Cameron Beyl does not play by the rules when it comes to video essays. Instead of short, under-10 minute explorations we’ve come to expect from the ever-increasing coterie of YouTube essayists, Beyl, in his Directors Series on Vimeo, devotes hours to exploring the filmographies of some of cinema’s great auteurs. We’ve already introduced you in previous posts to his extended hagiographies of Stanley Kubrick, the Coen Brothers, David Fincher, and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Now comes his latest work, a multi-part exploration of Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre, covering his hardscrabble years all the way through his Hollywood blockbusters and ending with Interstellar. (This writer, having thought higher of Dunkirk than his previous works, will just have to wait a few years until the next chapter.)
In the video above, Beyl starts off with some prehistory about Christopher and his brother Jonathan, his early years making Super 8 movies, his time spent at University College London, and the very rare first films, “Tarantella” and “Larceny,” the single-gag short “Doodlebug,” and how that crew--including his lead actor Jeremy Theobald and his producer-soon-to-be-wife Emma Thomas--stayed with him through his $6000 debut feature Following and its thematic and stylistic cousin Memento, made for $4.5 million.
Part 2 shows Nolan navigating the studio system. Given a chance by executive producers George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh to remake the Norwegian thriller Insomnia, he indulged in his love of Michael Mann by working with Al Pacino, who plays a character not unlike his role in 1995’s Heat. Then Nolan takes on a moribund comic book franchise and reboots it into Batman Begins, a move that studio execs have since done over and over to rethink various properties with different directors. He ends with a less enthusiastic examination of 2006’s The Prestige.
Part 3 takes on both The Dark Knight and Inception, two huge blockbusters and one that took Nolan into the pantheon of critical and popular acclaim. If undecided on Nolan, Beyl’s obsequious tone might put one off: “Simply put, the late 2000s saw Nolan operating at the height of his powers, locked in sync with the cultural zeitgeist to such a degree that his efforts were actively steering it.” (Please have that debate in the comments.) However, Beyl makes some nice comparisons between The Dark Knight and Heat here.
Part Four shows Nolan concluding his Batman trilogy, failing to top The Dark Knight, but then going all Kubrick with Interstellar. He’s a director who has gladly played with all the toys multi-million dollar Hollywood productions have at their disposal, and he’s never been afraid of being epic. Beyl leaves off, noting that after expanding into the universe with Interstellar, Nolan has nowhere to turn but inward. So far that has resulted in the historical Dunkirk. But whether Nolan can return to more modest work has yet to be seen.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.