Director: Mark Raso
Screenwriter: Jonathan Tropper, based on an article published in The New York Times by A. G. Sulzberger
Runtime: 105 mins.
Australian release date: 7 June 2018
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 14 May 2018.
The simple title Kodachrome, given to a new film from director Mark Raso, is enough to pique one’s interest and it turns out the movie is a kind of homage to that eponymous film stock, responsible for a thousand slide nights. For those too young to know, Kodachrome was the name of a type of Kodak colour film that was popular with amateur and professional photographers alike and was developed as slides rather than prints, requiring a projector to show them. To quote the original The New York Times article on which the film is based, “photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore, but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.” The movie’s story about getting four canisters of film developed before the last Kodachrome processor closes its doors runs parallel with a race to re-establish a long-lost relationship between a dying man and his estranged son.
Matt (Jason Sudeikis) is barely hanging on to his job as a music executive, not having signed a break-out act for some time. He’s also recently divorced and long estranged from his father Ben (Ed Harris), an internationally known photographer. One day he gets a visit from his father’s nurse Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen), who informs Matt that Ben is terminally ill and wants to set off with him on a redemptive road trip from New York to Kansas; the objective is to hand deliver to the last developing lab, film rolls that contain long-forgotten images that were taken many years earlier. There’s a problem though. Matt has a giant chip on his shoulder and has never forgiven his father for neglecting him and his mother and he refuses until Ben’s manager Larry (Dennis Haysbert) throws in a sweetener. Thus, father, son and nurse eventually head off and a fraught journey begins, bringing forth old wounds, grievances and regrets. Bette Davis once famously said in All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night,” and that phrase couldn’t be more relevant in Kodachrome.
Kodachrome has its moments but they are as fractured as the players in the film. Harris gives a thoroughly convincing performance as the jaded artist who’s spent his life defying convention, refusing to abide by the rules of society and being completely selfish in pursuit of his art. Sudeikis presents a sort of annoying son-of-a-bitch persona but you do feel some sympathy for his character because his old man is a complete bastard, cruel to all around him. Olsen’s Zooey, on the other hand, is the voice of reason and she tries to bring an unbiased eye to the men’s situation, perceiving their difficulties as surmountable. She is, after all, a carer and she abides by those principles in her role as mediator. You do wonder, though, whether she would have had as much influence on Ben and Matt if she wasn’t so physically blessed.
Kodachrome is an interesting, occasionally moving observation of the demise of a medium that is sadly missed by many, coupled with the dramatic demise of a difficult life. It shows how the digital age has transformed the thrill of receiving one’s images long after they were snapped and often came as an unexpected surprise (if you have ever had a film processed long after it was taken, you will ‘get’ this poignancy all too clearly). Now it’s the age of instant gratification, at least in terms of photographic imagery. This is a film about memory and it’s fitting that it was shot on 35 mm. film stock. It’s a sobering tale of loss and redemption but, ultimately, it’s not entirely successful. As writer Tropper explains, “I started on the character [of Ben] who, as passionate as he is about his art and as deeply as he feels, he’s always been one step removed from his own life. Now that he’s dying, he’s trying to correct the course but a lifetime of insulating yourself from what’s going on around you is hard to undo in a few days.” And even harder in 105 minutes.