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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Tyson (2008)

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Whatever you think of Mike Tyson, you’ll leave this film admiring his brutal honesty.

Tyson is a well-rounded insight into a very complicated man. It captures the excitement of Mike’s 20 year career, stylishly and energetically showcasing many of Tyson’s devastating fights while also sensitively exploring Mike’s life before, during and after his career. The film charts both his successes and failures, including his dominance of 1985 – 1990, his disastrous marriage to Robin Givens, his rape charge (which he vehemently denies), and his controversial losses to Evander Holyfield.

The majority of the film’s 86 minutes comprise a series of interviews with Tyson. He speaks of how his rough childhood affected him, most notably his discovery that violence was the only form of defence for a scared young boy in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Tyson elaborates on his ghetto adolescence of theft and drugs before his placement in a borstal, where he was eventually taken under the wing of legendary trainer Cus D’Amato.

Tyson had been conditioned by the poverty, drugs and general brutality of New York, this pugnacious young man wasn’t going to allow anyone to tame him. This changed when he met D’Amato, he was the first person in his life who believed in him, the first person to inspire him and invest in his future. Mike is still brought to tears when speaking of his beloved mentor.

After years of discipline and intense training, the genetically gifted Tyson had been moulded into an 218lb monster, a superb heavyweight contender at just 18 years of age. Sadly, Cus died before he won his first title in 1986.

I can imagine some will criticise the film’s depiction of its leading man. Indeed, the film portrays Mike sympathetically, his story is told from only his perspective; however this bias is balanced, or perhaps even tipped in the opposite direction, by Tyson’s remarkable honesty. Despite his past behaviour, Mike being the first to acknowledge it, there’s part of you that can’t help but pity him. He has led a life of confusion and anger, with interference from his numerous demons, one of which being Don King.

It is his honesty that makes me, like many others, doubtful of his rape conviction in 1992. Considering how Tyson talks so freely and candidly about his chequered past of hedonism and violence, I doubt that he would repeatedly lie about Washington (who had several years prior allegedly made a false accusation of rape against fellow student Wayne Walker.) He has no interest in concealing his past or improving his reputation, he seems to only want to tell the truth, which I suppose could be a method of reputation management. In reference to the Washington case, the wise Frank Bruno once said: ‘You don’t go to someone’s hotel room at 1am to play chess.’   

Tyson’s narration is at times embarrassing, particularly when he talks about sex, detailing how he likes to ‘dominate’ his women as if they’re prey (corroboration for Washington’s defence, perhaps.) He also tells an anecdote of how he ‘performed fellatio’ on a woman, I’m sure he has since realised he meant ‘cunnilingus’. This malapropism is largely an isolated incident however, as Mike is a great lover of words, he’s far more articulate than many would think. Tyson brilliantly combines high-register English with African-American vernacular, on multiple occasions he describes things in the most emphatic of ways, such as his verdict on the infamous boxing promoter Don King – ‘He’s just a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker… he’s ruthless, he’s deplorable… he doesn’t know how to love anybody.’ 

No matter what one thinks of him, there is no denying that Mike Tyson is truly unique and not what one expects; he’s much more insightful than people give him credit for. This is why I advise anyone, particularly those who disregard Tyson, to watch this eye-opener, it won’t necessarily change your opinion of the man, but I think you will appreciate his origins and admire his honesty.

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