Thursday, November 24, 2011

Johanna Demetrakas' CRAZY WISDOM offers up Chogyam Trungpa, warts and all

According to the press materials for CRAZY WISDOM, the film tells the true story of a "brilliant Tibetan monk" who escaped the Communist invasion of Tibet and then broke "all the rules in order to bring Buddhism to the West." Hmmm... If this is Buddhism, as we see it lived by Chogyam Trungpa (the subject of the film), I'll eat my hat. (And as TrustMovies no longer possesses any hats, he's off the hook -- a sleazy bit of irony of which Chogyam Trungpa himself would no doubt approve.) At the very least, the guy was one of those "Do as I say, not as I do" spiritual guides.

This new documentary, directed by Johanna Demetrakas (pictured at right), combines history with sermon in detailing the life of yet another two-bit guru -- a very smart charlatan who loved his cigars, liquor and sex. Or was he something more? Goodness knows, the disciples we hear from during this 89-minute movie, both men and women, still seem in love with the guy nearly a quarter century after his death (one fellow breaks down in tears recalling the man he loved). Was there a sexual component to this love? Yes, among some of the women we see, certainly, and maybe the men, too.  CT, as we'll call him from here onwards, was quite the little cocksman, it would seem.

Listen carefully to this fellow, shown above and below, and what you hear in his philosophy easily doubles as a kind of excuse for his behavior -- what it is, was, or might become in the next moment. Smart! Just ask the 16-year-old young lady who spent 24 hours in his bed and then decided to marry the guy. "There is no certainty," as someone else points out. "And he could have a sense of humor about that." Well, why not, as this "lack of certainty" left him off the hook for just about everything.

Among his many acolytes, friends and co-gurus were folk like Allen Ginsberg (pictured above, left, with CT) and Ram Das (pictured below, left). Early on the Tibetan's mission appeared to be leading the world out of its unhealthy materialism, but once our guru landed in the west, he spent the rest of his life indulging in that materialism to the max.

Ms Demetrakas' movie manages to have its cake and, well, you know the rest of that particular diet. In spite -- no, because -- of its dualism or maybe duplicity, Crazy Wisdom offers up quite a good time. We shake our heads in wonder at this odd fellow and the love and devotion he inspired -- probably as much by his behavior as by his teachings (which we really don't get much of here -- but then, the behavior is so much more fun.)

When he died in 1987 (almost 2 years shy of age 50) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, nearly 3,000 people gathered for his subsequent funeral service in Vermont. End credits inform us that "Tibetan Buddhism lives on in the west," CT's books "now sell in the mil-lions, and 214 medita-tion centers carry on the vision of an enlightened society. Can it ever be?" Not if this fun, funny and very bizarre film is any indication. I don't see how you can miss it -- though I very much doubt you'll convert.

Crazy Wisdom begins its limited run this Friday, November 25, in New York City at the Rubin Museum, and then moves to the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex on Friday, December. 2. You can check for any further screenings, as well as its lengthy list of past screenings and festivals, by clicking here.

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