THE GENERAL IDEA
Shane Carruth is a distinctively imaginative voice who is never gonna tell you precisely what’s going on in, nor cue you how he wants you to feel about, the unusually compelling films he makes. And when we say he makes films, he really makes ’em. Like damn near the whole thing virtually on his own. Never is this more profoundly evidenced than in “Upstream Color”, a peculiar project (about inhuman evil eventually succumbing to good, in the form of human love and unity…that’s a decent stab at it anyhow) in which Carruth invests his multi-talents as Director, Writer, Co-Star, Co-Producer, Cinematographer, Co-Film Editor and Co-Camera Operator…deep breath…as well as providing the movie’s eerily idiosyncratic musical score. Oh, and as if that’s not enough, rumor has it that he baked homemade pies and personally provided daily back massages for the entire cast and crew on top of it all (though the latter has not be substantiated).
What is for certain, however, is that what you see in a Carruth creation, and how you process whatever it is you determine is being presented, is entirely up to you. Yes, for one is actually going to have pay attention. To interpret. Lo, to…gasp…THINK. And not everyone particularly wants to do that. Truth be told, not everybody can do that. At least not to the degree that Carruth demands of his audience. Experiencing one of his productions is to be continually confounded, confused, frustrated and relentlessly fascinated.
It takes a genuinely special kinna actor to perform in one of Carruth’s movies. You have got to be steadfastly purposeful and committed, almost manically so, to a persistently driving vibe, an unshakably prevalent sense, that runs the length and breadth of the story. It is an extraordinarily weird tone that Carruth casts, to be sure. And yet it is a mood that is decidedly and consistently propelled by a very specific intent. Both “Upstream Color” and Carruth’s masterfully intricate 2004 sci-fi suspenser “Primer” are practically impossible to decipher and explain. I don’t even try, as to do so is to tell you to fashion your very thoughts based upon my own. What I am comfortable declaring is this: you will feel the especially palpable current of underlying urgency while striving to absorb and attach some manner of meaning as the frames frenetically flash in front of you. And that these moments will seize hold right from the opening seconds, never to ease their spellbinding grip until long after the final image has surrendered to black.
The very quality that attracts me to a Carruth project is precisely the same one that will drive many away. For the latter group his work is simply too difficult to digest. Too dense to decipher. Too sentient to assimilate. As I’ve made clear, I don’t have the definitive description or ultimate comprehension of Carruth’s art.
I just know that I’m drawn to it. And I like it.
Carruth may not be among history’s all-time great filmmakers. He is, however, without question one of the most intriguing and challenging of his generation. And he has earned the right to be recognized, and appreciated, as nothing less.