Friday, August 2, 2013

Weekend Stream for 8/02/13

The Weekend Stream is a new (hopefully) weekly feature where I recommend interesting selections from the library of titles currently available on Netflix's Watch Instantly service for you to watch this weekend. Since titles can disappear with little or no warning, there's always a chance a film will no longer be available when you read this, so you'd better act fast, bozo!

Weekend Stream for 08/02/2013: The films of Shane Carruth

Texas filmmaker Shane Carruth basically embodies the do-it-yourself ethos of independent film. His first feature, 2004's Primer, was an exceedingly low-budget affair. Carruth himself wrote, directed, produced, edited, scored, and starred in the film, using locations in and around his home town and employing his friends and family as its cast and crew to save money. But what Primer lacks in production costs, it more than makes up for in production value; the film looks and sounds far more professional and assured than its budget and Carruth's lack of experience would lead you to presume.

Primer is about a group of engineers who, in their spare time, run a side business and research new technologies. In the process of attempting to devise a way to decrease an object's weight, they inadvertently stumble upon a functional method of time travel. Soon, the discovery brings all of the group's tensions to the surface, and as the timeline becomes increasingly blurred, questions of ethics and greed abound.

Primer is a very wordy film, filled with complicated technical talk that grounds things in a sense of reality. This isn't some jaunty, impossible adventure; everything follows a set of rules and internal logic. But don't expect to understand everything on one viewing. Nothing here is simple, and the film functions in loops that won't fully make sense except in the light of the whole.

If Primer has any major fault, it's that the film is a largely cerebral exercise, and its dearth of emotion can feel cold. Similarly, some people might not enjoy its puzzling structure, and while it trusts its audience to follow along, it'd be easy to disengage and give up. But Carruth's follow-up, 2013's Upstream Color attempts to rectify both of these issues without losing any of Primer's complexity and thematic depth.

In Upstream Color, a woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz), falls prey to a conniving thief (Thiago Martins) and, after losing everything, finds herself entangled in the life cycle of a bizarre psychoactive parasite. Eventually Kris meets Jeff (Carruth), who may have been through a similar ordeal, and the two seem to bond due to forces neither completely understands. The two come together, helping each other deal with their trauma-shattered lives and find some sort of peace.

Like PrimerUpstream Color demonstrates an immense trust in its audience, but while not all aspects of the story make immediate sense, it has a greater narrative cohesion and stronger emotional throughline than the former film despite being dialogue-free for huge stretches of screentime. At its heart, it's a simple story about the complex interconnectedness of life, the fallibility of memory, and the way in which we never know just what has influenced us and what we influence in turn. It is a film that offers you many opportunities to read your own meaning into the text, and its haunting atmosphere will likely linger with you for some time.

Both films are available to stream or rent on DVD from Netflix right now, and I can't recommend them highly enough. Carruth is an auteur in the truest sense, and his singular vision and love for his projects comes through in every frame of his unique, unforgettable films. If you're looking for something thought-provoking to watch this weekend, it's hard to go wrong with either of these.

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