We just got hammered by another big snowstorm and thoughts of hibernation are rising like a grizzly on its hind legs. If you share my desire to stay in for a time, here are two very underrated films to push to the top of your video queue: Following and Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Christopher Nolan is a hot director now, having scored with intelligent
and enigmatic films such as Memento 2000), The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), and Inception (2010). Back in 1998, when he was an unknown with just a short under his belt, he made a small film called Following. It was made in London for chump change and is just 69 minutes long, but in it we see Nolan working out many of the techniques he’d later use in big budget movies: hand-held camera action, non-linear storytelling, id/superego battles, confused reality….
Following was shot in black and white and dressed and toned like an early 1950s film noir thriller. It follows an unnamed character (Jeremy Theobald) who stalks people--not to harass or threaten them, but because he’s a struggling writer who lives vicariously through second-hand experiences that provide fodder for his
not-so-active imagination. One of his marks, Cobb (Alex Haw), unmasks the writer and draws him into his world--Cobb is a psychotic burglar who robs for thrills more than gain. Like most Nolan films Following unfolds in non-chronological vignettes, but it does have an arc: the writer’s descent into danger and self-entrapment. This small film is as creepy as a horror film, has as many twists as Inception, and feels like a 50s cocktail party gone horribly wrong. No wonder the studios gave Nolan some cash with which to work; he did more with a few grand in Following than most directors do with 60 million.
If you want a film about real people that’s weirder than fiction, check out the 87-minute documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010). It’s a horrible title that has only the thinnest connection to the film’s content, but its director is none other than Banksy, the world’s most famous and elusive guerilla street artist. His identity is unknown, but the film’s protagonist is very public indeed. He is Thierry Guetta, a French national living in Los Angeles; in part because La-La-Land is about the only place on earth that’s surreal enough to contain him. Guetta began filming street artists, including luminaries such as André, Space Invader, and Shepard Fairey (of the red, white, and blue Obama poster fame). Guetta gpt his footage by going on late night graffiti runs with the artists and risking life, limb, and arrest alongside them. He even got access to Banksy, something no one had ever done. So Guetta’s film told the truth about street artists, right? Actually, Guetta hadn’t a clue about how to make a film--he just liked to film things! When Bansky tells him to bugger off and go make his own art, he does--and becomes the overnight darling of the Los Angeles art world. Thierry is a world-class eccentric, but is he a genius or as crazy as a March hare? You watch and decide. Parts of the film are laugh-out-loud hysterical and others will make you wonder if Thierry is more sane than art critics, sensation-seeking hipsters, and the media that glorified all three.