R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Gregg Brown, Jason Holzman
with Gregg Brown
release US 7.Mar.04 (premiere)
04/US 1h13

It's only words: Brown recreates a Hindu god (above) and talks a guy into visiting a sweat lodge (below).


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words Billing itself as "a different kind of documentary", this offbeat film is completely engaging as it examines connections between the thoughts and ideas. Filmmakers Brown and Holzman are examining how a seemingly aimless thread of words can actually begin to define spirituality--something virtually impossible to put into words.

Brown hits the New York streets and involves some 187 people in the making of this film, approaching the general public Michael Moore-style with a charming naiveté that encourages people to talk about their experiences or engage in something sublimely silly. He begins with a simple word association game in the park, then moves through a series of random situations: a visit to a Native American sweat lodge, a bare-chested discussion about the American obsession with breasts, a series of tableaus recreating Hindu gods and goddesses, ethnic dancing in the streets, a visit to a Jewish cemetery, a provocative outpouring of grief, a never-seen-before aerial tour of Ground Zero just after September 11th (which took place during the production), and a funny visual representation of putting faith in the unknown.

There's a comical, unassuming tone to the whole film (and to Brown himself) that's very misleading. The filmmakers are dealing with serious issues in an offhanded, real-life sort of way that makes it hugely accessible. So it seems completely natural to travel through three extremely sober segments that deal with devastation on both an intimate and global levels. The footage ranges from deeply personal to inspiring, flippant, educational and chilling. And all of it is involving and surprisingly topical (they could never have predicted the ludicrous overreaction to one bare breast on live television in January, but that's exactly the obsession they're talking about).

The fact that we're all connected in a colourful web of life is hardly a new idea, but at least the filmmakers have fun getting as many disparate people on screen as they can. Perhaps a bit more interaction between them would have made it more meaningful. For example, a varied group visits the sweat lodge, but we only get individual reactions, not corporate ones. Also, even at a brisk 73 minutes, it feels somewhat repetitive; it could be edited further into an even sharper 45-minute doc. But even as is, this is unforgettable cinema--imaginatively filmed, edited and scored, and willing to jump off a cliff to follow the stream of consciousness wherever it might take them.

no rating themes, language, nudity 3.Mar.04

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© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall