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World of Buckminster Fuller, The

Microcinema // Unrated // May 25, 2010
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Nick Hartel | posted May 4, 2010 | E-mail the Author

To say "The World of Buckminster Fuller" was a crushing disappointment is a vast understatement. I first heard of the man, during my undergraduate studies in chemistry. In the field, a C60 molecule is called a Buckminsterfullerene (or informally, Buckyballs), due to it's striking appearance to the geodesic domes created by Fuller. His name stuck in the back of my mind for years, and one a handful of occasions, I looked up information about him online, never fully learning much about the man. What I did find, was Fuller was an absolute genius, decades ahead of his time (and still ahead of our own) in the field of design. He sought not only to revolutionize how we live, but also how we view our own existence. The one constant that did pop up, whenever I decided to read up on Fuller, was the existence of a 1971 documentary, "The World of Buckminster Fuller." Clips online showed Fuller, in the flesh relaying his thoughts on life, science, and design. When the chance to review the documentary on DVD, there was no hesitation.

Robert Snyder must be commended for taking a huge risk in their approach to creating a documentary on this remarkable man. For the documentary's 80-minute length, with the notable exception of footage featuring Indira Gandhi introducing Fuller to a crowd, Fuller is controlling where the documentary goes. There's no visible or invisible narrator providing segues, nor is there anyone to ask questions of Fuller. He's left to his own devices to discuss what are obviously, topics that greatly interest him. He's enthusiastic, but ultimately very rambling. When he's discussing his radical designs, including a car that got 22mpg and could, almost literally, turn on a dime, all decades before such automobiles existed, he's captivating. It's a rare glimpse into the mind and thought process of a genius.

Fuller discuses his approach to design, which he calls dymaxion, a portmanteau of dynamic and maximum, which he applies this theory to automobiles, housing, maps, and ultimately life. Fuller is quite convinced he has elegant solutions to the problems of humanity, and there are times when he convinces me of some of his solutions. Other times, his ideas are still brilliant, but ultimately flawed in common sense. He mentions that scientists spend their times and efforts making weapons better, but leave common necessities such as plumbing untouched. Fuller then shows his design for a revamp of the household bathroom; like I said, it's a noble theory, but plumbing strikes me as something that has worked for years, and such a radical change in design completely ignores the time and effort of retraining all plumbers to work with these new innovations.

Ultimately, I am not a genius, and to criticize Fuller's ideas is arguably misguided, but I highly doubt "The World of Buckminster Fuller" was made solely for those on the same intellectual level of Fuller; that group would be a very tiny party. What viewers are left with, when Fuller delves into his more abstract thought, discussing life and human nature, is an itchy head. Snyder's approach to filmmaking just doesn't work for Fuller; he cries out for wrangling and re-direction that the noble job of editing performed here just can't provide. While some of these moments are still insightful, most memorably Fuller, providing a rare moment of reflection of a deceased child and how he feels all children are born with genius potential, many jump all over the pace in terms of focus. Fuller's mind is obviously working faster than his mouth can translate and the longer Snyder leaves the camera on Fuller to deliver a stream of consciousness (15-minutes by my watch at one point), the more it does to undermine Fuller's genius and portray him as a scatterbrained madman.

Ultimately what I was looking for and likely many others, was a more standard documentary on the life of Fuller. What of his early years? What of his experiments with "dymaxion sleep" which Fuller claimed to have survived and functioned normally on two hours of sleep a night for two years? These questions will only be further raised when we see footage of a dome in Montreal similar to his most famous geodesic dome creation at Epcot Center, but learn nothing more of it. I suppose Snyder feels we've learned all we need to know about it, through Fuller's discussion of the domes earlier in the film, but this just doesn't cut it for me. I'm very mixed on my feelings for this documentary; on one hand I'm very glad to hold in my hands, the raw thoughts of a true genius, but ultimately disappointed at how unfocused the presentation was; if I had the time and energy, perhaps a re-viewing would bring new light to Fuller's words, but that's merely hopeful speculation. Too often Fuller strayed from a new thought to rehash an old tangent; to repeat myself, Snyder deserves great commendation for taking a risk, but in the end, prevent the program from being viewed as merely average overall.


The Video

The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer was quite strong for a nearly 40-year-old documentary shot on 8mm film. Snyder don't appear to have used any external lighting, so color and contrast vary from shot to shot. It's never a highly aesthetically pleasing presentation, despite how well filmed the entire project is. Grain levels appear natural and fortunately the transfer to DVD is free of compression artifacts.

The Audio

The 2.0 English audio track is perfectly serviceable; Fuller's voice has a bit of distortion to it and the overall quality largely depends on where the filming took place, at times, it's takes a bit more focus to follow what he's saying. Subtitles would have been greatly appreciated but are nowhere to be found.

The Extras

The lone extra is 15-minute short film titled "Modeling the Universe" by Jaime Snyder. It's similar to the feature presentation and utilizes some of the same footage and narration. The most fascinating aspect of it, isn't Fuller, specifically but the footage of various object found on Earth, that exhibit the patterns of design discussed by Fuller.

Final Thoughts

For those wanting a deeper look at Buckminster Fuller, this program will not answer your questions. You'll get the man, largely unfiltered, with all his strengths and weaknesses on display. His ideas are likely to be polarizing at times, but as a man still ahead of his time, they should be appreciated for their daring and innovate nature. The ultimate sin of the filmmakers is not following the dymaxion ideal of Fuller himself. Rent It.

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