MicroCinema // 1974 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // May 20th, 2010
"I am not trying to imitate nature, I am trying to discover the principles she is using." -- Buckminster Fuller
The world of Buckminster Fuller involves lots of triangles. Triangles that combine to form tetrahedrons, which in turn create our universe. That's what The World of Buckminster Fuller is all about. It's more of a lecture than a documentary, one so heady and rambling that if you were actually attending this lecture in school, you'd be asleep by the five minute mark.
Fuller, himself, is an intriguing individual. He's an architect, first and foremost, but his designs and ideas go beyond simple brick and mortar. He's a futurist, a visionary. He's a designer concerned with the foundations of the universe, hoping to harness the patterns and structures found in nature so that he can make life better for Man. Fuller believes that if day-to-day living is easier, then people can focus on greater tasks. This involves creating things like the geodesic dome, a structure based on the strength of triangular patterns. The best example of his dome is Disney's Spaceship Earth at Epcot -- you know, the giant golf ball you took a picture with on your family vacation. He also talks about translating this whole dome idea into a suitcase/cardboard version as a means for Third World and low-income housing. It's all fairly intriguing, except for the manner in which it, and many other ideas, is presented.
The World of Buckminster Fuller sticks to its title quite literally. This isn't a traditional documentary with a narrative structure and a chronological timeline. You're not going to learn about this man's childhood, his education, or his various accomplishments. You won't get interviews with historians or experts. Instead, you get a look into Buckminster's view of the world. It's a tour through Fuller's complex mind and he's driving the bus.
The problem with the film is that Fuller isn't really able to speak down to the average viewer. Or if he is, the film's technical shortcomings make it hard to tell. Often Fuller is sitting outside, in a field of grass or on a beach somewhere, talking about the make-up of our world or whether or not nature utilizes pi to make bubbles. The audio is so muffled and unrefined that it can become another hurdle for the viewer to overcome. Occasionally he does demonstrate the complex ideas behind geodesic domes, and his three-to-four layer deep metaphors, but even those are poorly presented. Supplementing all this talk is director Robert Snyder's stylish editing. His film techniques have some artistic merit, but the doc's structure is about as unfocused as the B-roll footage of dandelions and waves.
I'm writing from an outsider's perspective, of course -- I make no claims of having a background in physics or math or architecture. As a documentary, The World of Buckminster Fuller can be rather difficult to grasp. I wanted to learn more about Fuller and his inventions. His geodesic dome. His modern designs for bathroom plumbing. His incredible Dymaxion future-car that got 22 MPG, held 11 people, and parallel parked like a champ. Instead, my eyes glazed over as he spent ten minutes talking about rope tension. I imagine the film would have great educational value to anyone studying this important figure or physics in general, but for the average viewer this is some dense stuff.
Sadly, this relic of the '70s has been released without any new material. The only special feature on the disc is Modeling Universe, a 13-minute short film of clips re-edited from the documentary. It's just as dense as the feature, but offers slightly better examples of Fuller's ideas found in nature. Since his geodesic dome has had such an impact around the world (or at least in Disney World), an updated, modern take on Fuller's influence may be in order. The disc, instead, is a simple, educational DVD you're likely to find at a college library. On a technical level, the release is just adequate. I've already mentioned the garbled audio of the source material, but the video is equally old school. The grainy, high-contrast color film isn't as bothersome, however. Snyder's delicate B-roll imagery and editing style suit the inherent lo-fi picture, and do a decent job of breaking up the footage of Fuller talking into the camera.
The World of Buckminster Fuller is a niche lecture/documentary that's certainly going to be of interest to physics majors and architects. General audiences looking for some insight into this cool inventor/architect will likely be disappointed.
Guilty, unless you're a student who's really into triangles.
Review content copyright © 2010 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film
* Buckminster Fuller Institute