththeideathatsomuchhappeningforthesecharacterswasnon-verbal。

I’vegotpeoplethatareaffectedbythingsatadistance,twopeopleattractedorrepulsedfromeachotherbasedonwhattwopigsaredoingonacorral,outofthe?

city。

Thesecharacterscan’tevenspeaktothat,theycan’tknowitorsuspectit,theycanonlyknowthatthere’ssomethingbetweenthewaythatthey’remotivatedandthephysicalworldaroundthem。

Soforthemtobeabletotalkaboutit,inaway,wasanimpossibility。

Inthelastthirdwhenwe’rejustfollowingthrough,Ithought,surethere’salineortwothatcouldmaybebeuseful…butisthereanywaytonothavethem?

Itwasrelativelyeasyto?

do。

Whichleadsmeto:Thoreau’sWaldenisabigpartofUpstreamColor。

Didyouchoseittobeanelementofthestoryafterthefact,ordiditinspirethefilmonthe?

whole?

Ichoseittosatisfyacoupleofthings。

One,thestoryofUpstreamColorstartedwithmeknowingI’dhavecharactersthatinthebeginningIwouldstripoftheirunderstandingofwhotheywere,whattheythoughtoftheworld,anythingthatcouldbepartoftheirsubjectiveexperienceorwhattheyconsideredthemselves,theirnarrative。

Likeamnesia。

Andtheywouldwakeupinthismomentweretheywouldlookaroundandnotbeabletoexplainthethingsthatthey’ddone,andwouldhavetoadoptanewnarrative,trytorebuildandfollowthroughonthatnomatterhowforeignitseemed。

Iwastryingtocomeupwithatooltogetthemthere,andthat’swhenthislifecyclepartwascreatedinthestory;theworm,thepigs,andtheorchids,withthispresencesortofspiralingarounditaspartofit。

Because,therearelotsofwaystocreateamnesiainpeopleandhavethemwakeupwonderingwhythey’vedone。

Itcouldhavebeenapharmaceuticaldrug,orabumponthehead,somealiensomething…there’slotsof?

ways。

ButIwantedtocreatesomethingthatfeltlikeitwasembeddedinwherewelive,somethingyoucouldbelieveisjustoutsideourexperiencebutstillaroundandrelativelycommonplace。

Somethinginnaturethathaditsownlifecyclethatwasseeminglysustainedwithoutanybodymanagingit。

Itseemslikethere’saconspiracybetweenallthesepeopleandthethingstheydoasthelifecycletravelsthroughthem,theThief,theSampler,andtheOrchidHarvesters。

Butthey’rejustdoingthethingtheyknowhowtodo,theydon’tknowthethingisdependentontheircombinedactions,movingthroughtheonethatcamebeforeortheoneafter。

Sothisbalancedtheequationofthestoryforme,andputusinthenaturalworld,andputussortofinthemindofbiologicalprocesses。

AnotherpieceofthepuzzlewasthatIknewIwasgoingtoputKristhroughaprocesswheresheismeanttodothesemenialtaskstokilltimewhilethethiefwaitsforthemoneytoclear,writingandre-writingsomenovel,andmakingpaperchainsoutofit。

SoWaldenseemedappropriate。

ThelocationsinUpstreamColorhaveaserenefeel;suburbansprawlarchitecturecontrastedwithwild,flatTexasterrain。

LikePrimer,youfilmedagainintheDallasareaforUpstreamColor。

Iassumebudgetisafactor,buthascapturingthistypeofterraininyourfilmshasbecomeanimportantelementinyourwork?

DoyouthinkyouwillfilminTexas?

again?

NoIdon’t,actually。

InfactwesortofshotDallasfornot-Dallas,inmymind。

NotthatIwastryingtohidethesuburbs,becausethoseareareallybigpartofit。

ButallIwantedwastostartoneplace,youknoweverythingaboutKris’experienceisaboutslicesofnarratives,shestartsoneway,thenshewindsupanotherway…theyescapetothesuburbsandthat’smeanttobetheresolution,anditstillisn’t。

Soeverythingintherewasmeanttobeacontrast,achangeissetting,changeindress,changeinappearance,changeinKris’mentalstate,basically。

I’veheardPrimerdescribedas“ametaphysicalbuddypic。

”Itwasverymale-centric。

UpstreamColorhasastrongmale/femaledynamic。

Wasthisanintentionalchange?

Orjustpartofthefilmyouwantedto?

make?

Itwasn’tareactiontoPrimer,Iknowthat。

Iactuallyhavewonderedthis,like,wait,whyistheleadcharacterawoman,whyamIsosureofthat?

