SAMSARA ( 2011 ) – The Review

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In the Golden Age of Hollywood, one of the bonuses of theatre-going was the little jewels called short subjects. Today we usually just get trailers for upcoming flicks ( my rule: at least two trailers, more than three is pushing it ) . Back then, besides the possibility of a second feature, you’d get the trailers and the shorts. A seven minute cartoon or two, a comedy short subject or mini-musical, and a newsreel focusing on headline-making stories would round out the program along with an occassional travelogue. Travelogues ( nearly always in bright, sparkly color ) whisked film fans to far-off exotic places guided by an informative narrator ( newsman Lowell Thomas did several of these ). Today the major studios have shuttered their shorts department, but TV has taken up the format ( there’s even a Travel Channel ). Still several film makers are making theatrical short subjects ( Oscar still honors them ) and many are expanding their cinema globe-trotting to feature film length. Ron Fricke has been involved in this format for the last few decades, including the seminal art house hit KOYAANISQATSI and the recent BARAKA. His latest film, SAMSARA, opens in limited release at those lucky selected theatres around the country.

For SAMSARA Frike has enlisted fellow film makers from around the world to contribute to a look at planet Earth in this new century. And it’s all shot in crystal-clear, sharp good ole’ 70 millimeter. And boy, do those gorgeous color images pop! Particularly in the opening sequences as we watch exotic Eastern dancers and some artists ( maybe monks? ) making an intricate multi-color design using tiny colored specs. Later we see African natives and their intricate body art along with factory workers toiling away on an unending assembly line ( scenes of chickens and cows squeezed by conveyor belts may have you thinking about vegetarianism ). Time-lapse scenes of towering cities with zooming cars and bustling commuters are included along with swooping shots of desolate mountains and vistas. There’s even a performance scene of an artist working with paint and clay using his own expressive face as the canvas. Unlike the classic travelogues there’s no guiding narrator, instead we get a terrific modern music score that helps set the mood for each new exploration. Some of these images will stick with you long after you’ve left the theatre. If you’ve a desire to explore the globe, but don’t have thousands of flyer miles to redeem, then SAMSARA may be just the cinema travel agent for you. It’s quite a remarkable sight and sound trip.

Overall Rating: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.


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