Thursday, September 3, 2015

Baraka and Non-narrative Film

As a fan of documentaries, I’ve become fairly well acquainted with the various styles found in the genre. One of the less-discussed styles that greatly intrigues me is non-narrative docs/nonfiction films - particularly those that lack any sort of narration whatsoever. 

The first time I saw this sort of thing was back in middle school, when our music teacher showed us some clips from Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (we watched it in music class because of its remarkable score by Philip Glass). And as a middle school kid, of course I found it to be the most boring thing I’d ever seen. After that experience I stayed away from the genre until I found Ron Fricke’s 1992 film Baraka a few years later. 

Baraka opened the door for me to the world of non-verbal film. It is a movie shot in 25 different countries on 6 different continents, and it completely avoids the use of dialogue, narration, and narrative. It is comprised of footage of people, nature, vehicles, infrastructure, etc. over a beautiful score. Regarding the film, producer Mark Magidson said “[the goal] was to reach past language, nationality, religion and politics and speak to the inner viewer.” 

Baraka is remarkably captivating, yet in a different way from most films. There is no story to become invested in, or characters you get to know. However the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, and the film keeps your interest by providing vastly different aesthetics as locations change. Here is an example, in a particularly depressing scene:

The film was shot in 70mm and later scanned at a ridiculous 8k for their 2008 blu-ray remaster. Even though I (or pretty much anyone, for that matter) am not getting anywhere near that resolution on my TV, it still looks absurdly good and it's certainly one of the best blu-ray film restorations I've seen. Take a look at the original trailer vs. a re-cut trailer with the restored footage: 

I highly suggest checking out the Baraka blu-ray, it's good stuff. A sequel to Baraka called Samsara was released a few years ago, and it is equally as stunning. 

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