Christopher Nolan and FILM COMMENT go way back.
How far back, you ask? Well, in 1998 when I was attending the San Francisco Film Festival, I asked one of its programmers, Rachel Rosen, if she had made any discoveries that year. She singled out one movie in particular—an unheralded low-budget English film shot on 16mm. That film was Christopher Nolan’s Following. I went to its world premiere and so can now proudly boast to have been among the first to witness the birth of a major new talent. Just how major none of us could begin to anticipate. Following Following’s screening I met Nolan and his producer/partner Emma Thomas, and a good time was had by all.
Flash-forward to early 2001. Nolan’s second film, Memento, hadn’t managed to find U.S. distribution. In that year’s January/February issue of FILM COMMENT, one of the film’s champions, Steven Soderbergh, declared: “When a film like Memento cannot get picked up, to me independent film is over. It’s dead.” (Harvey Weinstein passed on the movie, but Memento was eventually distributed thanks to Newmarket Films.) Though it didn’t even have a release date yet, we went ahead and published an appreciation of Memento in the same issue. Nolan reciprocated by writing about his cinematic Guilty Pleasures for the following issue (for the record: The Hitcher, The Black Hole, and two films—On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the heist comedy Topkapi—to which he would later pay homage in Inception). It was clear that Nolan was “one of us”—a true movie lover, but one who had crossed over and was now a moviemaker—and as such, a quintessential FILM COMMENT subject. And so a year later he and Soderbergh gave us an early look at his next film, Insomnia, leading to not one but two pieces in our May/June 2002 issue.
And then it was time for Nolan to board the Batman franchise and embark on a three-film, seven-year voyage that brings us to today (with a couple of splendid detours, The Prestige and Inception, which we made our July/August 2010 cover story). It’s been 12 years since Following’s premiere, and Nolan is now one of the foremost writer-directors of the 21st century—and one of the most adventurous. Those who believed that dumbing down was the price of admission to the realm of the blockbuster were in for a shock. Nolan didn’t lower his standards—he elevated the genre, bringing it into his own imaginative universe and reshaping it to accord with his own signature concerns: the introspective dramas of fractured identity and mental manipulation; the power of ideas. The grandeur and sophistication of the Dark Knight trilogy is that it consistently gives us action-spectacle with a morally complex interiority, and nothing less. While Tim Burton and (to a lesser extent) Joel Schumacher brought their own sensibilities to their iterations of Batman, Nolan brought something more potent and lasting: a vision.
The Dark Knight Rises
This special FILM COMMENT supplement pays tribute to the signal and singular achievement of Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker at the height of his powers, who has now concluded another spectacular chapter in his remarkable career.