UnionVGF's Movie of the Month Club: Upstream Color *Spoilers* (January 2014)

Plainview

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Upstream Color



Why a movie of the month club?
Outside of video games movies seems to be the biggest medium we have in common as a community. Rather than quick reviews I felt it would be a fun change of pace to watch films and discuss them on a more detailed level.

What should be discussed in the thread?
Everything should be discussed but make each post worthwhile. We will discuss the dialogue, the acting, the cinematography, comparisons to other films, etc. Everything about the movie should, and hopefully will, be discussed.

Think essay when making a post in this thread.

This isn't necessarily a review thread. You can obviously post your impressions of the film but don't make it the largest part of your post.

Posts that add nothing to the discussion or veer off topic into other subjects will be removed.

How will movies be chosen?
Since I see a lot of movies my first criteria is it something I haven't seen? I look at movies recommended to me on various movie sites. I have a large to watch list on IMDB that I frequently look at, update and complete films from. I then choose films that I feel will garner vast discussions and promote back and forth dialogue between forum members.

The films won't always be films I haven't seen or haven't seen in a while. I will most definitely choose movies that are main stream that many have seen but feel the our film discussion community would enjoy discussing. I will probably alternate each month between movies I haven't seen and movies that will encourage a great discussion amongst us. The movies will be domestic, foreign, action, dramatic... Everything.

While I will try to select movies that are widely available, sometimes that's not possible as with the case of Upstream Color.
 

menace-uk-

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Just Ordered the Blu-ray of this. Says it releases tomorrow in the UK and my estimated delivery is Thursday:banana:
 
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Z A C K

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It's also on Amazon Instant Video. $3.99 to rent from there. I think I'll do this! Just need to find some free time some night. :)
 
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Zer0beaT

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Men are pigs?

Those pigs were really cute, glad the pig man paid for it!

(not really, where to even begin discussing this?)
 

team56th

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Men are pigs?

Those pigs were really cute, glad the pig man paid for it!

(not really, where to even begin discussing this?)
As the Wikipedia article on this movie states, it's a parasite that affects all these life forms. Earlier on I thought that the maggot-like worm is the parasite, but the later VFX scenes where the parasite moves from pigs to orchids seem to suggest that the real form of these parasite is the blue, microscopic, well, thing. Sort of like Prometheus, if you saw that movie. So I'm guessing the parasite moves from orchid to maggot to human to pig to orchid and the cycle goes on.
 
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team56th

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That said, sorry for starting the discussion on a negative note, but here we go.

I hate it when filmmakers shake timeline to 'break forms'. This is especially confusing when the shots do not attach very well to each other. I don't know where it started, but it annoyed the hell out of me at the final sequence of Drive, the whole running time of Spring Breakers, and quite a few scenes in this film. Two adjacent shots cross the line of angle that can be put together too often and that distracts the viewers. Adding to the confusion, sometimes a sequence shows the final result of certain action first and puts them together with scenes of events that previously happened in random order, all to no effect.

I guess they want to break away from the rules, but that's not the way to do that. French new wave filmmakers wanted to get away from Hollywood rule of filmmaking, but at the same time they were a great admirer of Classical Hollywood and revered the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford. And that actually shows in their films as well. We all know Godard's Breathless for breaking away from some of the key points of editing, but they are effective and draws attention of the audience because that breaking away does not happen all the time. Usually it follows the rules, but then the jump cut and strange editing scheme comes up from time to time.

A film is always supported by a series of rules that keeps the immersion together, and all the experiments with forms are based on that. Some of the recent films, including Upstream Color, seems to forget that. It's not the worst of these kind of films (that should be Spring Breakers, what a piece of ****), but this movie could have been a lot better if it was chronological and was clearer in its cinematic language.
 

Bollocks

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Well just saw it, let's have a crack at it... First reaction is that within the first 5 minutes I think you know that this is not a movie where you're gonna get any kind of straightforward message or meaning, or maybe not get any at all. Which is fine by me. The opening image is of a paper chain covered in philosophy lying in the dirt... I think? Maybe that represents what this movie is. The first line is "close your eyes", so you get the vibe this movie is not something you're supposed to "understand". This movie is hard. It's like Legendary difficulty.

Next thing is how the movie kind of hovers around people, not just at the beginning but throughout the movie, like you'll get a small slice of someone's story before it moves on.

I haven't checked but I can guarantee that most critics would compare the way this movie is filmed to a Terrence Malick one, especially The Tree of Life. Carruth seems to have a major hard-on for nature and sort of seeing what our relationship is with it, there's a lot of controlling nature from the potted plants that the Thief uses for the parasite and the caging of the pigs, and of course the mind control used on Kris.

