footage in twenty-five countries around the world, documentarian-visual
essayists Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson must have met thousands of fascinating
people. Yet, you will not meet any of
them on a personal level in their latest 70mm spectacle. Their aesthetic favors the people en mass and
dehumanized over messily unpredictable individuals. As their follow-up to 1992’s Baraka, director-cinematographer-co-writer-co-editor
Fricke & producer-co-writer-co-editor-co-musical director Magidson’s Samara takes viewers to some
awe-inspiring sites all over the globe, intending it all to signify the great
cosmic wheel of life, as the title translates from Sanskrit. Those who want to see it, should see in a
theater, the way it was meant to be seen, when Samsara (trailer
tomorrow in New York.
of this as The Wall for politically
correct Volvo-driving health nuts.
Deeply steeped in Eastern religious traditions, Samsara captures some amazing images, such as the opening Balinese
dancers, the archaeological wonderland of Petra, and the Tibetan Buddhist monks
of Thikse creating impermanent sand mandalas.
It would probably deepen any viewers’ appreciations to hear the dancers
discuss their incredibly disciplined collective choreography or to have the
monks explain what the mandalas symbolize according to their faith, but Fricke
and Magidson are not going there. There
will be no talking and no text in the film.
Samsara brings to mind
an old airline commercial from years ago, in which a charming old Southwestern artist
tells viewers the young painters who move to New Mexico and are blown away by
the landscape are missing the point—it is the people who that are really
interesting. Fricke & Magidson are
like those landscape painters, duly filming the sweeping awesomeness of nature. Yet, in a way, this makes things so much neater
and tidier. When images of the disfigured
are contrasted with scenes of armament factories, we cannot help but get the
unsubtle message. Yet, the more we knew
about individual cases might make it far harder to indulge in sweeping
of the sequences in Samsara are absolutely
arresting, like the shots of the Bagan temples in Burma, which did indeed grant
the filmmakers access, after quite a bit of diplomatic and bureaucratic
hoop-jumping. Sadly, when North Korea said
no, Kim really meant no, so Fricke and Magidson were unable to film one of the
giant choreographed stadium airangs. That’s
too bad, because it would have fit right in with the rest of Samsara.
Without question, Samsara is lovely to look at (except when it is being deliberately
ugly). There was obviously a conscious
intent guiding the assemblage of the images, but they are still just
images. Ultimately, the film is all
surface and precious little substance.
Any deeper meditations it might spur are solely due to viewer’s highly
individualistic responses to the natural, sacred, and profane visuals it
presents. Recommended just for those who
enjoyed previous wide-screen picture books, like Baraka and Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi
(on which Fricke served as cinematographer), Samsara opens tomorrow (8/24) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.
Labels: Documentary, Mark Magidson, Ron Fricke