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Shane Carruth's follow-up to the irresistibly enigmatic Primer is a stunningly beautiful piece of film. Impressionistic in nature, Upstream Color is an intimate tale of broken people experienced through the eyes of a dazzling storyteller. Carruth not only doubles down on the complex science fiction elements that helped garner him a rabid fan base, but he expands his horizons to tackle the alienation of identity.
In regards to the narrative structure, unconventional editing, & free roaming camera work, I would not be surprised to find out that Carruth was heavily influenced by the work of director Terrence Malick. Yet what I find so impressive is that Carruth manages something that I believe few filmmakers are capable of pulling off: he apes these artistic touches while still creating a film that feels wholly fresh and completely original.
It is Terrence Malick by way of Philip K. Dick. But by the time you walk out of the theater you know you experienced something entirely Carruth. Even if you don't quite know what that means yet. To leave such an impression on the mind is quite an achievement for a director who has only two films under his belt.
Upstream Color is deliberately obtuse but doesn't feel inaccessible. It's expertly technical but oddly enough an incredibly emotional experience. It is quite simply a lot of things it shouldn't be, but somehow just is. And that...at least for me...is a beautiful thing.
There are few absolutes in this world. One is that the carcinogenic concoction that theaters drizzle over their popcorn is more addictive than anything Marlboro could produce. Another is that if a senior citizen is hit in the face with a shovel, chances are it will ruin their weekend. Finally, the last absolute is that most people respect Nirvana Drummer/ Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl. Throughout his musical career he has churned out admirable hit after hit all while remaining convivial, self-deprecating, & perhaps most importantly, a total badass.
The subject of a recent documentary that was very popular at last year's South by Southwest, Grohl has now assembled a team of veteran filmmakers and turned the camera on the studio that helped launch his art into the ears of millions of fans the world over. This directorial turn begs the question, is Grohl as enchanting behind the camera as he is in front of it?
Sadly, I would have to answer in the negative as Grohl's love letter to Sound City Studio is a nice polished piece of entertainment, but a bit scatterbrained. Weaving together Grohl's personal journey with that of the studio itself, along with the myriad stars who all made iconic pieces of music within its walls, is already quite an undertaking. Yet, even with three main courses filling every inch of the plate, he attempts to squeeze in music's changing of the guard; the tumultuous change from analog to digital & the artistic devastation wrought in its wake. On top of this, he even throws in footage of his dream jam sessions with the likes of McCartney, Rick Springfield, and a slew of other musical prodigies.
All of this information is crammed into the running time of a standard-length documentary while the material could have filled a Shoah-length documentary. Not to mention it would have been a hell of a lot less depressing.
In an effort to juggle so much, Grohl inevitably drops the ball a couple of times. For instance, in telling the story of the switch to digital, a brief moment regarding Trent Reznor and his embrace of the digital format is awkwardly packed in; not doing that story any justice while simultaneously taking away from the film as a whole.
Overall, Sound City is chock full of energy and just being a fly on the wall watching these titans of the music industry create and refine music together makes the film worth a watch or two. Yet, for his sophomore effort, it might behoove Grohl to streamline his focus and allow the material to breathe a bit more.
This film unfortunately suffered from the hype machine. Had I stumbled upon this documentary while scanning for late night entertainment, then I admit I would probably be much more impressed than I am right now.
With so much praise being heaped on this film, I was expecting something a bit more probing and/or profound. Instead, I got a delightful little doc about a humble American folk singer who after years of drowning in myth and obscurity, discovered that his art has touched the lives of millions in other parts of the globe.
It doesn't villify the music industry or spend too much time looking to assign blame. Rather, it seeks to celebrate. Not only the artist Rodriguez, but the power of music. Sounds rather cliche, but Searching For Sugar Man somehow manages to make it feel fresh.
While not one of the more exciting films to be released this year, Sugar Man will surely leave a smile on your face.