I think the clearest theme would probably be a "spiritual" connection between people (or animals or whatever). At the beginning you have the kids who seem to have some kind of psychic link (?), Kris and Jeff obviously have their connection (there's a lot to talk about there but honestly it's the morning after New Years and my brain is a Jackson Pollock right now), and of course there seems to be some influence the pigs/parasite things have on Kris and Jeff's lives (or vice versa?). The end shows Kris embracing a pig but honestly I'm not sure if it's a happy or a bleak ending.

Repetition seems really prominent too... you have some scenes that repeat over and over again (the starlings, "I hope today is better" etc), there's the cycle of the grub/human/pig/plant. And one of the first images of the movie is of a recycling bin, although I can't remember right now what's put into it. Is it the philosophy chain link? If so I think that's important. We're in Finnegans Wake territory here...

The Sampler (sound recording guy) is the most interesting character to me. Putting aside the parasite/human medical experiment... thing. He sort of drifts around like a ghost, just observing people, a bit like how the film does that itself. He's also recording sounds that we the audience hear, so he's sort of making the movie himself. There's also a big connection between sound he records and the lives of Kris and Jeff... but I'm not sure what. It's a really striking moment when Kris cuts one of her sewing threads and the Sampler like... loses his connection to her? Or loses interest? Or something?

I'm wondering whether Carruth is a cinephile, and maybe wondering if a lot of this movie is about how to make a movie in the first place. Like about the creative process. Kris is editing a movie, which is A Topiary, the film Carruth had begun before deciding to make Upstream Colour instead (thanks IMDB!). The Sampler is like someone who sort of just looks at people, I feel like he's sort of like (and here's where I really start going off on a tangent) representative of the audience or maybe the filmmaker. He just observes all these stories, and at the end it's like Kris and Jeff become aware of his presence (and then murder him), like it's Carruth saying this is not a movie that you just observe without thinking about it, like he's "killing" the usual kind of audience expectations or film-making conventions.


Yeah, it's flimsy, but Jesus what do you want? I'm not Quentin Tarantino. And I'm hungover. Double whammy. I do feel there is a lot of stuff that sort of points towards Carruth examining the process of creating a story. I don't think the movie gives any answers, just wants to make you think, which is how I think is a good way to operate.

Some other stuff, like colour is important (no duh, clue is in the title), like blue and especially yellow but I've written a lot already. Also don't think you can ignore the way the story has a lot about financial fraud, housing equity, bankruptcy, poverty, wealth, unemployment etc. Honestly you could talk all day about this movie, there's so much I'm leaving out.

One more thing, and that's how cleverly Carruth marketed and distributed the movie. Tiny budget, no stars, limited theatre release. But online distribution and great use of word of mouth have helped. He's really been successful in promoting himself as a trailblazing indie hero. And I hate to finish on a cyncical note... but I wonder if he purposely makes his movies so strange partly so the movie will generate buzz and discussion as a means of promoting the movie.

Kind of like how I just spent half an hour writing this post... Damn you Carruth! No, that's being unfair, I think he's genuine.

Probably.
 
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team56th

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And I hate to finish on a cyncical note... but I wonder if he purposely makes his movies so strange partly so the movie will generate buzz and discussion as a means of promoting the movie.
I believe there are quite a few filmmakers who are doing, has done, or had done just that, and this movie might be one of those instances. You pointed out pretty well what the movie is trying to do, but all of them can still be done in a much more well-defined style. At this status I can't help but feel that it's just a massive cluster of shots that don't attach.
 
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Plainview

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Other than Upstream Color being suggested to me on Netflix, and me liking the quick synopsis, I had no clue what the movie was about. I was not expecting the movie that I saw. With it's disjointed narration, and being void of any sort of a plot, Upstream Color offers a ton of discussion. Bollocks did a wonderful job up above in capturing the movie as a whole.

Watching the film I felt as if I was in a fog and not really understanding what was going on. I couldn't get comfortable watching it. I was lost. About three fourths of the way through I thought, "Ummm, this is how the characters feel!" As the characters were lost in their ways, and slowly piecing their lives together, I found myself becoming more aware of the movie. Not saying I "got it," this really isn't a movie you can 'get.' Carruth did a wonderful job of slowly piecing the film together as the movie progressed. Upstream Color started all over the place and by the end it's much more accessible. As a viewer, this mimics the feelings the characters were having.

