The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
To coincide with the Detroit Design Festival, which will be going on all this weekend, the Detroit Film Theater/DIA hosted an outstanding event sponsored by the Reva Stocker Taubman Lecture Fund. Filmmaker Sam Green was on hand to present his “live documentary”—a narrated slide show that featured video clips and interviews—on the life of Buckminster Fuller, one of the most notoriously eccentric and visionary thinkers of the last century.
A fitting subject for the Detroit Design Festival, Fuller is best known for his geodesic domes (or "Bucky Balls"), which revolutionized architecture in the 1950s. The sole prototype of his modular home design, pictured here, is on display at the Henry Ford Museum.
Adding wonder to this intriguing tale was the original score, composed and performed live by seminal indie rock band Yo La Tengo. There existed a harmonious interplay between Green’s insightful and funny commentary; the character of Fuller himself, chronicled intensively throughout his life (most notably in the Dymaxion Chronofile, a self-filing system by which Fuller documented his daily existence for decades—a.k.a., any documentarian’s wildest dream); and the beautiful scoring by YLT. The whole hour-long event ran much like an installment of This American Life, but with visuals, and overall was an apt tribute, considering Fuller’s passion for “synergetics” and its emphasis on total system behavior.
Yo La Tengo is a New Jersey/Brooklyn-based combo and perennial favorite, founded in 1984. Ira Kaplan (left) on guitar, Georgia Hubley (right) on drums and keyboard, and James McNew (not really pictured) on bass.
As for the crowd on hand, it was impossible to tell who was there for the film and who for the music, but by performance end, it seems unlikely that such petty distinctions would matter much, anyway. After all, Fuller’s message—ever increasingly relevant—is one of hope that humankind can learn to better distribute its resources, affording every person a higher standard of living at personal cost to no one.
Filmmaker Sam Green has an innovative presentation style all his own, which invites the audience into the work.
Whether such utopian visions can be realized remains to be seen, but they surely make for some interesting visionaries.
Don't miss out on the Detroit Design Festival, with great events and happenings taking place all weekend. More information can be found on their website.
Detroit Film Theatre: 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7887; www.dia.org/detroitfilmtheatre/14/DFT.aspx