Baraka (1992)

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I can’t see how someone couldn’t like this film.

A bold statement certainly, however Baraka has an immense beauty that is surely universal in appeal. It is a documentary that’s without  narrative or narration, it captures a veritable plethora of imagery that reminds us that Earth is indeed a baraka, which is Arabic and Hebrew for ‘blessing’.

Any attempt to derive meaning or identify connection becomes merely incidental as you’re presented with the hypnotic scenery that Ron Fricke and his team have captured; it must have been difficult for them to cut their glorious footage down to 97 minutes. The film traverses verdant jungles, epic mountain ranges, sweeping temple complexes, arid deserts,  imposing cityscapes and haunting landmarks of evil such as Auschwitz and the Cambodian S-21 prison. Its human subjects are of all colours and creeds, with much of the film focusing on those who are less fortunate and sometimes utterly destitute. It is a sensational and occasionally disturbing cross-section of the planet’s landscapes, cultures and history.

The stunning wide shots and time lapses are scored with heady ambient music by Michael Stearns. His music is a cacophony of tribal chants, chimes and drums that’s vital in creating Baraka’s truly sensory immersion. My favourite piece is Baraka Theme, its broad, sonorous notes create a vast scope that perfectly accompanies the boundless panoramas.

There are so many moments I could talk about, I could throw effusive adjectives at almost every frame, however I feel mere words can’t do it justice. Baraka is a purely cinematic experience that’s somewhat futile to describe.

However, one memorable sequence I will mention is the factory processing of chicks that’s interspersed with the frenetic pace of Tokyo railway commuters; it is fascinating and ultimately quite unpleasant as the birds’ destiny in battery cages is revealed after having their beaks burnt. The camera offers insights into an array of factories, showcasing their subjects’ perfectly rehearsed skills in computer hardware assembly, textiles and poultry.

It is a film that demands to be shown on good equipment, a film that serves as a benchmark for one’s TV or projector. Apparently, it was the first film to receive an 8K transfer, what an awesome experience that must be, most likely better than real life!

When Baraka sadly finishes, you eventually move your eyes away from the screen for the first time in 97 minutes and realise that you’ve been dead still the whole time as you check your watch, surprised to see that many hours haven’t passed. It is a triumph that the moving image alone can achieve such engrossment.

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Benny’s Video (1992)

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A fundamentally flawed, disturbing film.

‘Benny’s Video’ is a genuinely unsettling film whose premise concerns a scene that is particularly disturbing and visceral. The film concentrates on Benny, a seemingly sociopathic teenager, and his regimented, staid parents known simply as ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’. Benny lives a materially charmed life, having an array of electronics bought for him by his affluent middle class parents. This technology allows him to indulge in his interest, or rather obsession, with videos, both watching and recording them.

The film’s message is a relevant one, it suggests that the media has a detrimental, and in this case fatal, desensitising effect. However, it suggests this in a rather hyperbolic fashion. The film loses its credibility through how explicitly and rather insularly it conveys its message. In my opinion, it’s clear that Benny is a warped individual with an innate lack of remorse, no film or news report can rid someone of their senses to the point of sociopathy. Benny is a contemptible person, and he’s purposely constructed that way, but he isn’t someone who’s the product of desensitisation; his cold, empathy devoid persona is that of genealogically tarnished mind.

Narratively speaking, the film’s first hour or so engrosses you with its unpleasantness and realism. The film places the viewer in a ‘What If?’ situation that’s somewhat reminiscent of films such as ‘Deliverance’, however it isn’t even half as resonant owing to the abhorrence of the film’s events, the callousness of Benny and the steely reserve of his parents. During the last 40 minutes of the film, there is something of a pacing problem, I felt the film lost the edge and tension it had created; this isn’t a particularly pressing issue, but the film certainly felt longer than 105 minutes.

I found ‘Benny’s Video’ to be a fundamentally flawed film; it would’ve worked if it had a more balanced, rational message at its core. Many lobbyists, in the haze of their ignorance and typically political agendas, would vehemently agree with this film. I am of the opinion that there is a substantial difference between watching something and doing something. Violent media can, at the very, very most, be a mere substitutional factor amongst many factors that could somewhat exacerbate the pace of an unhinged, unwell mind.

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