Bollocks touched on the use of color in the film. It plays a vita role in conveying emotion to the viewer without it really being overt. The biggest use of color seems to be a whitewash over everything. When the characters are in their fog, there's a large presence of white and low contrast on the screen. As the characters progress in finding their beginning, or end, the contrast seems to begin to slowly come back. Their foggy mind is slowly being lifted and they're able to get their bearings back in their lives.

Bollocks, interesting about the comparison to The Tree of Life. I thought the same thing as I was watching. It was very familiar to me and I got the 'observing characters' feeling I had in The Tree of Life. With that, the premise of Upstream Color, the cycle of nature, is not far off from The Tree of Life. Both films are about beginnings, middles, ends, and beginnings again. There's s shared cyclical nature of both films.

I can't wait to get more dialogue from others about Upstream Color. It's a great discussion film and I'm glad I happened to select it as our first Movie of the Month club selection.
 
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rankandfile

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when I have more time I will give this movie a better review.
Hats off to Bollocks for starting the discussion as his review is better and more concise then any reviews I have read on Rotten tomatoes immedialy after viewing the movie. Are you a writer, Bollocks? I am not worthy!
But alas this is my quick summation on the movie that I sent to a friend via PM on FB ( I do intend to delve into this move a lot more later and most likely will watch it again):


Upstream Color's cinema-photography is reminiscent of Terrence Malick yet the symbolism whether real or imagined is very creepy and sort of reminds me of the days I spent pondering Donnie Darko. I put it up there with with DD as extremely head scratching but a bit more rewarding. Definetely worth a lot of discussion
 
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Bollocks

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Hah, I wish I was a writer! Unfortunately I must be content with working in an office by day/fighting crime by night.

I think that with a movie like this, the fact that there's so much to talk about is almost a hindrance to talking about it, if that makes any sense whatsoever. I mean once you get some kind of idea about the movie it's so easy to lose focus, and just keep talking and talking without really getting anywhere (bit like what I did in my post above) and at the very end you're kind of left there saying "But um, wait, what was I talking about again?". A lot of that has to do with the structure that team56th was sort of talking about.

There's the bones of a traditional story structure in the movie... Kris has her life ruined by a Thief, then Jeff tries to help her with the power of true love or whatever, and in the end they stop the Thief, help his victims, and restore balance to the force. Except as we all know that it's, um, a little more complicated than that. The time frame is literally f***ed. Okay not literally. But close enough. So much of the movie has seemingly nothing to do with the plot, actions and motivations are left largely unexplained. I don't know about you guys but when the movie finished I said to myself "huh, I liked that. I just wish I knew what the f*** that was." It's really tricky to get a lot of meaning out of a movie like this because it's structured so differently from what we'd be used to.

Like if we were talking about, I dunno, Scarface. Well we've all seen a dozen movies like Scarface so we could compare it and it's almost like we know the "language" that movie is talking in. We're trained by other movies how to follow and comprehend that movie style. How many movie like Upstream Color can we look at? I dunno... two, three? None? It's like trying being a tourist in a country that doesn't speak English and trying to get directions. Someone is pointing and gesturing and might even have some phrases like "go to the end of the road" or "me love you long time" so you kind of understand what's going on... but unless you know that language things are gonna be tough.

Hah, I'm losing focus again aren't I? Well I guess what I'm saying is about structure, I think that looking at this movie like you would any "traditional" movie isn't going to get you anywhere. But that's actually not a bad thing, because even though the movie seems overwhelming and almost impossible to make sense of at first, if you just focus on one particular thing then the ball really gets rolling.

Knowing where to begin is probably the biggest problem people have with talking about this, but I think that's because it's not a "familiar" movie, Upstream Color kind of throws you in at the deep end, there's very little for us to hang on to and say "okay I see where this movie is going now". But just coming up with any particular idea or interpretation on your own is what I think is most important, and just going from there. I sort of think of it like pulling a loose thread on a sweater. Just pick a place to start and then the whole thing will unravel. I mean, it won't make any sense and at the end you'll just be covered in a big pile of thread.... but um, wait, what was I talking about again?
 

menace-uk-

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YAY....My copy finally turned up ( screw you play.com). Gunna watch it in about 2 hours:banana:
 

team56th

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The overall storyline itself is quite simple even to those who are confused, like Bollocks, or like me, since events themselves are quite simple. Of course this evident plot is somewhat "f***ed up". Overall order of sequences is intact to give the minimal level of information to audiences (and which is why we kind of understand what is happening), but scenes inside each sequence are generally messed up. I don't know if this analogy works, but it is like a normal brick wall, except that each brick looks somewhat strange. All of this is to give us the effect of ... something.

