First films are often a filmmaker’s worst movie, as they seem to be learning their craft as the film goes on. That said, they can also be instructive once they have a body of work, as you can often see the seeds of their future work embedded within. And though Christopher Nolan’s Following is one of his weakest efforts, all things considered, it’s still indicative of a talent that would emerge. Where in 1998 Nolan’s film may have come across as a clever but small riff on Pulp Fiction and the genre of crime films Tarantino helped launch, now you can see that Nolan was pretty on top of his game from the get go, even if his first film is a minor work. Our review of the The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray of Following follows after the jump.
Jeremy Theobald stars as an unnamed writer who picks up the habit of following interesting people around to observe them. He is approached by Cobb (Alex Haw), who notices that he’s being watched. Cobb doesn’t like it because he’s a thief. The Author follows along on a burglary and takes things along with Cobb while he reveals the secrets to theft and where people keep their most valuable possessions (which are not always the most expensive ones). After the duo steal from a woman’s flat, the writer gets involved with the woman, named the Blonde (Lucy Russell), who is having trouble with her mob boss boyfriend. She then gets the author hooked on the idea of helping her out by breaking into the mob boss’s business and stealing some pictures (used as blackmail against her) to help her out. But there’s a bigger picture the author can’t yet see.
Shot on 16mm in black and white, Following runs 70 minutes, and it feels like Nolan’s thesis film. Shot with no money and unknown actors, it’s very much a student film but one of the better ones. What’s interesting is that you can see that Nolan gets it, and the ending, which ties everything up, is clever in a way that makes you want to see him move on to something bigger and better. Perhaps this was the needed warm up for Memento, which is a huge evolutionary leap for the filmmaker, but you can see how he used a non-linear narrative here and advanced the concept beyond reference in the next film.
It’s also interesting that the main character is named Cobb, which is a name Nolan would go back to with Inception, and the author has a Batman sticker on his door. You can see these interesting seeds. On its own, it’s a marginal film that at least manages to tell its narrative in a compact running time, and shows promise. As Christopher Nolan’s first film, it’s a must see.
The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray presents the film in full frame (1.33:1) and in the film’s original mono sound mix and a 5.1 Surround track that seems to have been generated for the film’s initial DVD release. Also included from that previous edition is a commentary by Nolan, which is dry but thoughtful. There’s also a linear edit of the film ported over, which sounds more interesting than it is. Perhaps the best supplement is a new interview with Nolan about the movie (26 min.), and Nolan talks about the challenges of his first movie and how the film came together, but he sticks to this film, and so it’s not as involving as it might be if he seems to look at it more in the context of his body of work. Still it was more interesting than his commentary. His student film “Doodlebug” (3 min.) is also included, as is a “Script to Film” piece which shows three scenes alongside the script (10 min.) which it follows ridiculously closely. The supplements close out with two trailers for the film.