Review: Sam Green and Yo La Tengo wow the Wex
As previewed in this week's Alive, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sam Green and legendary indie rock band Yo La Tengo brought their collaborative film presentation "The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller" to the Wexner Center for a pair of performances Thursday. I attended the first show at 7 p.m. Five quick thoughts on it:
(1) The concept of a live-narrated film isn't that radical - consider it the long-form version of Pecha Kucha - but adding live music to the mix elevated Thursday's performance to something special, something new and untapped and brimming with possibilities. I was as enamored with the format as I was with the content. More people should try this.
(2) One reason everything clicked so well is that Green is a soothing and inviting storyteller. He mentioned that he's not used to public speaking, which seems sketchy considering how long he toured with his previous live-narrated film, "Utopia In Four Movements," and even sketchier considering how well he handled himself Thursday. His homeyness was a little hokey, maybe, and there were a few verbal flubs on the mic. But all in all his presence made a whimsical project approachable and grounded in reality.
(3)In one of the quotes I couldn't fit in my story, Green talked about a good soundtrack affects you even as you don't notice it's there. Most of the time that held true Thursday, with Yo La Tengo's sounds drifting through the room so subtly that I forgot they were actually in the room with us. But a few times, particularly when they shifted away from the mostly subdued palette and really rocked out, I definitely noticed them. Honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Part of the thrill of a medium like this is comprehending in the moment that the art is playing out in front of you, so I would have hated if they completely bled into the background.
(4) Everyone involved with this project emphasized that there is no way to properly record a show like this, and that we ought to just put away our phones, sit back and let it wash over us. I definitely felt the Pavlovian impulse to pull out my phone and snap some photos, but I'm glad I left it in my pocket. And yeah, there's no way this would translate to DVD, so I feel lucky to have seen in it person.
(5) Green is infatuated with the concept of utopia. His last narrative film was called "Utopia In Four Movements," and this one revealed his sympathies for Fuller's vision of a society where war is eradicated through smart distribution of resources. It's clear that when Green began exploring Fuller's ridiculously detailed personal archive, which Fuller dubbed the "Dymaxion Chronofile," the filmmaker discovered a kindred spirit. Green sang Fuller's praises repeatedly and openly lamented that nobody looks forward to the future with excitement anymore like they used to in the early 20th century; nowadays we just dread it. I agree with Green that we should work together for a better future, but I don't have enough faith in people to believe that something like that will ever be sustained. Human history shows that we are a selfish bunch, never satisfied no matter how much we accumulate.