I'm lost at this "something", or, as to what the director was trying to do with this "f***ed up" style. Strange style, just like a normal one, must have been employed for something. Let's think of movies like, well, what about Un Chien Andalou? That movie is basically a hot mess that does not make sense. But this mess makes sense because this is actually quite hilarious. What about notorious jump cuts in Breathless? It is supposed to be distracting and strange choice, but somehow it feels like a quite natural way to sum up the passage of time. I'm also thinking of the song "A Real Hero" used in Drive. Lyrics accompanied with the scene feels cheesy, but I think that actually works, because the movie suggests that characters are partly aware that this is a movie by playing with digetic and non-digetic .

Shaken timeframe in Upstream Color, well... I would appreciate it if someone can understand and explain the purpose of this style. This is not the kind of thing to do for no reason at all, and I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. That is why I am doubtful about this film.
 

Bollocks

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Shaken timeframe in Upstream Color, well... I would appreciate it if someone can understand and explain the purpose of this style. This is not the kind of thing to do for no reason at all, and I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. That is why I am doubtful about this film.
Well I think there's a few reasons Carruth might have done it. I mean, I'm not sure or anything, but...

I guess practically speaking, the shaken time frame is just a different way of telling a story. For example when Jeff and Kris first start falling in love (or whatever) on the train. It's not a montage and it's not a single scene. I think it's a pretty interesting way to show a developing relationship over a fairly long period of time, but doing it in about 5 minutes. It seems like some important parts are left out of their story here, but we still know what's going on.

I guess Carruth might just also being playing around with time and space, just experimenting. I always liked what Richard Linklater said about movies: "The most unique property of cinema is how it lets you mold time, whether it's over a long or a very brief period." I don't think there's any responsibility on Carruth to make the movie comprehensible either, sometimes as an audience I guess we just have to go with the flow. I actually think it is fair to compare it to French New Wave stuff, but I know what you mean when you say that at least Goddard and co seemed to have some kind of grounding in traditional movies first.

Interesting point about diegetic and non-diegetic stuff. That sort of reminds me of the Sampler, who seems aware of the sounds in the movie. Kris cuts her sewing thread and then he loses this? Strange stuff. It's things like that which makes me feel the Sampler is representative of audiences or of the filmmaker.

Another thing about the time frame might be how it relates to the theme of broken memory or broken stories. There are a few in the movie, obviously Kris has her traumatic experience that she can't remember, and even though she can't understand what happened (maybe like the audience) she finds a kind of refuge with Jeff because they lubby wub each other or close enough anyway. Plus when we first see Kris, she's having trouble editing a movie, a Shane Carruth movie. Haha, even the director is having trouble putting things together.

The heavily-promoted image of the two of them cradled in the bathtub gives me the impression that nobody knows what's going on but, to put it waaaay too bluntly, that human emotions like say... compassion are what is important (off topic: I feel like this might sort of tie in with the credit crisis stuff in the movie). So I guess maybe the movie is saying that inexplicable emotion is more important than understanding a story. In movies anyway. I guess? This is flimsy, I know.

Maybe the movie is just designed to feel like a dream, god knows I was struggling to remember what had happened just minutes after seeing it, like trying to remember a dream after you wake up. And on a probably-too-literal interpretation the title of the movie is Upstream Color, so that sort of gives me the vibe that it's a very fluid and... well, dreamy movie that isn't necessarily supposed to be something we can take in our hands. Even though in the movie, there is literally literally a scene with upstream colour so I guess I'm reading too much into that.

I'm just spit-balling here of course. I'm not being graded on this am I? My dog ate my thesis.
 

