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With: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence
Running Time: 70
Date: 12/09/1998
IMDB

Following (1998)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Follow You, Follow Me

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following is a crackerjack little 70-minute black-and-white British crime film that cost only $6000 to make. It's brilliantly scripted and carefully planned. Yet it feels loose and improvised. Its greatest trick is that the story is told in three different time periods, cutting back and forth between each.

The main character is Bill (Jeremy Theobald), an unemployed aspiring writer who begins following people, "just to see where they go and what they do." During this period, Bill has long hair and a scraggly beard and wears a greasy leather coat. He is approached by a stylish, clean-cut man named Cobb (Alex Haw), who catches Bill following him. Cobb shows Bill the wonders of burglary--not just stealing things, but experiencing other people's lives through their "stuff." The second storyline has Bill with a haircut, clean shaven, and in a suit. The third storyline shows Bill now covered with cuts and bruises, apparently having survived a beating.

This may sound confusing, but everything adds up in the end, and it's quite a tale. Thanks to the three distinct visual appearances of Bill, you can easily tell where you are in time. Following is a highly entertaining, cinematically satisfying, and wonderfully original independent movie, right up there with Clerks (1994) and Pi (1998).

***

(Note: I wrote the above for the film's 1999 release, and expanded it for the film's 2001 re-release, following the success of Nolan's Memento.)

***

Now that Memento has become such an unqualified arthouse success, distributors are rubbing their greedy little hands together in anticipation of Christopher Nolan's wonderful first film, the little-seen Following, made in 1998 and released ever so briefly in theaters in 1999. Following opens today for a week's run at the Rafael Film Center.

Despite a budget ($6000) that makes El Mariachi look like a mockery of overspending, Following is a crackerjack little 70-minute black-and-white British crime picture. It's as brilliantly scripted and carefully planned as Memento, yet it feels loose and improvised. Its greatest trick is that the story is told in three different time periods, cutting back and forth between each. Nolan allows us to follow these time jumps by visual changes in the main character's appearance.

Bill (Jeremy Theobald), an unemployed aspiring writer, begins following people, "just to see where they go and what they do." During this first period, Bill sports long hair and a scraggly beard and wears a greasy leather coat. One man, a stylish, clean-cut man named Cobb (Alex Haw) catches Bill following him. Cobb introduces Bill to the wonders of burglary -- not just stealing things, but experiencing other people's lives through their "stuff." ("Everyone has a box -- a box full of personal things," Cobb explains.) The second section has Bill with a fresh haircut, clean-shaven, and in a suit. The third shows Bill now covered with cuts and bruises, apparently having survived a beating.

This may sound confusing, but everything adds up clearly in the end, and it's quite a tale. Most of the joy of Following is discovering the little tricks for ourselves; one character discovering a clue... and then later on seeing another character planting it there for someone to find. The movie plays like a feature version of the trick in Pulp Fiction where the John Travolta character gets killed halfway through, then turns up to finish the movie; all through a twist of time.

No one ever said that movies had to play chronologically. That's a rule that uninspired filmmakers have always slavishly followed without ever questioning it. Nolan seems to be the first of the young independent filmmakers to throw out his wristwatch at the same time he picked up a camera.

The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray comes, not unexpectedly, with a glorious black-and-white transfer and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack (all supervised by Nolan himself) as well as a new 5.1 surround mix. Nolan provides a new commentary track, and we get a chronological edit of the film, for the curious (though I far prefer the mixed-up version). There's a new interview with Nolan, a side-by-side comparison of the shooting script with scenes from the film, and Nolan's short film Doodlebug (1997). The liner notes booklet contains an essay by critic Scott Foundas.

It may be precious to say so, but I still prefer this movie to some of Nolan's more expensive hits.

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