Saturday, September 29, 2012

Meetings with Remarkable Men: The Movie



Jesus was a party animal, we can infer from the Gospels, but his life in dance and drink is not one that his disciples over emphasise. Likewise Gurdjieff was a schemer and a character but that cunning and human warmth that saturates his 'Meetings with Remarkable Men' does get underplayed in Peter Brook's remarkable and beautiful film.

There is in the film the famous incident of his disguising sparrows as American canaries (replete with yellow paint jobs) and selling them to buy precious books and manuscripts but the film tends to focus on the thought of Gurdjieff (and how it was related to him) rather than the search of Gurdjieff and the slow transformation of the intensity of his emotions and questionings into the being of an answer. It too readily takes on the appearance of a sermon - a beautiful and haunting one - but nonetheless 'preachy' (and overly pious).

But that aside, it is a compelling film especially the way in which the music (composed by Thomas de Hartmann with Gurdjieff) carries a sense of purpose and meaning that deepens every image. As a whole, it is a contemplative space that draws you in, centres you down and invites you to sense Gurdjieff's unfolding story as a likeness of any, your human journey.

The most dramatic part for me is when the Prince is confronted with his curiosity and its emptiness. He has been continually seeking explanations with his mind rather than transformation with his being. The exchange with a 'dervish sheikh' is simple and beautifully timed and you capture the sense of man on the edge of a new awakening. Curiosity, in medieval Christianity, was indeed seen as a spiritual failing precisely because it is satisfaction of the mind alone. It is extractive and possessive and thereby is an enemy of the vulnerable openness with which we must wonder into the world.

The film ends with a series of extracts of the movements and dance that are a heart of 'the Work' that Gurdjieff and Jeanne de Salzmann (the co-author of the film and Gurdjieff's successor) devised (see above). They too are (to me) deeply attractive and carry a sense of harmony between body, soul and spirit; however, artificial at first sight they can appear. I am reminded of the Sufi dancers I witnessed in Turkey - where each person revealed as they danced a different, subtle level of understanding and absorption in their task.

It makes one's own worship look rather static and disembodied!

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