rankandfile

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Bollocks and team56th

First of all Im not a big movie guy but I do like to take apart movies and books from an anthropological and sociological standpoint.
there are so many layers to this onion and so many people can take take a very different view or experience from it. I want to discuss some particular holes or questions and perhaps the director was consciously being vague or I missed something;
1. does the thief work for the sampler? and..
2. what is the physiological significant between the white, blue and yellow orchids? ( i get the white and blue, but does the yellow signify enlightenment or knowledge?)
3. I am going to assume here that the thief drove Kris to the pig farm for the, uhhh "transfusion". this scene felt like a timeline jump, she seemed to be back to normal after gorging out the refrigerator, sleeping for a few days and then waking up to try and cutting out (whether real or not) those crawling worms….
I felt like this was a jumbled mess of time, didn't really follow the same pace (if you can call it that) as the rest of the movie perhaps Carruth was showing us that the altered state is also in a altered timeline.
4. why does Kris have a stronger connection then anyone else? was her "possession" any different then anyone else's?
5. the shooting scene; who gets away with murder and inherits a pig farm? WHO?
6. I have no idea what the office fight scene was all about. did it drive the plot? because I felt like it didn't even need to be in there.
7. The bearded man and his wife; i understand the repetative front door scene as I do the starling comments and the blended memories, but was this representing something else? is it perhaps that if one person had been drugged then they cannot coexist with someone who hasn't?
8. I still haven't gotten to the kid roles in this movie and need to see it again to comment. but quickly, are they guinea pigs of the Thief (and perhaps the Sampler)? Are they taking a less powrful form of this "earth drug"? Carruth could have kept kids out of the picture without losing any of the movie's message or feeling. And who really wants to see kids taking drugs?

yea , i ve got more questions. but definitely worth a lot of discussion and I just love symbolism and this film is rife with it.
anyway
the scene with the sampler, Kris and Jeff all sitting at the table was very very powerful and gave me goosbumps and Amy Seimitz does a great job playing Kris.
 

rankandfile

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well you guys make me feel like I'm out of my league.. "non diegetic" Ive got to look that up now!
 

menace-uk-

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Ok. I just got done watching it and I'm just baffled.:confused:

I will have to have a little think about it and also read up on some of the other opinions already here. A few things I will say though...... It is extremely well shot, and the acting is great. Especially from the female lead ( one to watch).
 

Bollocks

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well you guys make me feel like I'm out of my league.. "non diegetic" Ive got to look that up now!
Ahaha yeah, it's just a fancy way of talking about music (usually music anyway, but it can be about dialogue and sound effects, narration etc.) that is within the "world" of the movie. Like in a battle in LOTR, the chanting orcs and battle drums would be diegetic, because the source of that sound is coming from within the movie. But the big grand sweeping score is non-diegetic, because otherwise Aragorn and co would be looking around asking "where the f*** is that orchestra music coming from?".

5. the shooting scene; who gets away with murder and inherits a pig farm? WHO?
Just spat out my tea laughing. I'll try to get back to you and answer some of your questions as best I can later but honestly, for most of it your guess is as good as mine.
 
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menace-uk-

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Bollocks and team56th

First of all Im not a big movie guy but I do like to take apart movies and books from an anthropological and sociological standpoint.
there are so many layers to this onion and so many people can take take a very different view or experience from it. I want to discuss some particular holes or questions and perhaps the director was consciously being vague or I missed something;

4. why does Kris have a stronger connection then anyone else? was her "possession" any different then anyone else's?

6. I have no idea what the office fight scene was all about. did it drive the plot? because I felt like it didn't even need to be in there.



yea , i ve got more questions. but definitely worth a lot of discussion and I just love symbolism and this film is rife with it.
anyway
the scene with the sampler, Kris and Jeff all sitting at the table was very very powerful and gave me goosbumps and Amy Seimitz does a great job playing Kris.
#4 - I'm not sure she does have a stonger connection, but given that the movie shows her as the most recent victim perhaps things are simply clearer for her.

#6 - That whole office fight scene is because of the Sampler isolating their piggy counterparts and taking their piglet children. That whole scene as well as Kris's scene ( punching the glass. Going to Jeff's workplace) all the way up to the huddled in the bath is all a result of that.
 

menace-uk-

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So read pretty much everything said and it seems that nobody caught ( at least didn't seem to mention) That the Thief actually bought his plants from the 2 ladies hiking and finding those blue Orchids. This also made clearer by the Blue orchids no longer being resent and the Thief's frustrating look right near the end as he examines the plants.

Which to me seems to give at least an ending to the cycle that the movie is based on.
 

Plainview

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So read pretty much everything said and it seems that nobody caught ( at least didn't seem to mention) That the Thief actually bought his plants from the 2 ladies hiking and finding those blue Orchids. This also made clearer by the Blue orchids no longer being resent and the Thief's frustrating look right near the end as he examines the plants.

Which to me seems to give at least an ending to the cycle that the movie is based on.
It was part of the comment I made when I mentioned the "cycle of life," and that it reminded me of The Tree of Life. The cycle was undoubtedly broken when the victims confronted The Sampler.
 

D-V-ANT

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I only watched the ad for this. Very first thing it reminded me of was Tree of Life. I used to love these wanky arthouse movies but they just don't seem to do it for me anymore.