Roll out the nostalgia for a road trip to reconciliation
“PAUL Simon wrote a song about it. A state park was named after it. National Geographic shot their most famous photos on it. And we developed the last roll.”
So reads the souvenir T-shirt printed by Dwayne’s Photo, in Parsons, Kansas, the last lab in the world to process Kodachrome.
Before the machines were shut down — at the end of 2010 — a stream of amateur and professional photographers made the pilgrimage to the prairiebound city, not far from the Oklahoma border, to develop their remaining rolls of film.
There’s a cracker of a story in there somewhere, bathed in the warm nostalgic glow of the colour-rich stock, which as Simon put it in his 1973 hit, “Makes all the world a sunny day.” But Kodachrome isn’t it.
Jonathan Tropper’s screenplay was inspired by a New York Times article, written by A. G. Sulzberger, in which the journalist makes a passing reference to National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, who shot, among other things, the magazine’s well-known cover portrait of an Afghan girl.
When Kodak stopped producing Kodachrome, the company gave McCurry the last role. He hand-delivered it to Parsons for processing.
“I wasn’t going to take any chances,” he told Sulzberger.
Tropper has taken that journalistic snippet and expanded it into a father-andson road movie that coasts along the highway on cruise control. Every dramatic sequence, every plot point is clearly signposted.
The snapper, whose name has been changed to Ben (Ed Harris), has terminal cancer.
He uses the death card to convince his estranged son, Matt (Jason Sudeikis), a downon-his-luck record company executive, to accompany him on a road trip to Kansas to process a handful of precious rolls of film he has been saving. The two men hit a few potholes along the way, but slowly, painfully, they reconcile.
Elizabeth Olsen’s nurse doubles as the romantic attraction for Matt.
Kodachrome travels from go to whoa without making one surprise detour.
Harris commits viscerally to the role of irascible cynic, but his character arc is frustratingly flat. Olsen, too, makes the best of her limited material. Sudeikis has perhaps the most challenging role. He struggles to find the right pitch.
Kodachrome, which was shot on Kodak 35mm film, certainly looks handsome.
But if you’re after a personal, moving tribute to the vintage medium, try to find Sydney filmmaker Andrew G. Taylor’s lyrical, low-budget memoir First Person Kodachrome, which screened on the ABC a few years back.
Ben (Ed Harris) and Matt (Jason Sudeikis).