WHEN ACADEMY AWARD-nominated documentarian and experimental filmmaker Sam Green (The Weather Underground, Utopia in Four Movements) accepted San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's commission to create a live documentary about the life of R. Buckminster Fuller, he inherited an aspect of his subject's legacy.
Much of Fuller's story and impact survives in the public mind by way of the Buckyball and geodesic dome. The do-it-all inventor/architect/writer/social theorist operated under self-generated "Dymaxion" principles—the term combines "dynamic" and "maximum," plus the action-implying suffix "-ion"—the foundation for which is that all humanity could live comfortably, but only if organized to a state of techno-terra harmony.
But the aspect of Fuller's legacy mirrored by Green's The Love Song dates to the beginning of Bucky's career, when he was a Harvard dropout living in New York City and writing a book about Albert Einstein's discovery of the theory of special relativity. Just as Fuller immersed himself in Einstein's personal papers, teasing out the connection between lifestyle and accomplishment, so Green worked from details of Fuller's life found in what is considered to be the polymathic genius' greatest project, the Dymaxion Chronofile.
Archived at Stanford University, the Dymaxion Chronofile consists of "every paper that passed over [Fuller's] desk," explains Green. It is speculated to be the most complete history of a single person's life, containing updates made every 15 minutes from 1920 through 1983.
After spending some time with the Dymaxion Chronofile and Stanford's archives, Green sent short film clips of Fuller to experimental and indie music pioneers Yo La Tengo, along with scratch audio culled from the band's preexisting recordings. After several meetings between Yo La Tengo and Green, the score—to be performed live behind an assemblage of clips, still images, and Green's narration—was completed.
Yo La Tengo songwriter, singer, and guitarist Ira Kaplan says he knew "very little" about Fuller before taking on the project. Now he sees him as a figure who personifies an optimism lost. Kaplan references a recent Daily Show interview that centered on the idea that humanity is destroying itself with technology—a belief Fuller spent his life protesting.
"I saw that there was nothing to stop me from thinking about our total planet Earth and thinking realistically about how to operate it on an enduringly sustainable basis as the magnificent human-passengered spaceship that it is," writes Fuller in his final manuscript, Guinea Pig B.
"I am also a living case history of a thoroughly documented, half-century, search-and-research project designed to discover what, if anything, an unknown, moneyless individual, with a dependent wife and newborn child, might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity that could not be accomplished by great nations, great religions, or private enterprise, no matter how rich or powerfully armed," he writes in the same text.
Had we followed Fuller's plan for the world, things could've wound up looking an awful lot like a future-Stalinist monoscape of pod houses and cities in the clouds—rad or not, you decide—but the temperature might not be as high as it is today.
Sam Green & Yo La Tengo
The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller
Washington High School, Wed Sept 12, 6:30 & 8:30 pm, $20-25, pica.org