Monday, December 5, 2016

A Shot-By-Shot Analysis of Shane Carruth's Upstream Color - Part 4

by Jack Kentala

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The Sampler, Kris, and Pig Kris

There's an immediate cut to The Sampler's truck, which is filled with a strange mix of speakers and medical equipment.

The Sampler sets up his speakers with the front end placed against the ground. He then starts a cassette that contains only a repeating, menacing "woosh" sound on the low end. It's like waves hitting the beach but with the sound of their crash excised.

When he first inserted the tape, birds could be heard in the background and the lighting suggested daytime. Once the sequence goes to night, The Sampler remains - presumably - in the same spot, sitting on a lawn chair, holding a clipboard, with a video camera next to him. His van has a floodlight mounted on the roof.

The Sampler sees headlights approach. He pans with his camera to tape the car. He then picks up his chair and his tripod; like The Thief, he seems to have done this many times before, though he has zero physical contact with The Thief. What connects the two remains a mystery.

Kris exits her car and approaches The Sampler without hesitation or fear. All that she says to The Sampler is, "They won't come out" as she raises her arms, inferring that, somehow, she knows that The Sampler is the man who can remove the worm(s) inside her.

Error patrol/Additional theory: The English subtitles get this scene wrong. Kris clearly says "they won't come out" but the caption reads "it won't come out." This might be because it's uncertain how many worms are inside Kris; it could also be a very simple transcription error. The Sampler only seems to remove one, even though the shots on Kris's bed before this scene might suggest multiple worms. However, if she does have multiple worms and only one is extracted, that might explain why, later on, she seems far more affected compared to Jeff. It would make sense that the difference between Kris and Jeff could be the presence of additional, unremoved worms. I'm reaching here, but it's a thought. (For the sake of simplicity, henceforth I'll only mention a single worm inside Kris despite this.)

Kris steps on a scale in the back of The Sampler's medical van, then we cut to her inside a makeshift tent.

She drinks two big glasses of what looks like watered-down milk. Here is another extremely-important shot. In the screen of The Sampler setting down the glasses, it's difficult to see but there's a blue line near the top of the glasses. It's the exact same sort of line on the glass used by The Thief that dictated how much water Kris could drink. This is the only hint in the entire film that The Thief and The Sampler are somehow connected; it's simply far too great a coincidence that both would have an esoteric method for dealing with affected people that involves drawing an identical blue line on nearly-identical glasses. (The glass from Kris's house is a plain cylinder, while those used by The Sampler taper outward near the top.)

Kris lays down on a cot and, because she's only wearing a long shirt, we see quite a few self-inflicted cuts that were her attempts to remove the worm. The Sampler examines all the wounds until he finds a large puncture in her ankle, which, by The Sampler's reaction, appears to have part of the worm hanging out, possibly dead while the rest is alive inside her.

He sets up another cot for one of his pigs, which I'll call Pig Kris. Pig Kris is rendered unconscious, and The Sampler removes a square of flesh to prepare for what seems like a transplant from Kris to her pig counterpart.

The Sampler appears to take hold of the worm and starts to pull it out. Kris cries in pain as The Sampler works.

The bass rumbling continues, and shots of the ground show earthworms writhing on the grass. Given that what's inside Kris is clearly a worm, it seems that The Sampler uses the tape to draw worms to the surface.

The Sampler wakes up Kris and offers her another glass of the liquid from before. Kris recoils and nearly knocks it from The Sampler's hand. She then looks up in curiosity to see Pig Kris next to her.

Pig Kris barely has her eyes open, seemingly unaware of the procedure or still drugged.

Kris has a moment of clarity, though she's still yet to fully recover and remember what happened. She almost looks concerned for the pig as she accepts another glass of the liquid provided by The Sampler.

We finally get a clear look at the apparatus that, presumably, takes the worm from Kris and puts it into Pig Kris, which is what begins their symbiotic relationship. It's unclear if the red line that goes from Kris, through the device, and into the pig is the worm itself or a conduit for it to travel.

After a few seconds of black, we hear the ratcheting of the device and see Kris in a state of either agony or euphoria. Soonafter, The Sampler takes the still-sleeping pig over toward his farm's pen.

The Sampler adds Kris's name to his clipboard of people we eventually come to know as "The Sampled." While we only see this one sheet on The Sampler's list, we can assume that there are many others who have been affected but haven't made their way to the pig farm. Of note, as far as I can read the names, Jeff isn't listed.

