Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gorgeous beyond belief -- beyond Baraka, at least: Fricke's and Magidson's SAMSARA

In an article that appeared in this past Sunday's New York Times' Arts & Leisure section, filmmaker Ron Fricke -- who, with Mark Magidson, created the movie SAMSARA that opens this Friday in New York and Seattle -- keeps insisting that he and his producing/writing partner are not trying to "say anything" or make their images "go together," "make too much sense" or "tell a linear story." God forbid.

Shot on 70 millimeter film (but evidently not to be shown in theaters in that manner, since so few are left that have this capability), the movie is, according to its makers -- Fricke is shown at left, Magidson, below -- not a documentary in the usual meaning of that term because it has no narration and no identification of place nor personage as it moves along. (The end credits offer some of this, but by then you'll have to try to reconstruct it all again, in your mind, to figure out who and what went where.)

Can it be possible to shoot all these images and have them not speak to you in any social/political/artful manner? I doubt it. It certainly, for TrustMovies at least, was not possible to view these images in any content- and/or meaning-free manner. Let's describe and then discuss a few of these now, then see what you make of it all.

Filmed over five years on five continents in 25 countries, the images are as varied as they are usually gorgeous. (Even the shots of slabs of recently slaughtered meat hanging aloft are beautifully composed and shot.)

The film begins with images of three eastern dancers, eyes a-popping, strutting their stuff. From there we go to scene of an erupting volcano, then to sleeping humans and then to the top of an incredible mountain temple and to little boys who are, I guess, novice monks. They (and we) watch as a piece of spectacular art, below, is created before our eyes using only the tiniest -- what? colored beads? grains of sand? -- as the medium.

"These things all exist in our world! I thought to myself with joy. "They're not some special effects created by 'the movies'."  But then those special effect begin. Granted, they're little more than speeded-up camera-work that shows us day becoming night becoming day again. Or shadow and sunlight spreading across the walls of an interior. Or humanity, Asian-style, moving a bit faster than they're actually doing, to make a point. Whoops! No point is being made, right? Then why speed up that camera? See: We're making points even when we don't realize it.

The film's funniest -- maybe looniest -- section covers some amazing caskets (below) designed to reflect who the corpse was when alive and/or what he did for a living. (One of these caskets is constructed in the shape of a gun.)

Even editing -- especially editing -- makes its own points. For instance, moving from humanity (did I mention the many baptisms, see below?), the earth and art to what comes next in this film seems to make a certain point, as we go from beautiful images to horror: death in the animal world so that we may eat -- from chickens to hogs and onward -- would seem to be making some point or other. Well, it's all in how you view it, I suppose.

Except where certain specific images are concerned. The filmmakers go out of their way to shoot some Africans in their native garb and facial display. Then, later in the film we come back to -- if not these exact Africans, then others suspiciously like them. Only this time, see below, they are holding rifles. I'm sorry: We're supposed to make nothing of this? Please: The ability to make connections, to see links, and to tell tales that reflect our humanity -- to care -- is what separates us from Republicans.

Oh, well. If it sounds like I am dissing this movie, I am doing anything but. Samsara is a bountiful visual experience (and the music that goes along with it is wonderful, too). It deserves to be seen by everyone. I'm just a tad astounded at the filmmakers' pretense of doing all this without any sense of  purpose other than creating images. Perhaps they are worried that any trace, the mere scent, of an "agenda" might rule the movie out for certain audiences. (Particularly those who love to say, 'I don't want to see anything political!" As though there is--ever was--anything that is not.) The film's final shots, too, would seem to be saying something about art and its brevity. Or perhaps our very planet -- and its. Enough: See this movie, and see what you can connect.

Samsara, from Oscilloscope Laboratories, opens Friday, August 24, at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in New York City -- in 4K resolution (which I had to look up to understand, so I've linked it for you) and in Seattle at the Cinerama, also in 4K. In the weeks to come, it'll be appearing across  pretty much the entire United States (though not, I think, to be seen in 4K everywhere). Click here to view all the currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters.

The shots above are taken from the film itself, 
with the exception of those of the filmmakers, 
which come courtesy of and BYOD.

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