Blu-ray Review: Following (Criterion Collection)

An indication of things to come, Christopher Nolan’s Following gives us a taste of the deep, occasionally twisted insights into human nature that would later become a staple of his films. Shot in 16mm black-and-white for just $6,000 in 16mm black-and-white, it took a year to complete. Shooting was limited to Saturdays, so that the amateur cast and crew could work at their regular jobs during the week. Nolan never attended film school, yet even with this, his first film, he wasn’t afraid to buck convention, letting the audience decide what the narrative means.

In classic noir style, as the film opens, an unnamed young man (Jeremy Theobald), is telling his story to an older man (the exact nature of their relationship is kept vague). The Young Man explains that his attempts to be a writer led him to follow random people on the streets of London; just to see where they would go, what they would do. The Young Man might have been doing this in the name of art, but naturally, being a voyeur means you might find yourself in trouble if you see something someone else has been trying hard to hide.

FollowingOne day, The Young Man is confronted by one of his marks.  A well dressed, confident guy, he turns out to be a burglar named Cobb (Alex Haw). His sophisticated appearance contradicts the petty nature of his crimes. Cobb invites The Young Man to participate in one of his break-ins. Cobb doesn’t commit burglaries for profit (though it does fund his lifestyle) but to learn about the private lives of the people who live in the dwellings. He loves going through their private possessions. Cobb is part burglar, part psychological voyeur; trying to figure out a person’s station in life by riffling through their things.

The idea that our lives can be assessed by the things we own is a brilliant and unnerving concept. The Young Man takes to material voyeurism like a horse to water. He may have started out as a writer, observing people to stir ideas, but now, he’s clearly excited by the idea of invading other people’s private space. The situation becomes even more complicated when a tempting mystery woman enters the scene. Not much more can be said about Following without revealing the twists and turns that happen. Needless to say, as often happens with people drawn into a life of crime, things don’t turn out as planned. Watching how things unfold is truly fascinating.

Given its small budget and scale, Following will likely always be looked at as a practice run for Christopher Nolan’s later career. Even so, the non-linear storytelling style that has become a Nolan trademark was evident even then. Also, Nolan wrote the script and the dialogue here contains the smart exchanges he handles so well. When looked at individually, Following merits a look. The performances by Jeremy Theobald and Alex Haw are surprisingly good, given that neither are professional actors. Theobald, with his scruffy look and shuffling demeanor, exudes the perfect mix of curiosity and weakness; two qualities every would-be victim needs. While Haw’s confidence, way with words and ability to read others make him an engaging but dangerous man. These are two very different personalities that ultimately become indistinguishable, as Theobald emulates Haw.

Some may complain about the film’s muddled narrative structure, but I tend to believe its Nolan playing with the viewer’s minds. He made a rather simple story seem unnecessarily complicated. Nolan never went to film school, but from the start, he was an expert at making people think while entertaining them with his movies.

Personally supervised by Christopher Nolan and created from the original 16mm original, Criterion’s 1080p Blu-ray is fantastic. Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the black levels are wonderful and the image is crisp. Thankfully, the film grain has been preserved, giving things a filmic quality.

Criterion’s release offers the original mono soundtrack in LPCM and a newly created DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. While it’s nice to have the original track, the new track is a real improvement. While this is a quiet film, the 5.1 option opens things up a bit, giving more emphasis to David Julyan’s score thanks to the surrounds. The dialogue, clean and intelligible, emits from the center channel.

English subtitles are available.

The 2001 DVD release of Following had a nice slate of special features and the best of those have been ported over and/or built on for this release:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Producer Christopher Nolan: Recorded in 2001, Nolan provides a fairly extensive look at the film’s production. He provides details about his preparation, the characters, locations, themes, the use of his budget and more.
  • An Interview with Christopher Nolan (HD, 26:21) Conducted by Criterion in December 2010, Nolan discusses how Following came to be. He talks about his stylistic choices and how his experiences on Following have informed his later films.
  •  The Linear Edit (HD, 70:10) A reorganization of the film that puts things in chronological order.
  • Script to Film (HD, 9:55) The shooting script presented with scene comparisons showing how closely director Christopher Nolan shot each scripted sequence. Three sequences are used.
  • Doodlebug (HD, 2:56) From 1997, this amusing short film features a man chasing a very unusual bug.
  • Trailers: (HD) – The film’s theatrical (1.20) and rerelease (1:30) trailers are included.
  • Booklet: Most would probably call this a leaflet. Anyway, it features Scott Foundas’ essay “Nolan Begins.”

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