"There is nothing I can say about myself as a whole simply and completely, without intermingling and admixture. The most universal article of my own Logic is Distinguo. I always mean to speak well of what is good..."
-Michel de Montaigne, "Of the inconstancy of our actions", tr. M.A. Screech
Today is Darwin Day. Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman, and others signed this letter to the Times proposing it as a public holiday in Britain.
I wish I had something deep/thought-provoking/witty/erudite to say, but mostly I'm planning to spend the day working on my research, and hoisting a glass in Darwin's honour in the evening. So, with that in mind, in the name of harmony between religion and science I'll quote G.K. Chesterton, well-known Catholic apologist:
One reviewer dubbed Peter Mettler's film Gambling, Gods, and LSD "like Koyaanisqatsi with content". I can't pronounce on that: I did watch Koyannisqatsi about 15 years ago, in somebody's rec room, and all I remember is lots of slow-moving shots of rock and this very guttural voice chanting the title over and over and over again, in the Philip Glass soundtrack. To my undying shame, I haven't even seen Baraka, the other point of reference that keeps coming up.
That said, I'm not sure that Gambling, Gods, and LSD belongs in that ambient-film genre at all. For one thing, there's a lot of talking. Mettler chats with a lot of people who are definitely out on the edge, but he's not going for a cheap freakout; the interviewees are a constant surprise and delight. The enthusiasts at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship provoke laughter, with their eye-hurting clothes and their twitchy collapse into trance states to truly dreadful Christian rock, but immediately after seeing them en masse we are treated to a couple trying honestly to articulate a real vision of the numinous. In Las Vegas, we meet the inventor of a chair for electric autoerotic stimulation, demonstrated by a vixen in red PVC and fishnets whose succinct answer to Mettler's query "What gives you the most pleasure?" is "Cooking. And talking to my parents." The Monument Valley/Las Vegas sequence kicks off with an exhilarating accelerated drive through the desert and moody, gnomic images of a manhunt and rain; later, the demolition of an old Vegas hotel provides the anchor for several related stories touching on death.
In Switzerland, we meet recovering drug addicts at a poodle race, a research scientist who muses about mitochondria and immortality while gazing out over a mountain lake from his office window, and a customs agent; there's one beautiful sequence where meditative footage of cascading water in the Alps gives way to the flashing lights, shimmering beats, and gyrating bodies of a rave.
The last segment, in the old territory of the Vijayanagar Empire in India (reminding me of V.S. Naipaul's India: A Wounded Civilization) had less talk and more visuals, and is probably what justifies the Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka comparisons; still, Mettler's curiosity is still alive and there's talk and information. He describes gleefully how the south Indian language Malayalam uses "Where are you going?" as a stock greeting; to which the stock answer is "Over there." As well as rivers and temples, we see the inside of a high-tech office; a computer in a cubicle displays an animation of snow falling on a house decorated with Christmas lights. This I found very moving, strangely, after immersion in the sweltering green outside the office; I would miss winter terribly in such a setting. The final moments see a drift down a river, and we hear Mettler talk with a fisherman; for a change, he's the subject, being plied with questions about his home and his quixotic project.
Afterwards Mettler got up to the front for a Q&A. He came across as scruffy and relaxed, with not much ego but lots of drive, and impulsive: for instance, when asked how he decided the process of editing from over 100 hours of film down to 3 was done, he recounted stopping when he heard about September 11th, immediately after editing a sequence with an airplane in flight. It seemed to me that probably some more editing was called for; there was slack in the film. But I hate to carp too much, since it was a fascinating experience as it was, and given that it's been 11 years from conception to first public showing, he is doubtless at work on something new by now.
In brief, as my friend Gemma likes to say: it's worth.