You would not say it about one of the world’s
largest and most militant religions (that shall remain nameless for fear of
reprisals), but the world would probably be a way more tranquil place if there
were more Buddhists. Yes, they have been pulled into conflicts in Southeast Asia,
but it has mostly been in response to the belligerence of a less tolerant
religion. You can practically see that commitment to peacefulness baked into
Buddhist customs and ceremonies. Seoungho Cho uses the form of Buddhist rituals
to meditate on its inner essence in the experimental short film, Scrumped [Extended Version] (trailer here), which screens as
part of the 2016 Doc Fortnight at MoMA.
Mostly, the Korean-born New York-based Cho
relies on the ambient sounds of worship recorded at the Haeinsa and Silsangsa
Temples in South Korea, but he occasionally also incorporates excerpts from
Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, op. 48. Arguably,
it is not such a strange fit, considering the “High Church” vibe of Buddhist
chants (it is also worth noting the Japanese Catholic Church has forged
particularly close ties with their Buddhist counterparts).
Regardless, the first ten minutes or so of Scrumped look like Cho is feeling his
way, without a clear concept in place. However, when he starts editing footage
according to the rhythms of the ceremonial chanting, the film becomes a
transfixing experience. Mind, spirit, nature, and art all whirl together in a
microcosmic unity. The film’s aesthetic truly reflects the spiritual
transcendence of the worship it documents, which is rather remarkable.
Frankly, Scrumped becomes the sort of cinematic wonder
Samsara was billed as, but fell short
of. It is entirely possible Cho’s shorter cut is sufficient, because the thirty
minute “Extended Version” has its share of filler up top, but the guts of the
film are absolutely engrossing. Although Cho professes to be a spiritual
non-believer, his respect and affinity for Zen-related Korean Seon Buddhism are
well evident. Highly recommended as an immersive and meditative experience, Scrumped screens again with Jacques
Perconte’s Ettrick tomorrow (2/29),
during this year’s Doc Fortnight at MoMA.
Labels: Buddhism on film, Doc Fortnight '16, Experimental Film, Short Films