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Carruth, Shane

Entry updated 25 October 2021. Tagged: Film, People.

(1972-    ) US filmmaker, with a background in mathematics and software engineering, whose debut feature Primer (2004), a bravura exercise in frugal filmmaking inspired by the $7000 budget claimed for fellow Texan Robert Rodriguez' debut El Mariachi (1992), remains the most complex, oblique, and viewer-challenging Time Travel film yet attempted; that its intricate spaghetti tangle of Time Loops has proved unwindable at all is largely an achievement of the crowdsourced intelligence of internet communities. Despite the support of David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh as producers, he was unable to secure funding for his intended IMAX followup project A Topiary, a very long screenplay of high intellectual and narrative audacity about a group of Children who, in a dark mirror of The Last Mimzy (2007), progressively master and are themselves manipulated by an alien Technology of literally cosmic significance. After years of studio meetings went nowhere, he retrenched instead into independent production and distribution for his quietly-made second feature Upstream Color (2012), a characteristically oblique sf art-film about mind control and Telepathy through parasites (see Parasitism and Symbiosis), which briefly shows off some test footage from A Topiary and reworks that venture's inductively shaped narrative of unrelated characters drawn together by contact with different manifestations of a very large, perhaps impenetrable mystery.

Combining formidable intelligence with a radically independent, unHollywoodly address to his craft, a parsimonious attitude to narrative explanation, and an immediately distinctive filmic style which marries informationally dense, rapid editing to deceptively languid pacing and a fluid use of location within scenes, Carruth has been professionally both limited and liberated by a near-pathological reluctance to compromise creative and commercial control; in addition to writing, directing, producing, filming, performing in, and scoring his films, he broke ground in distributing Upstream Color himself in North America across multiple platforms. A networked figure in regional independent filmmaking, Carruth employed fellow directors Amy Seimetz and David Lowery on Upstream Color, and consulted on time-travel visuals for his friend Rian Johnson's Looper (2012), though his ideas did not in the end become part of the film. All three of his projects explore a fascination with systems and the investigators who try to make sense of them, both their failures and the perils of success, and the stresses of both on their personal bonds; Primer is particularly notable for its authentic depiction of small-enterprise technologists. Although his films all have conventional screenplays, the form is persistently, actively, and often exhilaratingly challenged: the assumed hierarchy of location, scene, and shot regularly inverted, the fine detail of individual edits storyboarded into the design, and even the relationship between script and soundtrack a deeply symbiotic one (Carruth composes score and screenplay side-by-side). It is unclear whether A Topiary, still his most ambitious work, has been abandoned; his next project The Modern Ocean appears to eschew sf elements. Nevertheless, even his modest body of finished work to date has offered a tantalizing glimpse of possibilities for intellectual and imaginative daring in sf cinema hardly seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (though William Eubank's Love [2011] and The Signal [2014] are close spiritual neighbours), and of the genre's potential to recompile the syntax of cinema itself. [NL]

Shane Carruth

born Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, 1972


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