Someone Else's Glasses: Sam Green talks Buckminster Fuller

Posted on: Wednesday, April 25 2012

By Moriah Ulinskas, Preservation Program Director

Artist/ filmmaker Sam Green, beloved member of the BAVC community, is well known for his Academy Award nominated documentary THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND and, most recently his live documentary (a genre we’re pretty sure he invented) UTOPIA IN FOUR MOVEMENTS which premiered last year at Sundance. Recently BAVC’s Preservation Program preserved a video for Sam’s newest project THE LOVE SONG OF R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER, which is happening for one night only at SFMOMA on May 1 in conjunction with The San Francisco International Film Festival.  I caught up with Sam to chat a little about his research for the project.

BAVC: So, I'm going to be totally honest: I don't get why people are obsessed with Bucky Fuller.  People are really into him. Why?

Sam Green: That's a good question. I too have been struck by how into him people are. I think it has to do w/ two things. 1). He's just a pretty fascinating character; and 2) much of what he was saying about doing more w/ less and a design revolution and all that is more relevant now than it's ever been. In many ways his ideas are very apt for us today.  Did I tell you that the climax of the piece is the KQED show that BAVC transferred for me?

BAVC: You did not and you will need to explain that because I transferred that video and watched it twice and I don't understand a god-damn thing he is saying.

SG: OK, in 1978 Fuller was on a daytime talk show for old folks that KQED produced called "Over Easy" (what a fantastic name!). On the show, he's great. And a clip from that show, which you transferred, is a climactic scene from THE LOVE SONG OF R. BUCKMINSTER FULLER. He very clearly states this utopian vision he has - that we have the resources to take care of everyone on the planet. It was true then, and it's still actually true now. Watching him talk is weird because he talks in an avalanche of words - it's not as if each word and each sentence necessarily make sense, but it adds up to almost a meta-meaning. He communicates in an odd way that's not like most people do.

BAVC: Why do you think they brought him on that show, though? To talk to all the elderly folks...

SG: That's a good question. He was an old fellow then himself. I think he was in his late 70s or 80s. Maybe they wanted him as an inspiration. 

BAVC: Where did you get most of the materials for the performance?

SG: I got most of the materials from Stanford - that's where Fuller's archive is. At Stanford, they have an amazing and amazingly huge amount of his stuff. I really liked his glasses. And his passport and address book. I'm a huge lover of going thru people's papers. 

BAVC: What did you like so much about the glasses? Because, I remember you have someone else’s glasses, too.

SG: I have Mark Rudd's glasses. I made a little movie about that. I liked the glasses because I've seen them in so many different photos - he's always wearing them - and here they are, years later, sitting on a table. There's something about those kinds of objects that I can’t quite explain, but they deeply interest me.

BAVC: It's also so strange to hold someone's glasses… Really intimate. It's cheesy but it is the literal lens through which he saw the world. So that "Over Easy" clip was exciting for you? What else did you find that was weird, wonderful or unexpected?

SG: Heck yeah! It was documentary gold.  Buckminster Fuller meets the Hippies at Hippie Hill is a mind-boggling document. I love that film! Also, the music that Yo La Tengo has been making is really great.

BAVC: I’m looking forward to it!