BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
JULY 26, 2010
Before “Inception,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Prestige,” or even “Memento,” there was “Following.” Christopher Nolan’s illustrious career started from two small films, “Doodlebug” and “Following,” both directed, shot, and edited by Christopher Nolan. To understand the man Nolan is today, you must first understand where he came from.
With the hand of a true artist, Nolan creates an affluent (or tributary) worthy of feeding the prominent work the director is known for today. “Following” was Christopher Nolan’s “baby”. The film is shot on 16mm black-and-white film stock. Taking a year to make, using actors with weekly day jobs, Nolan used his home of London, England as the backdrop for the film.
The film follows “the Young Man” (as credited) played by fellow Englander, Jeremy Theobald, as he walks the streets of London trying to be inspired. An out of work writer, the man “follows” random bystanders just to see where they go. Not until he breaks one of his own rules does the plot of the film truly start to structure. The man he follows twice, Cobb (a named used in “Inception”), played by Alex Haw, makes his living breaking into homes and hocking the valuables. Cobb’s true passion, however, lies in the “art” of rifling through personal belongings and violating the victims’ sense of privacy for them to appreciate the unappreciated. (“You take it away, and show them what they had.”)
Like Nolan’s following venture “Memento,” “Following” plays with the structure of time and non-linear storytelling. With a haircut involved, the main character appears in different settings as the story unravels from each glimpse back and forth in time, all of which leads up to the shocking truth at the end.
Clocking in at approximately 69 minutes, the film is very short but packs a punch. Any longer and the film’s pendulum story structure would begin to suffer. Unsure of whether the black-and-white aspect works for the 1999 film, my conclusion is as such: “Following” was not meant to be a commercial success. Nolan more than likely had a passion for film and wanted to create a story worth telling with the tricks and suave that he solidified in what is now his commercial successes. Having wished the story focused more on the “following” aspect of the film and not the rule-breaking fallout, the black-and-white medium was the least of my worries.
From “Following” to “Inception,” Christopher Nolan has completely revolutionized the aspects of film he set out to create, leaving a canyon-sized fissure between the quality of “Following” and the quality of “Inception.” Both films are “babies” of Nolan’s and both carry some of the same themes throughout, but one has become a mega summer blockbuster and the other stands as Nolan‘s early art-film. Had “Following” been his most recent film, it would have failed to find an audience, but with more than a decade since Nolan’s start, “Following” makes you strongly ponder what Nolan will accomplish in the next ten years. Every director must have their first film and “Following” was truly not a bad place for Nolan to start.
April 3, 1999
(for language and some violence)