1999 was the last great year for cinema until 2012 rolled around – and what might have been the greatest thing about it was the emergence of new/newish film-makers ready to reinvent the medium, and veterans trying to outdo them. PT Anderson, David O Russell, Kimberly Peirce and Spike Jonze all released movies that firmly established themselves as new auteurs, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ shocked business mavens as much as audiences by showing how you could make a hundred million dollars out of a camcordered walk in the woods, and Michael Mann reinvented ‘All the President’s Men’.
Lost amidst the scrambling acclaim (and in some cases, genuine awe) inspired by ‘Magnolia’, ‘Three Kings’, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, and ‘Being John Malkovich’ was the feature debut of an English bloke with a tiny film, rejected by Sundance, and resembling nothing so much as a C-list noir made by a first year undergraduate who thinks he understands Nietzsche. ‘Following’ is a movie worth watching to remind yourself how beginnings are often messy, that making a film is bloody hard, and that the one thing (along with all the other things) that cannot be accounted for in the movie business is serendipity. Its director, Christopher Nolan, went on to make ‘Memento’, ‘Insomnia’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘The Prestige’, ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Inception’, and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. So you already know if you like him or not. I do. Very much. He’s a rare director – Nolan has massive industrial craftsmanship, a sense of aesthetics, and a moral vision. The fact that this moral vision may seem ambiguous (he seems to support Bruce Wayne’s inner struggle and heroic sacrifice for the sake of the economically marginalized, but presents an Occupy-style social movement as the domain of people who might arguably be labelled terrorists) reveals only that he, like the rest of us, is a work in progress; he’s luxuriating in the freedom to make thought experiments that the world gets to see.
‘Following’ is pregnant with embryonic Nolanisms – huge close-ups, characters with shadowy inner lives, criminals aiming for class and ideas, violent set-pieces, and a twist ending. It’s a delight to visit it for the first time, perhaps most of all as a reminder of how much can made of limited resources.
‘Following’ is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Criterion.