Studio:The Criterion Collection Year: 1999 Cast: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan, Dick Bradsell Director: Christopher Nolan Release Date: December 11, 2012 Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language) Run Time: 01h:10m:00s Genre(s): suspense thriller
"When it stopped being random is when it started to go wrong." - Young Man (Jeremy Theobald)
Christopher Nolan's low-budget 16mm debut thriller receives the Blu-Ray treatment from Criterion.
Movie Grade: A
DVD Grade: A
I first reviewed the Columbia TriStar DVD release of Following back in 2001, and at the time Christopher Nolan had only the time-shifted narrative of Memento to his directing credits. Both Following and Memento made quite an impression on me, and in the years since Nolan has helmed some equally imaginative films - including The Prestige, the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. In December of 2012 Criterion issued Following as a Blu-Ray edition and I was given the opportunity to revisit this clever debut. I have included my initial review of the film from 2001 below, while I have updated the image/audio portion, as well as that of the supplemental material.
Christopher Nolan's Memento, a breath of fresh air in the often stagnant world of mainstream filmmaking, dared to juggle the standard storytelling timeline with a smart script that went against the grain by starting at the end and ending at the beginning. That film required the viewer to pay close attention to details, and to feel the same sense of confusion felt by the lead character. Only Nolan's second film, Memento challenged audiences and gave hope to movie buffs that had grown numb to the bulk of the predictable drivel that is supposed to pass for entertainment these days.
Nolan's debut - Following - which was originally released in 1999, is yet another time-shifting film noir tale that presents a non-linear narrative that asks adventurous viewers to piece together the jumbled components of the story. I won't reveal too much of Nolan's script, because like Memento the joy in a film like this is the discovery.
"Bill" - though listed in the credits only as "Young Man" - (Jeremy Theobald) is a lonely, unemployed writer in London who enjoys a voyeuristic game he created where he randomly selects an individual to follow. He claims it's to gather material for characters, but it's clear that "Bill" has some deep-seeded issues that propel him to randomly follow strangers and vicariously enter their lives, at least from a distance. His life changes suddenly when Cobb (Alex Haw), whom "Bill" has been following, confronts him in a diner. The well-dressed Cobb, who could pass for any random young professional, is actually a burglar, and he initiates the struggling writer into his world of daring thievery. Cobb's motivation to steal is the desire to rattle the lives of those he steals from, to "take it away to show them what they had." He analyzes his victims belongings to create a picture of what their life is like. As with any retro noir flick, "Bill" finds himself drawn into a dangerous world, which includes a mysterious blonde (Lucy Russell) and her murderous boyfriend, known only as The Bald Guy (Dick Bradsell).
What makes Following so unconventional is the way Nolan intersperses what he calls "parallel narratives" in which the chronological flow of the film is altered dramatically. The entire timeline is cut and shuffled, and the film will suddenly jump far forward, then back, then forward a bit, then back even further. To make this device work, the main character of "Bill" goes through a series of significant appearance changes, and this allows the viewer to slowly piece together the story. A solid cast gives Following a real sense of believability, but it is Theobald's character that serves as the dramatic anchor. Theobald portrays this nervous loner in a low-key manner, and his actions seem incredibly genuine. His expressive face — especially his darting eyes — help paint "Bill" as a man quickly sucked into something over his head.
The new high-defintion AVC-encoded 1.33:1 fullframe transfer comes Nolan-approved, and was created in 4K resolution from the original 16mm camera negative. This was a modest production originally, and the new digital transfer is careful to not overdo the restoration so that the film come out overly processed. First of all there is no evidence of debris/specking/dirt to be found, but most importantly there has not been any unnatural degraining performed here so the presentation retains the original 16mm film grain. The minimalist black-and-white cinematography is showcased remarkably well, with well-balanced contrast and black levels.
Two audio options are included: uncompressed mono and a new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. No complaints whatsoever with the original mono, as it delivers the goods with no hiss or distortion. My first thought was that Following wouldn't really benefit from a new 5.1 mix, but I was clearly wrong because this new Gary Rizzo mastered track does a terrific job expanding the soundstage. Dialogue and spatial movement are dramatically more pronounced, but the biggest leap is for the score from David Julyan, which under DTS-HD Master Audio becomes a thumping force.
Most of the supplements have been ported over from the 2001 release, and include a Christopher Nolan commentary. Nolan's comments are more mechanics than fluff, and tends to focus on the ways he was able to make his "parallel narratives" that make up Following so cheaply, and still create a visually compelling film. He's not the most energetic speaker, but he does shed light on a few tricks that independent filmmakers can do in order to capture some permit-free location shots. Also repeated is The Linear Cut - formerly called Restructure Following - that allows the viewer to watch a chronological version of Following without any timeline altering. Script to Film (09m:52s) features side-by-side comparisons of the original script with three scenes.
New material includes an interview with Christopher Nolan (26m:17s) recorded in 2010, Nolan's bizarre short film Doodlebug (02m:54s). a pair of trailers (original theatrical and the re-release) and an insert essay entitled Nolan Begins written by Scott Foundas.