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Shane Carruth shares A Topiary sizzle reel, teasing the lost potential of his unproduced sci-fi epic

Illustration for article titled Shane Carruth shares A Topiary sizzle reel, teasing the lost potential of his unproduced sci-fi epic
Screenshot: A Topiary (Vimeo)

Last week, Primer and Upstream Color auteur Shane Carruth gave an incendiary interview to Indiewire in which he doubled down on his long-standing critiques of the studio system and asserted that he is “not in the same business as Hollywood.”


This is not arts and literature in early Greece,” he continued. “This town is what everybody says it is. We hire models to say words they don’t even understand and then light them well. Only one percent of that is worth watching. The confusion is, we get to go to the same building to watch a fucking Garfield cartoon and Phantom Thread, as if those two are the same things.”

I would sort of love it if all the studios died in the next five years,” he went on to say.

Carruth more or less declared his impending retirement last year, and confirmed as much in the interview, though he says he’s got “one last project in front of me.” That project, unfortunately, likely won’t be A Topiary, a long-gestating epic that, despite having Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher signed on as executive producers, was never able to secure funding.

Until now, our only look at it existed on a computer monitor in Upstream Colorsomething he discussed with The A.V. Club in 2013—but that changed on Thursday night when a link to its sizzle reel was fired off via the Upstream Color Twitter account.

“This will probably get taken down because I lifted a bunch of shots from films,” reads the post, presumably written by Carruth.


He’s not wrong, either. Clips from Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Explorers, Days Of Heaven, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark unfold against a child’s narration, imbuing the project with Amblin-esque coming-of-age adventure vibes and a Malickian sense of awe at nature and the cosmos.

It all tracks when you consider the plot, which was unpacked thusly in a 2013 Wired profile of Carruth.

It’s a tale told in two parts: The opening section follows a city worker who becomes obsessed with a recurring starburst pattern he sees hidden everywhere around him, even in traffic grids. He eventually joins with other believers, forming a kaffeeklatsch-cult that’s soon undone by greed and hubris.

The second half follows a group of 10 preteen boys who discover a strange machine that produces small funnels, which in turn can be used to build increasingly agile robotlike creatures. As their creations grow in power and size, the kids’ friendships begin to splinter and they’re forced to confront another group of creature-builders. The movie ends with a massive last-minute reveal, set deep in the cosmos, suggesting that everything we’ve just seen was directed by forces outside the characters’ control.


As you can see on its Vimeo page, the reel was uploaded nine years ago. Carruth clarified on Twitter that he “had it private until now.”


As Carruth prepares for his mysterious final project, he’s been out promoting Nicholas Ashe Batemen’s The Wanting Mare, on which he’s an executive producer.

“[W]hat he’s doing, some people would pay $10 million for, and he’s doing it with a copy of Blendr on a MacBook,” Carruth said of Bateman and The Wanting Mare. “And yet nothing in this film could not have been done in the ‘70s. It’s not about the effects. It’s about the effort. He’s trying something. I do one-offs. He has a world. Once I saw that, I just became more and more dumbfounded. There is something in the handcrafted quality of this that gives you an intimacy with the material. There’s no space to waste, no money to waste.”


Watch a teaser for that film, which premiered last weekend as part of the virtual Chattanooga Film Festival., below.

[via Collider]

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Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.