To say Buckminster Fuller was ahead of his time is like saying the Internet was a nifty little invention. The early 20th-century Renaissance man was a designer, architect, engineer, mathematician, philosopher, and poet who ultimately held 2,000 patents despite getting kicked out of Harvard—twice. He dreamed big: of mile-high floating cities free of air pollution and three-wheeled cars. His geodesic dome was designed to address the post–World War II housing shortage, though its most famous example is “the Epcot ball.” Modestly put, “he was an oracle,” reads one quote in The New York Times. So it’s appropriate that a documentary about Fuller, the one-night screening of The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller at the Moore Theatre, is also an experiment in forward thinking.
Oscar-nominated documentarian Sam Green (The Weather Underground) brings Fuller’s futurist vision to life in a format he calls a “live documentary.” Green narrates onstage for the film (cuing it from his laptop) and alt-rock stalwarts Yo La Tengo play a live score. The format also gives the film tremendous adaptability. While the work was originally commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and placed more emphasis on Fuller’s connections to San Francisco, this version will focus on his Seattle ties. A former student of Fuller's, T. C. Howard, designed two domes for the 1962 World’s Fair (including the still-standing Laser Dome at Pacific Science Center), and Bucky's cousin Richard Fuller founded Seattle Art Museum and served as its director for the first 40 years.
Despite Fuller’s many contributions, Green thinks what really keeps the late brainiac (he died in 1983) relevant are his ideas on sustainability. Fuller believed the planet had enough resources for everyone to live a very comfortable life—but the challenge was how to distribute them fairly. Keep in mind he was saying this in 1929. “It’s a radical idea,” said Green, “especially now, because we’re living at a time where we accept the moment of scarcity and cutbacks. But it is still true…[and] it opens people’s sense of possibility.”
With luck, the live documentary will deliver the fullness of Fuller’s genius in a way modern movies can’t. “[We’re] in an era when, as a filmmaker, you sort of realize, Fuck! People are going to be watching my stuff on iPhones? I’m still a big fan of the cinema experience. This piece will only exist a couple times. There’s no documentation of it, nobody’s gonna record it, it’s not gonna be on YouTube, it’s not gonna be streaming later. And hopefully that will be memorable in a way that you can’t get from a Netflix DVD.”
The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller
Sept 11 at 8, Moore Theatre, $25, stgpresents.org
This article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Seattle Met magazine.