The U-Haul facility where the devices were stored in Primer (click for larger, scroll down for more)

I’ve probably watched the film Primer (2004, director: Shane Carruth) twenty times and counting. I’m not into “solving” the plot, as much as I’m just into the mood of the whole film. The picture stars Shane Carruth and David Sullivan, playing two 9-to-5 engineer suburbanites who inadvertently construct a crude device that allows them to travel backwards in time at six-hour intervals, and who gradually become entangled in the complexities the device causes in their friendship. The film’s mind-bending storyline uses no real special effects, and is portrayed in a weirdly calm, minimal style. At times it almost seems like a documentary, but also has a kind of menacing, poetic glow – similar to the best by Kubrik or Polanski. One reason I like the film so much is that it was conceived and shot in my hometown of Dallas, Texas (by people who really live there). Actually, many of the locations used were built after I moved away in 1991, so when I watch the movie, it’s an odd mix of old and new. It’s the film’s little background details – mostly architecture and urban design ones – that have codifiability for me. Watching the whole thing is like witnessing real, dangerous magic unravel out of my childhood bedroom. I was recently in Dallas, and shot pictures of some of the locations used in the movie, along with comparison stills from the film itself. These pictures were taken in July of 2007, which is the same time of year the film was shot (July 2001). The following contains “spoilers.”

The Fountain:
Here’s the nighttime fountain where Aaron and Abe confront each other about growing tensions, while looking for Aaron’s cat with flashlights. The “park” that it’s part of is a kind of glorified office/apartment complex area (I didn’t see another soul around the whole time I was there) and is located a bit north of Addison Circle. The fountain is much smaller than I thought it would be. Also, you can’t tell it’s sunken into the ground from the film. It was obviously under maintenance or something when I visited. For bigger versions of the above shots: here is is now, and here it is in the film. Here it is from another angle, where you can see the pyramid-topped building (Dallas is full of them!) way in the background, which appears lit in background of this same angle in the film.

The Bench:
This is the bench in the plaza at Addison Circle where Aaron is sitting (wearing the earpiece) when Abe comes to speak to him. Addison Circle is a planned living/apartment village cluster in North Dallas that is quite new, and very large. The area has a lot of little parks like this, but this is the bench. If you’re familiar with Primer, you’ll see how much the trees and bushes have grown since this scene was shot in 2001. Personally, I find this bench in this cramped little urban plaza to be as significant a film location as Maryon Park from Antonioni’s Blow Up. But that’s just me. For bigger versions of the above shots: here it is now, and here it is in the film. Here is what you see when you’re sitting in the bench, as comparable to this shot in the film. Here is a shot from the right, as comparable to this shot of Aaron in the film. I was in town for just two days, and had to quickly locate and photograph all these locations in one rushed afternoon – so I didn’t have time to arrange to get on the roof at this spot so I could take a shot from this angle. I actually did try to get up there, but a security guy came out of nowhere and asked what I was doing. I tried turning on the charm, but he wasn’t impressed. The pizza place that Aaron and Abe walk into (Pastazios) when Aaron’s cell phone rings and they think it might be his double – is also right down at the west end of this little plaza.

The U-Haul facility:
Here is the U-Haul facility – a central location for the story – where Aaron and Abe store the devices. It’s right on Dallas North Tollway (which is to the left of this shot), in Addison. It obviously hasn’t changed a bit. There is now a car dealership covering most of the empty field where they parked their cars and looked through binoculars in the film, but as you can see from the panorama shot up at the very top, a lot of the field is still there. To the west (to the right of the U-Haul in this shot) there is still lots and lots of empty field, which I stood in the middle of to take this shot (that’s the U-Haul on the right). The storage unit they used in the film in really is in this facility (see the little red doors in the upper left window?) I would have loved to have gone in there to try and find it, but it was this whole nightmare mess just to get in the front door. Plus, how would I have located the actual one? For bigger versions of the above shots: here is is now, and here it is in the film.

Here’s a closer shot of the U-Haul front door, to match this shot in the film where Abe is loading up oxygen tanks and supplies alone at night. Here are larger versions of the above, now, and in the film.

The Red Column:
Here’s the place with the red column that Aaron and Abe are sitting outside of while making plans on the first day they’ll use the devices together. You’d never guess they were sitting outside a Sonic Drive-In unless you’ve listened to the DVD commentary. It’s located literally right next to Addison Airport – excellent if you’re into plane-watching. Apparently this brief shot was done very early in the morning. I’m pretty sure they were sitting at the table on the left in my photo. The railing in the foreground of the film shot is over to the left of that menu sign, with another table or two between them. For bigger versions of the above shots: here it is now, and here it is in the film.

The Library:
Here is the Richardson Public Library, where Aaron and Abe are often shown researching day trading on the stock market, or walking around. Richardson is a suburb of Dallas, one of the older ones (this library has been there practically forever). According to the DVD commentary, this is where Shane Carruth wrote a lot of the script, and where he and David Sullivan did a lot of their dialogue rehearsing. This particular location has weird significance for me because, when I was a very small child, my mother used to bring me to this library weekly and leave me in the art book section, where I would spend uncountable hours sitting on the floor looking at books about Andy Warhol, the Dada movement or even Charles Addams cartoon collections. The art book section used to be directly to the right of where Aaron and Abe are sitting in this film shot (you can see it’s a wall now, as it probably was when Primer was shot in 2001). The inside of this library has changed drastically since I was a kid. Now, there are a lot of elaborate, Disney-ish, children’s decorations hogging most of interior spaces (obviously a recent addition), but the 70’s modern shell of the building still stands. It’s not a good mix. For bigger versions of the above shots: here is is now, and here it is in the film. Here’s a more pulled-back shot of the room now, and in the film. If you looked directly over the balcony behind where they are sitting, you would see this overhead shot, and here’s how it was used in the film (the carpet has changed) and here’s a shot taken down on the first level, looking left towards that wooden door thing they walk through in that overhead shot. Here’s a shot I took from outside, right next to that fountain (the one you can see outside the back window in that scene, remember the guy with the giant lawnmower?) looking back up at the building – you can see where Aaron and Abe were sitting in the middle second level lit window. Do you think I was thorough enough?