Directed by Ron Fricke.
A montage of photographed images telling, “The story of our planet, and human interaction within it.”
Cinema is by definition a visual medium, and if this is the beating heart of cinema, then director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson’s Baraka adopts this identity with power. The opening narration of the Baraka trailer introduces it as, “A challenge, a warning, a gift, a blessing… Baraka.” The closing narration describes the film as, “A cinema experience unlike any other. The power, rage and essence of life itself.” Baraka runs for approximately 96 minutes, and whilst the three minute trailer is only a limited peek of the film in its full form, from just these few minutes derives the impression that it is a piece of monumental filmmaking.
Baraka is the result of a challenge issued to storytellers by American mythologist Joseph Campbell. What I understand of this challenge is that in ‘The Power of Myth’, Campbell propositioned storytellers to tell the “Only myth worth telling.” That myth is the story close to us all, an age old story, “The story of our planet, and human interaction within it.” From Campbell’s challenge, Fricke and Magidson tell the ‘Greatest story ever told’, exploiting the universal language of the image, coupled with the original music of Michael Sterns, in a film devoid of words. Baraka tells a story “Beyond nationality, religion and linguistic separation”, told as Campbell hoped with “The eye of reason.”
Frick’s 1985 film Chronos also expelled the use of words, and seven years later Frick and Magidson’s Baraka regressed to the earliest days of cinema, to adopt the identity of a silent film in color. Baraka however tells an expansive story never before told within the silent era or within the realm of silent cinema. It is a contribution to silent film, a companion piece to Frick’s 1985 Chronos, of which Frick and Magidson’s 2011 film Samsara is now a companion piece. Whilst The Artist may have received plaudits as a tribute to silent cinema, Frick and Magidson’s work as brought silent cinema from the days of black and white film into color. Further still their works maintain that silent cinema can tell ambitious stories that transcend the language and cultural divides other cinema is forced to regularly confront.
Baraka is a film that exists to answer a challenge, and telling the story of a tumultuous relationship between the planet and its inhabitants, the violence of both man and nature, it acts as a warning. As the closing narration of the trailer states, it is “A cinema experience unlike any other. The power, rage and essence of life itself.” From an intriguing origin story, Baraka is pure cinema, a monumental achievement, and just as it tells an expansive story, it too transcends cinema, to be a film of the art forms past, its then present, and future, challenging cinema in the urgency of its need to technologically advance, merging the past and present, and asking questions of the nature of cinema as language. Image and sound speak to us as unique individuals, a catalyst for unique emotional reactions, and by the film’s conclusion perhaps this is its greatest achievement, to adopt universal languages of sound and image to communicate with us in telling the story of our ancestors and our world.
Now, twenty years after its original release, Baraka will be re-released Monday, January 14th on DVD, Blu-ray Dual Play and Blu-ray box-set alongside Samsara.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★
Paul Risker is a freelance writer and contributor to Flickering Myth, Scream The Horror Magazine and The London Film Review.