The Sampler puts a tag labeled "Kris" on Pig Kris, who's now fully awake. In his buggy he drives the pig back to the pen. After she goes through the gate to the pen proper, the bandaged Pig Kris seems fine.

Before Kris returns to her normal consciousness, she first navigates a dream. She walks through her house filled with silent people turned away from her. She eventually goes in her bathroom and turns on the faucet. Water is a recurring element in Kris's life: the heavy rain when she was abducted, The Thief's magic water, her childhood story of a friend pulling her underwater in a pool, and the public pool she frequents.

She turns off the water and turns around as though she notices a presence. The camera shifts until she's looking almost directly at the lens, drawing attention to the scene as a dream sequence.

Lucid, scared, fired, and broke

Kris is back, though she still hasn't processed the wreck caused by The Thief. Her car is parked in the grass median of a freeway, she's still only wearing a shirt, and she looks rather haggard.

While at first she seems calm and somewhat curious, it soon shifts to fear. She has no idea what happened to her. She has no explanation for the cuts on her body and certainly doesn't know why she's in the center of the highway with her hazard lights on.

Kris looks quizzically at her out-of-focus hand, as though it's to blame for inflicting the lacerations.

Her next instinct is to go home. She stills doesn't have all the pieces, but at least she remembers how to get there.

When Kris arrives home, she opens the front door and sort of kicks it in. We have no clue what's in her mind other than the suspicion that something very strange happened inside the house. She tentatively enters before running to her bedroom, grabbing her phone - the same brown touch-tone one used by The Thief, complete with the longest cord ever made - and retreating back to the safety of her front porch.

She goes as far as dialing "9-1" and then stops before the last "1." Either she knows that she has absolutely no explanation for the police or her curiosity gets the better of her.

Kris surveys her living room, which has her scarf, the checkers, and some looseleaf paper. Missing is The Thief's copy of Walden and the paper rings of her transcriptions. She observes the scene with a sort of Was it all a dream? detachment. In the next room she sees the painting of the deer, and she holds her gaze enough that it seems she has a dim memory of it.

Her bed is covered in splotches of blood, suggesting that, before she went into the kitchen and used the butcher knife, she made attempts to remove the worm while still in bed.

The blood on the kitchen floor is quite congealed, more like the consistency of jam than blood. This continues to confuse the timing of the events, specifically the duration between when Kris had the worm removed by The Sampler and when she reawakened, fully lucid, in her median-stranded car.

After surveying the blood and all the scattered food, Kris mops the kitchen floor, takes a shower, and heads in to work in some attempt to explain herself. In the reception area, she nervously plays with her keys.

Unfortunately, the conversation between herself and her boss/supervisor/HR person doesn't pan out after Kris mentions leaving a voicemail for one person and asking for another employee that doesn't seem to be around. A security guard enters the office, ready to escort her out. Kris gives a flimsy lie about having the flu with a temperature of 106, suggesting she wasn't even aware enough to call in sick. As she says it, she can't even sustain eye contact with the person opposite her. What started as a combative, frustrated attempt to explain things ends with her resigned to her fate.

Yet again, we don't know the timing. Was Kris gone a few days? A week? Weeks?

Kris leaves with her box of stuff. She isn't prepared whatsoever for the remaining nightmare caused by The Thief.

He seems to have drained her finances completely. Kris's credit card is declined at a grocery store. When the cashier tries to swivel the pay terminal screen toward him, Kris frustratingly grabs it and repeatedly tries her card.

Her next destination is the bank, where she claims that her signatures on documents are forged. We don't see a side-by-side comparison, and even though Kris likely sees a very slight difference, the bank isn't interested. "It's different, obviously," is all she can manage.

Looking through security-camera photos from the bank, Kris sees that she quite clearly visited the branch in question and made the transactions orchestrated by The Thief. The Thief was correct in his reasons to park a block away and hide from the cameras.

In her backyard, Kris, stress-smoking, goes over a pile of documents to try and sort through the mess. Her face shows a mixture of confusion, resignation, and almost a sort of doubt that, somehow, maybe she did manage to lose all that time without consciously knowing it.

This is the last we see of Part 1 Kris.

The score comes in as the film rounds out its first third.

Part 5 coming next Monday.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

JDK's Favorite Music of 2016: Songs

Song of the Year: "Daydreaming" by Radiohead, off A Moon Shaped Pool

It was fairly difficult picking a favorite off the pretty-phenomenal A Moon Shaped Pool, but after a zillion listens, I have to give it to "Daydreaming." It's like all the best Radiohead songs, treading the fine line between vintage Radiohead and exploring a new sound. There's piano, synths, and strings, plus a ton of studio effects that are polite enough to be low in the mix as to not be completely gimmicky. The song also benefits from a rather creepy music video, and whenever I hear this track, I can't help envision Thom Yorke going through endless corridors and doors into places that don't physically connect.

