Transcendent “Baraka” on the Big Screen

The gorgeous visual doc screens this weekend, along with "Lifeforce," on 70mm at The Hollywood Theatre

After a lengthy and extremely successful 70mm run for Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” earlier this year (during which the director even stopped by to talk about the film before and after a screening), it’s safe to say the gorgeous analog projection system is here to stay in Portland, at least at The Hollywood Theatre. No further proof is needed than a glance at their schedule for this coming weekend, which sees two films on the grand format screening for audiences.

“Baraka,” a visual poem/doc from 1992, shows at 7:00 p.m. this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are still available for all shows, and highly recommended. 1985’s “Lifeforce,” from Cannon Films and director Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), shows once at 9:45 p.m. Saturday, but it is sold out already. (I’ve yet to actually see that film, which is why I’ve already got my ticket to see it, natch.) It’s apparently about a bunch of space vampires who attack London, so we’ll see. Should be fun.

Gary Busey stars in "Baraka." Sorry, my mistake, that's actually a Japanese snow monkey.

Gary Busey stars in “Baraka.” Sorry, my mistake, that’s actually a Japanese snow monkey.

There have, of course, been the occasional repertory screenings on the nearly extinct format at The Hollywood Theatre for more than a year now, with Sam Peckinpah’s masterful “The Wild Bunch” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” screening last year, among others. But those last two, though totally beautiful and awesome to see, were actually blown up from more traditional 35mm sources. “Baraka” was actually shot natively on 70mm (well, technically 65mm, but that’s a far nerdier, exhaustive description than you really need). Its images are even more gorgeous and high resolution. All the better to be totally immersed in the film.

And boy, let me tell you, it is an incredible cinematic experience. When I caught it on 70mm a few years ago at Seattle’s Cinerama, I was agog at what I saw and heard. This is a film I’d watched before, several times, yet it felt like I was seeing it for the first time. Regardless, whether you’ve already seen “Baraka” or never heard of it until now, and if you call yourself a cinephile or just like going to see great movies at cool theaters in town, then you owe it to yourself to see it this weekend.

So what is “Baraka” exactly? The logline calls it a collection of expertly photographed scenes of human life and religion. That does it some justice, but not enough. It’s a rare kind of film, more poetic with no real dialogue. Ron Fricke directed, edited and shot the film. He went on to make the similarly beautiful “Samsara,” from 2011. He was also the cinematographer on 1982’s “Koyaanisqatsi.”

A scene from "Lifeforce," also screening on 70mm this weekend. And, no, that's still not Gary Busey.

A scene from “Lifeforce,” also screening on 70mm this weekend. And, no, that’s still not Gary Busey.

The techniques in these works have been influential to all of cinema, more so than many people realize. It’s fair to call “Baraka” a documentary, but it has recreated scenes. It would be wrong to say it has no story; it’s more that, unlike what most audiences are used to, it tells its story traditionally, using cinema’s roots: visuals, editing and sound. It’s an awe-inspiring, completely visual documentary showing man’s relationship to technology, modernity, and nature.

If that sounds fusty, though, let me assure you that this is thrilling and immersive aural and visual entertainment. The entire film is proof of cinema’s capabilities, beyond simply passing the time.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (the film that rebooted the 70mm legacy at the Hollywood last year) has a reputation as an LSD movie, with folks dropping acid during the intermission in hopes of a helluva trip during the film’s climactic light show spectacular. “Baraka,” though, just may be the perfect weed movie. Now that our fine state has legalized the green, I can’t think of many better opportunities to get stoned and enjoy a mind-blowing film experience than this one. Whether you’re bleary-eyed or totally sober, this is an experience you should race to have this weekend.

(“Baraka” screens at 7 pm from Friday, April 22, through Sunday, April 24, at the Hollywood Theatre. “Lifeforce” screens at 9:45 pm on Saturday, April 23.)

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