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Criterion Collection: Following | DVD Review

Following Criterion Collection Nolan CoverOver the last decade, Christopher Nolan has established himself as one of the most noteworthy mainstream directors working in the industry, mostly due to the unprecedented cultural impact of his three entries in the Batman series (but not to mention high functioning works of originality at the multiplex, such as 2010’s Inception). His penchant for labyrinthine narrative structure and chronological confusion date back to his delightfully well made feature debut, Following, winning the top prize at the 1999 Rotterdam Film Festival, exploring themes and motifs he would closely mirror in his significantly successful follow-up, Memento. A no budget neo-noir, Criterion restores Nolan’s debut from a new digital transfer, making this edition the definitive way to experience an exciting beginning to a fascinating talent.

We meet a young man (Jeremy Theobald), narrating a story to a stranger that quickly seems to take on ominous dimensions. An aspiring writer, it turns out that this young man decided to start following (or shadowing, rather), people at random to develop material or ideas to write about. The controlled environment of the framed narrative gives way to the grainy footage of London streets, where our protagonist is shown, with seedier clothes and greasy hair, at the beginning of his obsession with following two people in particular, a mysterious blond woman, and a suited businessman. The young man tells us he violated his own established set of rules, namely, never to make a calculated “selection” of who to follow, and more importantly, never to follow the same person twice. Clearly, he neglected this, perhaps out of loneliness, perhaps curiosity, and it’s not long before the suited businessman busts the young man and after some tense questioning, the businessman reveals his name to be Cobb (Alex Haw), who enjoys breaking into the living spaces of strangers, purely “for the adrenaline” and because “he likes people.”

It’s not long before our narrator is obviously obsessed with the same activities, and turns his sights on the blonde he’s been following (Lucy Russell) and manages to become involved with her. Apparently, she’s the kept woman of a violent gangster, and it’s not long before the young man is also romantically involved with her. But just as we get some answers, the events leading up to the finale become more skewed as the narrative reveals several unprecedented surprises.

Disc Review:

Considering the circumstances under which it was filmed (on weekends over the course of a year, guerrilla style on the streets of London), Criterion’s digital transfer looks nothing short of stupendous, which was supervised by Nolan himself. The disc has several compelling extra features, the least of which is a linear edit of the film for the hardcore aficionados (though this might be more warranted for the more extreme chronological mind game that is Memento). Also included is a 1997 short, Doodlebug, a Kafkaesque visual exercise which stars Theobald, star of Following, original and re-release trailers, and best of all, an exemplary 2010 interview with Nolan on the making of the film.

2010 Nolan Interview:
Nolan shares memories and details about the making of his first feature, citing it as an example as the peak of what he could achieve on his own. The conditions of filming (not to mention budget) necessitated that it be filmed in black and white, which eliminated a large amount of obstructions. Nolan shares advice about his craftsmanship and favorite techniques, admitting he prefers to use only one camera, and though he didn’t go to film school, cites his knowledge with the technical side of filmmaking to have been a great help in his continued success with big budget features.

Linear Edit:
The film is chronologically reassembled in linear order. Interesting addition to the extra features, but is perhaps akin to reading the Cliff notes version of a piece of literature.

Script to Film:
Three scenes are included that show the shooting script in direct comparison to what was actually shot, proving that Nolan strictly adheres to what was written in the screenplay.

Doodlebug:
This 1997 short, starring Jeremy Theobald, about a man in his apartment seeing smaller versions of himself in his apartment already shows Nolan’s knack for visual artistry.

Trailers:
Featuring the original trailer and the re-release trailer, one need look no further to see a comparison of the original footage of the film with Criterion’s restoration and note the great enhancement of quality of image and sound.

Final Thoughts:

Nolan fans will quickly pick up on the presence of the Batman sticker on the protagonist’s apartment door in Following, one of many extra textual delights in this first feature. One of the other characters comments on the protagonist here, remarking that he was “just waiting to be used,” a theme that could be applied to many of Nolan’s significant characters, Batman included, in a world where all may think they’re in control of their destinies, but more often than not, occluding forces always seem to be dictating the course of action instead. In many ways, the main character of Following is reminiscent of the sad-faced young man from Robert Bresson’s 1959 film, Pickpocket, who, upon beging left alone, has to fend for himself and steals in order to survive. Here, though couched in existential ennui, our main character is also stealing in order to survive as an emotional being in a world that has far more grey areas than it does black and white, just a much a shadow to himself as he is to the strangers he follows.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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