AndthenIrememberedithadtodowiththepiglets。

We’regoingtoputawomanthroughtheexperienceofthehysteriaandmaniaofhavinglostchildren,withouteverknowingthatsheeverhad?

them。

SoitrequiredawomantohavethatpsychicbreakthatKrisendsuphavingbecauseofthisexperience。

Honestlythereasonit’samanandwomanisbecausewhenthisstoppedbeingathoughtexperimentaboutstrippingawaynarrative,andstartedbecomingmuchmoreuniversalandbigger,andnotjust:whatcouldsomeonethinkorbelieve,andthenhavethatstrippedawayandreplacedwithsomethingelse。

Butthewayyouviewyourself,orwhetheryou’reagoodorbadpersonorwhethertheworldlikesyouoryouliketheworld,orwhatanybodydeserves。

Thebiggeritgot,theideaofstrippingthatawaybecamemoreemotional,andIthinkthattomeleadtotheideathatthat’sareallyromanticpremise。

You’vegotpeoplethatfindeachotherinthatspace。

Iwantedtoseetwopeoplethatarelatchingontoeachotherofthesmallinklingthatthat’sthesalvationinthis,sothat’swhyitwent?

there。

IreallyfeltUpstreamColorseemsrootedinfilmtechniquesthatwerestartedinpartbyGodard,andcontinuedalongbyotherfilmslikeRequiemforaDream,InlandEmpireandGasparNoé’swork,andmanyothers。

ParticularlykeepinginmindthelastthirdofUpstreamColorseemstobemovingforwardinthefilmmedium,whichmanypeoplefeelisdying,youseemtobereachingforanewtypeofstorytellingthroughthetechnologyofimagesandsoundcombinedtogether。

Wouldyousaythat’s?

true?

Completely。

That’sabsolutelythewayIthinkofit。

Yes。

And,I’mwritingsomethingnowthat’stryingtotakethatideaeven?

further。

Whichisyournextfilm,TheModern?

Ocean?

That’sright。

Iwanttotalkaboutthatbutfirstwanttotalkaboutwhatwasinitiallytobeyousecondfilm。

Around2011,youtriedtogetaverybig-soundingandstrangesciencefictionfilmofftheground,calledATopiary。

Therewasalotofonlinehypewhenitwasannouncedin2011,thenitwasreportedyouwereputtingitonholdtodoUpstreamColorinstead。

RecentlyIreadyou’dstoppedworkingonitaltogether。

WithATopiaryIinvestedalotoftimeandenergy,anddidthethingthatItendtodo,whichisgetlostinthedetails。

IntheprocessofgettingitoffthegroundIwastryingtosolveafewproblems。

ATopiarywasdependentoneffects,andIwasworriedthatintheprocessoffarmingouttothirdpartiesandhopingforaconsistentresult,Iwasn’tseeingalotofsuccessthereandIwasworried。

EspeciallyifweweregoingtodosomethingforsortofalowerbudgetcomparedtowhatittypicallywouldhavebeenifitwereaHollywoodfilm,Iwasworriedthatwasn’tgoingtoworkout。

So,Ispentalotoftimesolvingthatortryingtosolvethatinmymind?

—?

thatwouldmakeitsortofaboutiqueoperationwithinproduction,whichwassomethingthatwasn’tcommonplace。

Ispentalotoftimeonthat:alotoftimedoingdesign,thenaboutayeardoingmeetingstryingtoconvincepeopletoinvestinit,anddidn’thaveany?

success。

Soit’s?

shelved?

Inmyminditis。

BecauseofsomeofthenoisethatUpstreamColorismakingnow,everybodynowthinkstheplanis,“Let’stakethenoiseandtrytomakeATopiary。

”Butisitshelved?

Yes/no。

BecauseofalltheworkIdidthatdidn’tworkout,inmymindit’safilmthatsortofalreadyexists,butthatIcan’treallyletmyselfrevisit。

EspeciallywhenI’msopassionateaboutwhatI’mwriting?

now。

Okay,soyournextfilmwillbeTheModernOcean。

Whatcanyoutellmeabout?

it?

It’sshippingroutes,commoditiestrading,piratesandprivateers。

It’ssortofatragicallyromanticstory,everybodyinthefilmistryingtopursuesomethingandallthesewiresaregettingcrossed,hopefullyinaninterestingway。

Butspeakingaboutcellphonesandstuff,it’sweird,IthinkinmynextfilmTheModernOcean,it’sgoingtoberoughlythesameway,we’renotgoingtoseethelatestiPhoneoriPadorwhatever。

Butitinvolvesoceanographyandtherearelotsmoretoolsandmoretechinit,anddefinitelyaunifying,ruggedaesthetictoallthoseelementswithinthefilm。

We’llhaveto?

see。

Related:AConversationWithWhitStillmanAboutTheScriptof‘Metropolitan’

MarkAllenisawriterandperformerlivinginNew?