Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Memento of Another Time

I feel sorry for today's young filmmakers.

Presumably, that's who Mac and I were surrounded by at the Grace Street Theatre for tonight's installment of VCU Cinematheque, or at least, that's who the visiting professor doing the introduction addressed his comments to.

Explaining to these children that director Christopher Nolan (who never went to film school) made his first film for $6,000 ("The limitations create the energy"), he exhorted the future filmmakers in the auditorium to always remember the budget when writing a script. He must have repeated it a half dozen times to stress the point, but you could almost see his words flying right over the heads of the kids in the rows around us.

Hell, half of them were still talking to friends or scrolling on their phones while he explained why the film was significant. Only when he reminded them that Nolan had gone on to direct the "Dark Knight" trilogy and "Inception" did they seem to notice that someone was talking.

One of the joys of the Cinematheque series is that the films are shown on 35mm, so once the lights went down, we were treated to almost a minute of the purr of the projector, a heartfelt reminder that digital is simply not as satisfying. Call me old fashioned.

Made in 1998, "Following" was a brief (70 minutes) neo-noir (having been made long after the golden era of film noir), appropriately shot in black and white (actually done for economic reasons since color is less forgiving when you're on a non-existent budget) and with enough references to Hitchcock to feel stylish.

And voyeuristic, oh-so very voyeuristic.

It quickly became clear that the film switched back and forth in time with nothing close to a continuous narrative, a device now so common that it probably didn't even register with the students, who've never known a world where movies didn't do that as a matter of course.

I still recall seeing "Memento," another Nolan film, when it came out in 2001 and being blown away at how seamlessly the film flashed forward and doubled back and "Following" was obviously Nolan's first stab at that kind of film structure.

Shot for maximum suspense, the film seduced with its hints at different events and circumstances throughout, but no obvious connections. It's only at the end that every last detail is neatly tied together so the audience can finally see the bigger picture, dark as it is.

And yet, during that crucial scene where we were finally seeing the house of cards that had been built, the students in the row behind us were tittering and mocking the dialog. It was almost as if they couldn't wrap their as-yet-unformed brains around how edgy and well-constructed "Following" would have been in 1998. And without that understanding of cinematic history, I have to question how compelling the movies they might make will be.

The last thing Mac and I heard as we walked out of the theater was a student complaining about how many people had liked the film. He just couldn't understand why.

Okay, maybe I should just weep for the future of filmmaking and leave it at that.


  1. Karen, perhaps a bit of spoiler here (look away now, ye of faint heart), but "Dunkirk" is Nolan's, too - and instead of weaving storyline elements in asynchronous ways, he approaches the situation from multiple perspectives. Same story and timeframe, only told from different viewpoints throughout the battle. And the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is unusual, creative, and a great accompaniment to Nolan's unique presentation of events.

  2. Note to self: see "Dunkirk." Thanks, Beau.

  3. De nada. I own it. Streaming party in our future!