Baraka (1992) dir. Ron Fricke
Ron Fricke is known as the cinematographer and key collaborator of Godfrey Reggio on his seminal 1983 film "Koyaanisqatsi". His timelapse imagery were an innovative milestone in cinematography. Almost ten years later Fricke went out on his own and pushed the technology of timelapse cinematography even farther by shooting his own version of "Koyaanisqatsi".
"Baraka" was shot entirely on 70mm film, the experience of which on the big screen becomes an all enveloping immession into Fricke's earthly spiritual journey. On the small screen, the filmmakers have attempted make the Blu-Ray edition of the film a comparitively grand experience. Never-before used 8k resolution scanning and complete digital restoration "Baraka" is billed as the best High Definition transfer of any film on Blu-Ray.
"Koyaanisqatsi" continually casts a shadow on "Baraka". It's difficult not to compare the two. Similar themes of environmental irresponsibility, urban decay, mass consumption are conveyed using many of the same imagery and juxtaposition we saw in the earlier film. But based on Fricke's evolution of his own techniques and the stunningly crisp and detailed 70mm images "Baraka" has every right to stand on its own.
With the environment currently in vogue, "Baraka" seems even more relevant and contemporary today. Unlike the BBC's "Planet Earth", "Baraka" is not only about landscape, nature, environment but the people who inhabit the earth. It's told without narration or subtitles indicating the location or area of the world we're in, the imagery is meant to wash over one's senses like an abstract painting.
The opening intercuts a number of different cultures' specific rituals of worship. The unfying imagery are the faces of the individuals deep in spiritual thought – all have the same expression. Fricke finds the right faces to draw us in. However banal, without any movement expression or emotion an unknowingly observed face seems as fascinating as any of the complicated motion controlled timelapse shots.
The scene which jumpstarts the film into high gear is the beguiling Southeast Asian hand waving tribe. Whether it's dance or some kind of ritual or worship, we are never told which country or tribe their from, or what exactly the purpose of the ritual is. The elaborate ceremony is a beautifully choreographed movement hands and bodies, puncuated by an intense aural chanting accompanyment.
Though many of the images we had seen already in "Koyaanisqatsi" it still a wondrous way of looking at our planet. Clouds floating across mountains become an animate living beings, while the mass consumption of our lifestyle appears lifeless and sanitary.
The one missing element needed to take the film to the level of Reggio's films is a musical accompany as big as Fricke's cinematography. Michael Sterns' atmospheric moody music doesn’t come near the grandeur of Philip Glass.
For years "Baraka" was revered by pot smokers as a film to get high to and let wash over them like gentle rain. Watching the film high or not produces the same effect, a marvelous visual essay imploring its audience to get of our bubbles and reconnect with the planet like our ancient ancestors. Enjoy.