Saturday, June 11, 2005

A Primer on Primer

I organized a screening of Primer (Winner, 2004 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance) at our little Movie Club this week. The movie is prime fodder for all the geeks of the world with its exciting, relatively rigorous and novel take on time travel as well as its realistic portrayal of technological innovation. It also carries the honor of being the only film that has required me to draw on a whiteboard to explain its story.

Perhaps as intriguing as the movie itself is the story of how it was made by Shane Carruth, an engineer by trade, on a meager budget of $6500. The film effectively transforms its budgetary limitations into a stylistic advantage. Too expensive to shoot all the expository scenes? Skip them and make the narrative disjointed. Cameras and lighting too expensive? Use handhelds and go with a grainy look. Can't shoot multiple takes? We could just live with that first take, even if the actors do look a little confused. After all, time travel does confuse people, doesn't it? And the key to pulling it all off is the carefully crafted, special-effects-free sci-fi story that oozes just the right amount of disoriented confusion.

All of this is not to say that Primer is completely blemish-free, or even that it's a classic. But it is one of those rare movies that excite us by pushing the envelope of artistic possibility.


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