The Spectrum has been on fire lately. Sure, you expect a selection of independent projects, timely documentaries, and if we’re lucky, some notable foreign films too. But something has happened in the past year, and so it seems, there’s been an endless stream of exceptional content lately, up past the far end of Lark St. In fact, there have been so many good films, some are screening for as little as two weeks before they’re forced to make way for the next crop. Gone are the days of underappreciated passion projects languishing on the smallest screen for months on end, hoping a curious person or two might wander in on a Saturday night. Today, either get your butt in that seat fast, or forget it.
Here’s two must-see documentaries, one on science and one science-fiction, both only showing until Thursday night:
Jodorowsky’s Dune is an exceptionally creative assembly of interviews with the principals behind “the greatest movie never made.”
Synopsis: In 1975, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose films EL TOPO and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN launched and ultimately defined the midnight movie phenomenon, began work on his most ambitious project yet. Starring his own 12 year old son Brontis alongside Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali, featuring music by Pink Floyd and art by some of the most provocative talents of the era, including HR Giger and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel DUNE was poised to change cinema forever. (c) Sony Classics
Told primarily by 70’s cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky himself, we’re introduced first to his body of work preceding Dune, and then how the opportunity to make Dune came along. Jodorowsky recounts how he found each member of his team, and then those artists, writers, musicians, and financiers, as they’re named, each contributes their own commentary. In the cases were the person has died, a friend or relative relates the experience from their point of view. The camera continuously returns to Jodorowsky to move the story forward, ultimately, to explain why the project failed.
Alejandro Jodorowsky is the living definition of a master raconteur. With ebullient charm, infectious enthusiasm, and a ceaseless smile, he recounts the inspiration for the film, the impact he hoped it would have, and a series of happenstances that helped to bring each member of his team on board. At times, it strains credulity to imagine the situations that eventually brought everyone together, but it’s great fun to listen in, anyway. You’d almost dismiss the whole thing if Salvador Dali’s muse, Jodorowsky’s financial backer, Michel Seydoux, and H.R. Giger didn’t all appear on screen themselves and affirm it.
As mentioned, the documentary itself is very creative. It’s almost an expectation that a documentary about a science-fiction film should incorporate striking visuals, special effects, and CGI. Even though the film was never made, the storyboards, concept art and sketches from preproduction exist, and are featured heavily throughout. But even better, that artwork has been transformed. Simple rotoscoping of pencil drawings, full animations of concept art, and even 3D modeling bring the characters, cities, ships, and worlds from Jodorowsky’s vision to life. This artwork, transformed, enhances tremendously what’s already a captivating experience.
We haven’t even gotten to the stories on Mick Jagger and Pink Floyd, or Orson Wells, but that’s ok. You can see it for yourself. And thanks to Jodorowsky’s untamable spirit, you’ll learn why the project ultimately failed, and still leave the theater smiling.
The retelling of the making and failure of Jodorowsky’s Dune is so expertly delivered you might walk away feeling as if you’ve seen the film, and if not, you’ll wish they’d make it now so you could.
Particle Fever introduces us to the people and projects that comprise the raison d’Ãªtre for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland. CERN is a European collaboration, a large scientific site where subatomic particles are studied. It’s so large, CERN consumes the same amount of electricity as all the homes in the Capital Region.
Built over a 10 year period, from 1998 to 2008, the LHC is a 27 kilometer long ring used to accelerate subatomic particles and smash them into each other, so scientists can observe the result. The LHC was built specifically to find the Higgs Boson particle – aka ‘the God particle.’ The Higgs Boson is so nicknamed because it’s thought to be the fundamental particle, the linchpin, upon which all other subatomic particles are built. The Higgs Boson must exist in order for the various theories explaining the nature of the universe to be possible. In Quantum Mechanics, the field of scientific study which explores these ideas, there are multiple theories. If the Higgs Boson is found, and it’s properties measured, those properties can prove which theory is right.
So, how big a camera do you need to look at the universe’s smallest particle? About seven stories high. And what do you see? It looks like this: .
Did you see it? Yes, it’s a blip on a screen, denoting the test equipment measured the particle. It’s amazing something so insignificant could portend such a monumental advance is scientific understanding.
Particle Fever was released just following the announcement of the results of the search for the Higgs Boson, and incorporates footage of the announcement and an explanation of what this implies in terms of the competing theories to explain the nature of the universe. Before we get there, several of the scientists from the four teams working on various projects at the LHC are introduced and interviewed. Each scientist is used as a vehicle to help explain some small aspect of the work they are doing. Don’t worry if you feel a bit lost at the beginning – they don’t want you to understand. They also deliberately immerse us into the lives and routines of these people, not just to humanize the amazing work their doing, but also to break up the science stuff into small, digestible morsels. Then, like a mind-bending optical illusion, the various bits of information that don’t seem to make sense, in the last moments, come together, helping the viewer feel an “a-ha” moment along with the scientists on screen. It’s a profoundly moving experience, and no previous Quantum Mechanics expertise is necessary to enjoy it.
I wish I could write more about both of these films. At a time when Hollywood blockbusters can seem in overabundant supply, sometimes we need a break. Particle Fever and Jodorowsy’s Dune are two thoughtful, thought provoking, and immensely entertaining films.