The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller
A live documentary by Sam Green and Yo La Tengo
The Colony Theatre, Miami Beach
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Better Than: Any movie playing in the multiplex (except maybe The Grand Budapest Hotel).
Even in this multitasking day and age when people respond to email, talk on the phone, and watch a rerun of Seinfeld all at the same time, it was hard to know exactly where to keep your eyes on Saturday night at the Colony Theatre.
At center stage was a screen displaying the sound and images of the film documentary The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller. To stage right stood the movie's director Sam Green in a bright orange shirt, live-narrating the movie. And then, most distracting of all, to stage left, sitting amid a scattering of instruments were indie rock legends Yo La Tengo, performing the soundtrack.
This truly multimedia event, presented by MDC Live Arts, celebrated the life of Buckminster Fuller, a man who overcame early failures and the tragic loss of his infant daughter to make the world a better place through architecture.
Green's movie is filled with archival footage of Fuller on television (most amusingly with San Francisco hippies at Golden Gate Park and on a 1970s TV show aimed at senior citizens called "Over Easy") as he tries to get the message out that if we were able to distribute our resources more evenly, there would be no need for war.
Born in 1895, Fuller often spoke like a man from a different era and could be difficult to understand. Fortunately, Green was present and could humorously and eloquently guide us through the great man's life.
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He spliced in footage of Fuller's contribution to South Florida in the Golden Dome at the Miami Seaquarium as well as a computer generated hologram of Fuller created by local artist Mark Diamond.
Speaking without notes, Green engaged the audience with stories such as Fuller once giving a lecture titled "Everything I Know" that went on for 42 hours straight (now posted to YouTube, broken into 7,000 segments) and how Stanford University houses a massive archive dedicated to Fuller's attempt to create a complete record of the last 63 years of his life.
But beyond the history lesson, what made this an extraordinary event was the live music by Yo La Tengo. They did not sing a single word, nor did they perform your favorite songs. (So those attending in the hopes of hearing "Autumn Sweater" were to be sorely disappointed.) Instead, the trio sat on the stage playing their fuzzed down brand of atmospherics.
Directed by the sheet music in front of them, Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew never missed a cue, always providing the right sounds.
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When showing Fuller's automobile of the future known as the Dymaxion Car, Kaplan and Hubley's keyboards conjured music filled with the sorrowfully childlike goofiness that every failed invention deserves. During a montage of Fuller's geodesic domes from around the world, Kaplan reverted to his guitar, Hubley to her drums, and James McNew to the bass, tossing off a jazzy rock instrumental that wouldn't seem out of place on one of Yo La Tengo's albums.
When the movie came to an end, the lights were turned on and Green thanked Yo La Tengo by name. There were shouts for an encore, but the band reminded the audience at the 6:30 p.m. screening that they would be doing it all again at 9:30.
Green and Yo La Tengo then took questions from the audience. The Q&A accentuated a division in the crowd. There was an older contingent familiar with Fuller who either attempted to correct Green on mistakes in his narration or recount their own personal experiences with Buckminster Fuller to the point where Green begged for a question from someone who was under 40. But that subset only wanted to know when Yo La Tengo would be playing South Florida again.