The rest, alphabetically:

"Blood Sandwich" by Aesop Rock, off The Impossible Kid

Aes Rock is no slouch when it comes to delivering his trademark heady, heavy rhymes, even when, in the case of "Blood Sandwich," there's a narrative that runs through the lyrics. While a coach brutally killing a gopher with a baseball bat during a little league game is something outside of Aes's usual wheelhouse, he stays sharp on point throughout. What's special here is the background under Aes's rhymes, starting with a bubble of synths and guitars, eventually switching midway through the song into the sort of latenight beats that elevated his best songs, such as his permanent highmark "Daylight."

"Subways" by The Avalanches, off Wildflower

Wildflower was surprisingly the biggest grower of the year, and "Subways" had a lot to do with it. The song comes in two funky flavors, switching back and forth like someone jumping between radio stations and fiddling with the EQ knob. The song's groove explodes into hypercolored disco, and I can't help envision a packed Chicago Brown Line rush-hour commute breaking into a dance party if someone hung a disco ball in the car and blasted this song.

"Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales" by Car Seat Headrest, off Teens of Denial

I'm not even going to pretend that I've even read the lyrics of this song. It's the sort of song that's pure bait to me: a patient buildup and then ye olde cathartic release during the chorus with "It doesn't have to be like this!" before it eventually becomes totally wordless. One of my favorite out-and-out rock songs of the year.

"Lazarus" by David Bowie, off Blackstar

This hits with an almost-creepy force given Bowie's sudden death around the time of Blackstar's release. The saxophones after the intro play a mournful tune, like they're already weighed down by Bowie's passing. The lyrics are unsettling in their prescience: "Look up here, I'm in heaven / I've got scars that can't be seen," and, later, "Look up here, man, I'm in danger / I've got nothing left to lose."

"Tom Tom" by Holy Fuck, off Congrats

While Congrats didn't quite sustain the highs of Holy Fuck's previous LP, Latin, there are a few tracks that rate among the band's best. "Tom Tom" leads the pack off Congrats, rumbling along like a military convoy about to go into battle, which erupts in the song's final third. Few rock bands can sound as grimy and propulsive as Holy Fuck.

"Stop Desire" by Tegan and Sara, off Love You To Death

Let 2016 be the year we all kill the ridiculous phrase "guilty pleasure." I think anyone who's been listening to Muxes for at least a few months know that my "weakness" is girl-fronted pop like Annie, Robyn, recent Taylor Swift, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Because, really, what's "guilty" about enjoying brilliantly-produced pop? If you think I'm getting soft, or, dare I say, losing my edge, blast down the freeway on a sunny summer day with "Stop Desire" unreasonably loud and get back to me.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mux209: Fuck Off, 2016

Download or stream.

Really jumping the gun here, but this playlist has been stable for a week, so off it went to the meat grinder.

Complete weirdo accident that "War Pigs" ends with the song sped up and "Sister Wolf" ends with the song slowed down. Two adjacent animal-named tracks also a coincidence.

Also, requisite half-apologies that "I Want Wind To Blow" and, especially, "War Pigs" are quite low in the mix. I can only jack them up +2 dB in Audacity before they get horribly distorted. But on my road test yesterday I cranked it up and it was fine; just beward of the much-higher volume of "Sister Wolf" afterward if you want to avoid that gunshot.

1. LCD Soundsystem - Time To Get Away (Sound of Silver)
2. Black Mountain - No Satisfaction (Black Mountain)
3. LVL UP - Blur (Return To Love)
4. Car Seat Headrest - Times To Die (Teens of Style)
5. Radiohead - Decks Dark (A Moon Shaped Pool)
6. The Microphones - I Want Wind To Blow (The Glow Pt. 2)
7. Black Sabbath - War Pigs (Paranoid)
8. Honeyblood - Sister Wolf (Babes Never Die)
9. Cymbals Eat Guitars - Mallwalking (Pretty Years)
10. Pinegrove - Visiting (Cardinal)
11. New Radicals - You Get What You Give (Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too)
12. YACHT - Miles & Miles (I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler)

TRT 59:19

Rookies: Black Mountain, New Radicals

2016 music: Cymbals Eat Guitars, Honeyblood, LVL UP, Pinegrove, Radiohead