(Originally published 12/1/17)Read More
Every aspiring filmmaker has a fantasy of how they would like their career to progress. Even those who wouldn’t admit it to their colleagues or family members have still spent hours daydreaming about directing an elaborate crane movement across a sea of costumed extras, delivering an inspired creative note that unlocks the potential for a brilliant performance, accepting a prize at Sundance or Cannes or on the glittering Oscar stage, fame, wealth, legacy, immortality... Wannabe filmmakers (even those with fiercely independent aspirations) who claim to have never visualized their own successes are, at best, lying to themselves. And while his name has become synonymous with a certain kind of mainstream, studio fare it would be hard to argue that Christopher Nolan’s career path has been anything but the Platonic Ideal of a creative and commercial Hollywood success story.
Nolan rose to prominence at the turn of the 21st century- “breaking through” with the kind of low budget fare that exemplified the spirit of the grassroots independent film movement of the 1990s. His perfectly-executed hopscotch from obscurity to golden boy anointment might be the most elegant example of the transition ever performed. He cut his teeth on the black and white, Super 16, DIY, shoestring, genre lark, Following when he was in his mid 20s. Following led to Slamdance, Slamdance led to industry attention, industry attention led to financing, financing led to Memento, Memento led to Sundance, Sundance led to studios, studios led to Insomnia, Insomnia led to movie stars and budgets, movie stars and budgets led to Batman Begins and so on... In less than seven years Nolan went from spending his weekends single-taking 16mm short ends to rebooting a superhero franchise with Oscar winners in the ancillary roles. And while the legend of Nolan’s rise to prominence is inspiring in its trajectory, it wasn’t necessarily uncommon at the time. Few careers have been as consistent or distinct as Nolan’s but there are scores of filmmakers from Linklater to Bigelow who dutifully climbed the ladder from indie ghetto to mainstream success to awards recognition to the holy grail of artistic autonomy.