I was first introduced to Buckminster Fuller by a college professor in a history of architecture course. This professor, an endearing and excitable German we all revered, bounced about the lecture hall as he spoke, oh-so-sonorously, about Fuller’s geodesic dome, his avant-garde designs and his utopian principles.
No matter how much enthusiasm that professor had for Fuller, experimental filmmaker Sam Green has more. Green has produced The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, a so-called “live documentary” about the jack-of-all-trades designer and theorist: As images and clips play on the screen, Green provides commentary and anecdotes. Yes, it’s something of a PowerPoint presentation, but as aptly noted, “a kick-ass PowerPoint presentation.” To sweeten the deal, venerated indie rock band Yo La Tengo plays a live, original score.
Let me cut to the chase: The experience is an audiovisual marvel. Green’s portrait of Fuller is an unabashedly adoring one, which might find the project some detractors. But I found myself caught up in the remarkable footage (largely culled from the Dymaxion Chronofile, Fuller’s exhaustive account of his own life) and Green’s self-effacing, often deadpan style of narration. As Green clicks through images of geodesic domes all over the world, he acknowledges that all these photos came from a Google search. And then, in a droll and delightful moment, Green reveals his favorite dome of all time: the chicken coop dome.
Yo La Tengo’s live soundtrack meshes well with the onscreen footage. At times soaring and surreal and later metallic and ominous, the band creates a rich and full atmosphere. This is especially true during the video footage of the dome Fuller built for the 1967 World’s Fair. The music grows from anticipatory to celebratory, complete with booming cymbals, as the video camera rides the dome’s monorail and grants us a suspended view of the interior elevators, trolleys and plentiful pop art. It’s entrancing.
Partway through, Green addresses why he doesn’t show more clips of Fuller’s speeches. Fuller was known, Green explains, more for a deluge of words than for pithy soundbites. He was a man who regularly delivered eight-hour long speeches and in 1975 developed a 42-hour long lecture series titled “Everything I Know.” Simply put, he’s not easy to edit: “You’re on your own in getting a sense of him,” Green says.
So rather than psychoanalyzing Fuller’s character, much of Green’s documentary concerns itself with Fuller’s utopian theories about a design revolution. Fuller believed that through better design, humanity could better distribute resources, reduce conflict and bring greater enjoyment and peace to the world. Lofty? Sure. But it’s a radical hope—an uncompromising confidence, an exquisite conviction—and I found it deeply appealing.