Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Love Song of RBF (movie review)


This traveling exhibit of movie director + live band is a new kind of blending of film and the arts.  In the early days of film, before "talkies", a live piano or even an orchestra might provide sound track, with spoken parts inserted as readable text, usually not much of it.  Comic books were for the more literate, who could get off on lots of talk and thought balloons.

Having the director, Sam Green, narrate the movie adds to the texture of the Q&A, plus makes it the logical analog of the book tour.  Why would you tour your movie and not show it?  The show is to get into the material with an audience and go with the flow they create.  In this case, the fifth showing of the work, the audience found Fuller endearing but also easy to mock in a gentle way.  They were actually mocking a whole generation.  "Bucky meets the Hippies on Hippie Hill" is one of Sam's favorite tapes and it's obvious why.  An acid tripping hippie gives Bucky a "high David" (star sign) amidst a veritable talk balloon.  Bucky takes it all in, amused, and the TV anchor assures the audience we all had a good time (the 1960s was quite tense remember, with a break-down in town-gown relations).

This is a definite contribution to the literature.  People have been wondering about that archives.  That the Rodney King episode and near burning of Fuller's chronofile was a triggering event was news to me.  What I remember is more mundane and soap operatic, but with the same outcome:  the chronofile went to Stanford, which has this Matrix-like way of storing things.  Good outcome.  The audience is somewhat mesmerized by that image, right from the beginning, right after the helicopter does its thing.  But then all those copters were soon needed in Viet Nam and did "that thing" (lifting a geodesic dome from point A to point B) hardly at all, after that.  Domes have faded into the industrial background, the spheres back into nature, as carbon molecules and viruses, topics in STEM.

Allusions to Thinking Out Loud, another major filmic contribution, were cut through it.  We end in pretty much the same place, with memories of this quirky man in a Hawaiian shirt trying to get us to feel the world spinning round, a fool on the hill.

The Q&A was interesting, as was the venue, Washington High School, our ghostly Ministry of Education but a headquarters for PICA all along (an art colony of sorts) and producer of this TBA event, 10th year running.  A major event.  I stood in the wrong line and despaired of getting in, then found Trevor with his friend.  I felt lucky to get in, lets put it that way.  Plus I'd gotten special dispensation from the clerk of Oversight to leave our monthly committee meeting early (enough time to go over guidelines on the membership process, a process subject to attender review).

One guy in the audience told the story of how Bucky stopped by his VW bus to explain how he could enlarge its footprint, when stationary, with slanted awnings of various kinds, a well known design by this time.  We have a tea van with "wings" here in Portland.  Another announced that "tensegrity" was still important and could change the world.  Trevor and I exchanged glances, mutually amused to be immersed in such a theater.

Trevor had some souvenirs for the performers, was actually a guest of the director's.  His Synchronofile is well respected among Buckynauts.  I'd learned of this event through Tim DuRoche whom I met through Portland Center Stage during the last major Bucky-related event in Portland.  Speaking of which, one could see relationships between this performance and the D.W. Jacobs play.  The synchronization of pre-recorded media and live performance is essential to them both.  Psychedelica haunt the background.

The arc of Sam's story is the Seattle World's Fair as we know it today (Seattle Center), where there's still a "laser dome" showing synchronized sound and light.  He'd gone to "laser Gaga" and gone gaga, in part owing to the mystery of the venue.  Who had planned a "laser dome" for Seattle's youth, anyway?  Where does this story start?  That's what takes him to Stanford, and the archives.

The music was quite engaging and reminiscent of the Burning Man focused Factory Of One.  The "music video" genre has come full circle, as there's no reason a live performance can't have pre-recorded elements as well.  The extended shots of the Dymaxion Car, the dome in Montreal, and the compositions that go with, are nicely meshed.  You could hear the horn in traffic.  Bucky having his own house built, in Carbondale, is indeed endearing.  Anne's presence is muted.

The audience thought "dymaxion" sounded funny (which it does).

T.C. Howard gets credit for the laser dome, which was originally part of a Boeing exhibit.

Speaking of psychedelica, the sidebar on Stewart Brand is quite good.  "Why Haven't We Seen Any Pictures of the Whole Earth Yet?" he's asking, after yakking with Bucky (and dropping acid).  Pretty soon, we're seeing them, including on the cover of the Whole Earth Catalog.  Good to fit that in.  One could sense a torch being passed, in a way, as the old hippies communicated their lore to a 21st century audience, mostly born after Nixon, dim memories of Reagan.

Having an atmosphere of general levity, with Fuller's upbeat message still resonating, is conducive to seriousness also.  This was a Powerpoint on steroids, with lots of resources devoted thereto, and one would want it to make waves.  Even if the content becomes more cartoon-like, as we turn to Synergetics with live sound, we'll not want to let go of the serious notes.  Your quality of life somewhat hinges on what you do with those artifacts, those toys, now that you have them.  You've been well provided for, but are your reflexes too dated to make good use of the opportunity?  Are you humans too slow?  That's a perennial question, isn't it.