Side Effects (2013, Steven Soderbergh)
On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (2002, Hong Sang-soo)
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If this were my first experience sitting down with Lost, there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t have continued past the second season, because if there’s one thing the show taught me by the end of its 6 tumultuous seasons, it’s that mystery is simply not enough. The show’s bait-and-switch formula means that the thrill of each gradual answer is met with two new questions in its place. This worked insofar as 10 million people put their trust in Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse until the bitter end, hoping (or blinded by effort justification) that a master plan had been there all along. It wasn’t, in fact— Lost’s legacy is a paradigm of television’s fickle nature, where, over the course of 120 episodes, one begins to wonder how much of this is being made up as it goes, and it’s midway through season 3 that the proverbial seams start to show. There are specific challenges unique to the medium of television, and on an episode-by-episode basis, the writers’ ability to patch up holes is at once passably clever and embarrassingly blunt, but when critical audience feedback turns viewers into invisible collaborators, that’s when you have a problem. It points to a lack of cohesive vision; a deficient whole made to fit from jagged parts of the beginning, middle and end. I suppose no other TV show can be as resolutely complete as The Wire, but as Lost winds down in its final episodes, it’s as though the creative team had completely given up on the innumerable breadcrumb trails (or, more accurately, red herrings) they had laid down, redirecting the path of the show way inwards and turning it into a self-congratulatory meta-commentary on the feverishly loyal fans who felt the inevitable end approaching.
Without the allure of the mystery, then, what remains? Compelling characters (Terry O’Quinn’s work being unsurpassed, ably filling the shoes of the most tragic character in TV history), surrealistic dream sequences and visions, a Spielbergian application of daddy issues, and a consistent flair for dramatic, show-stopping finales and premieres, to its credit. But, knowing in advance the show’s offbeat cadences helps to underline its flaws: Using flashbacks as a narrative gimmick quickly wears thin, becoming—more often than not—a redundant exercise in lesson-learning; the bland cinematography feels directionless, as it depends on banal close-ups and (thematically) empty postcard-esque vistas to carry most of the dramatic weight; and the less that’s said about the awkward attempts at using metaphor, the better. Lost was, ostensibly, a show dedicated to its rich mythology, but we all saw how that turned out in the end. When that veneer is washed away, we’re able to see the show for how surprisingly routine and safe it really is (despite the effort to cover the multicultural bases, there sure is a lot of ferocious, hetero-normative pairing-off). Mystery is paramount to Lost’s success; to its status as a bona fide Television Event— the type of cultural phenomenon that breeds omnipresent marketing and multi-platform storytelling. It’s really no wonder, then, that the show was stretched out for as long as it was, much to the detriment of its quality in these first 3 seasons, contractually obligated to pad out 20-plus episodes at a time. Perhaps James Ford’s backstory provides the most self-reflexive moments of Lost— operating in service of the long, long con.
Creators: Jeffrey Lieber and J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof
Upstream Color challenges my immediate distaste for editing that has an average shot length this frustratingly short. It makes enough sense to mirror the protagonists’ fractured identities through choppy rhythms, but what is ultimately more pronounced is the film’s scatterbrained pace; keeping time with an ADHD tempo. Shane Carruth’s wordless passages of imagery are often striking—a far-cry from the technical jargon-heavy dialogue of Primer—if only they were free to linger on-screen for deeper consideration. Upstream Color is firmly influenced by the transcendence of nature and “simple living,” but its contradictory digital-age surface is hard to overlook— this is best exemplified by The Sampler’s high-end equipment turning basic field recordings into binary MIDI notes, able to be layered and composed on the fly. This makes the film out to be an anomaly of sorts; its philosophy is modeled on a purer existence within the natural world, yet it is unmistakably a product of its era.
No matter the theoretical uncertainties (this is only the first viewing, after all): It’s exciting to see something like this emerge from an independent artist, one who has retained control over every aspect—from conception to marketing and distribution—of his work. That the work is so fully confident in its priority of images and unafraid to be obtuse and occasionally baffling is only beneficial to Carruth’s growth. The prominence of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden acts as the only point of entry towards cracking Carruth’s lush facade, exposing this purposefully dense rendering of the individual’s return to nature; to sound; to organic life.
Director: Shane Carruth