Eye of Rudra
as befits a happening of the Information Age, Burning Man's yearly excesses
have been trumpeted by media from Wired News to C-SPAN, as well as by
a growing number of documentaries. Coverage tends to focus on the gee-whiz
aspects of Burning Man, dwelling more upon bared bosoms and fire than
deeper aspects of the desert festival that every year draws thousands
of artists, musicians and modern-day hippies. But one digital documentarian
has tried to tell a bigger story in The Eye of Rudra, a feature-length
documentary about the Burning Man opera staged at the event each year.
Filmmaker Dean Mermell shows viewers what went into creating The Eye of
Rudra's giant operatic spectacle in order to take a closer look at what
he calls "chaos culture" -- the ways of a loose-knit cadre of participants.
"The opera is a window into the chaos culture," Mermell said. "Burning
Man is so filled with radical random imagery that those who try to document
it never get to the human side." Instead of focusing on the eye-catching
visuals that other documentaries record, Mermell wondered why performers,
set builders, choreographers, and costume-makers spent the better part
of a year creating and rehearsing a massive event for a single performance
in which the sets are lit on fire and destroyed. Mermell shot 50 hours
of digital footage that emerges in the final film as a coherent picture
of what went into staging the performance -- a lot more coherent, in fact,
than the made-up mythology that formed the opera's theme for the 1999
performance. Opera creator Pepe Ozan envisions a future human race that's
cross-bred with insects to survive environmental disaster. In a tribal
ritual, hundreds of costumed performers, giant pyres, and stage sets formed
of steel mesh and desert mud create 30-foot towers and human-insect figures.
We get a glimpse of the people who made it happen as they discuss their
roles, create their costumes, and prepare for what seems more like a religious
ritual than a theatrical performance. Mermell believes participants in
this chaos culture are looking for ritual and meaning in modern life and
that both Burning Man and the opera are merely vehicles for these desires.
Media capture the costumes, the infernos, and the oddities of Burning
Man but don't understand the real purpose of the event, he says. "People
need a connection with something deeper than day-to-day life," Mermell
said. "We've lost touch with that need in modern time and that's the nerve
that a ritual like Burning Man and the opera has touched." On the surface,
Burning Man may look like Woodstock-gone-21st-century and the opera a
confusing melee of fire and dancers, but to participants it's almost a
sacred experience, Mermell said. That was what he hoped to showcase for
those who have made the trek to the desert and others who are just wondering
what it's all about. "What is this need for ritual?" he asks in a voice-over.
"In a society where technology has become the white man's ethnic culture
is it any wonder so many are embracing chaos and disorder as a means of
worship? Blessed are the cracked for they shall let in the light."
Yung Duk Jhun, 2000, 3 min
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