During a recent post-screening discussion about his movie “Traffic” and the indie scene in general, helmer Steven Soderbergh referred to Christopher Nolan’s avant-garde thriller “Memento” as “brilliant.”
In fact, the admiration runs so deep that Soderbergh signed on as one of the producer’s on Nolan’s upcoming “Insomnia” for Warner Bros.
The kinship between the two filmmakers is reflected in their approaches to the form. Both started out as auteurs, writing and directing their own pics. Nolan also doubled as cinematographer on his feature debut, “Following,” just as Soderbergh did on films such as “Schizopolis” and “Traffic.”
But most importantly, both are inspired by some of the more inventive stylists of the ’70s and ’80s: the John Boorman of “Point Blank,” the John Frankenheimer of “Seconds” and the Nicolas Roeg of “Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession.”
“I look at the technique of people like Roeg and they are wonderfully experimental and fantastically inventive,” says Nolan. “And since they’ve gone and pushed those boundaries, there’s an opportunity for filmmakers of my generation to utilize some of that expanded grammar and apply it to a more mainstream subject.”
The irony here is that Nolan’s “Memento,” which Variety called “a bravura tribute to the spirit of ‘Point Blank,'” is anything but mainstream. The film — a neo-noir mystery with a protagonist who suffers from short-term memory loss — pieces its puzzle together in willfully nonlinear fashion that uses flashback and flash-forward to expose character and identity.
“No one demands that a novelist, or even a playwright, tell a story in chronological order,” says Nolan. “The longer-established media have embraced these freedoms to do what we do in everyday life –to reorder information in the most intriguing way possible.”
Nolan’s not your typical film school grad. He studied English literature at University College, London, which has allowed him to build his abstractions on a classical foundation. And if his visual sense appears highly cultivated for someone with only two features under his belt, it’s because he started making films at 7 using his father’s 8mm camera.
“I’m interested in films that you want to come back to multiple times,” says Nolan, whose “Memento” has traveled the fest route through Venice, Deauville and Toronto before arriving at this year’s Sundance in the Dramatic Competition. “And if you do, you find a slightly different film there waiting for you.”