Documentary: Sam Green at the Walker


Sam Green, the director, narrates in the foreground, while Yo La Tengo accompanies with music. Photo Courtesy of Film Press Kit.

Last Friday night, I fell in love with a man. Ours had been a slow flirtation: he first caught my eye in a high school Calculus class and we’ve continued to occasionally bump into each other throughout college. Since we met, our interactions have been nervous and shy, really only spanning one of two topics, neither one of us wanting to say the wrong thing. But last weekend he opened up to me and now I can’t get him off my mind.

“The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller,” a live documentary performed by Sam Green with music by Yo La Tengo, is the song my heart has been singing since seeing it performed last Friday at the Walker Art Center. As already mentioned, my love affair with R. Buckminster Fuller began in high school when I was first introduced to the geodesic dome. And, like many, I only knew him as the “geodesic dome guy” until oh-so recently. I’ll give you all a moment to each dredge up your geodesic dome info packet, but after you glance through it quickly, put it back down—because the biggest takeaway is that while Fuller will always be the “geodesic dome guy,” he was (and still is) so much more!

Sam Green’s live documentary painted a vivid picture of a man, eccentric down to the last atom of his person. Possibly his most interesting facet, and the one that makes it so easy to know so much about him, is his creation of the Dymaxion Chronofile. In lay terms, the Dymaxion Chronofile is the largest documentation of a single human life known to man. For about 50 years, Fuller saved everything, every piece of paper, media segment, picture, etc. that he interacted with. At the end of each day he would put all these things in a hanging folder in a filing cabinet. Thus in 2013, we have such a detailed record of Fuller’s life: we can know what he was doing and where he spent each day of his adult life.

More fascinating than his meticulous record keeping were his inventions. Sometimes hailed as the Leonardo Divinci of modern man, Fuller devoted his life to seeing what one person could do for the betterment of all mankind. His inventions, from cars to houses, all attempted to do less with more, a trope we are now familiar with, but that in the first half of the twentieth century was utterly radical. For example, in 1933 Fuller created the Dymaxion car—think Prius meets Minivan—which could go up to 100 mph and which got 30 mpg. Due to an accident on one of its first public appearances, the Dymaxion car never really got off the ground, but Fuller was not to be foiled—he just kept designing, thinking and producing.

Sam Green, the director, narrates in the foreground, while Yo La Tengo accompanies with music. Photo Courtesy of Film Press Kit.
Sam Green, the director, narrates in the foreground, while Yo La Tengo accompanies with music. Photo Courtesy of Film Press Kit.

Beyond the physical awesomeness of his inventions was the radical hope with which they were designed. Fuller believed that if we were only more conscious about how we used our resources we all could truly live in high health and prosperity. He also believed that by eliminating resource disparities we could know world peace. He is famed for saying that it would be highly feasible to care for all humanity and that it could easily be done by 1985. Unfortunately, not unlike the Dymaxion car, most of his ideas never quite caught on. Though with people like Sam Green telling his story, maybe there is hope of Fuller’s notions of equality and resource management becoming more widespread.

Who is this Sam Green? you might be asking, This Sam Green that set me up on the best blind date of my life? Sam Green is an artist in his own right, who is most famous for his documentary “Weather Underground” on the radical militant group of the same name. Though Green has produced a number of stylistically typical documentaries, like “Weather Underground,” he has started doing live documentaries like “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller” of late. Green describes his live documentaries as fancy powerpoints with a narrator and a band. In the case of “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller” the band was the much acclaimed Yo La Tengo. These performances are temporal and are not recorded, they change over time and from location to location. Fuller’s history, Green’s narration and Yo La Tengo’s music are in constant dialogue with each other and each time they tell a slightly different story.

If, like me, Fuller has been catching your eye across a classroom for some time now, it might just be worth it to follow the show to its next location. Even if it’s not Fuller, but rather Sam Green or Yo La Tengo that have got your heart racing, the show is a must-see. And, if all else fails, Fuller recorded a 42 hour-long lecture called “Everything I Know” which you can now find on YouTube. You’re probably already too smitten to focus on your homework, so why not check it out?