In Search of Kundun with Martin Scorsese

This aptly titled docu on Martin Scorsese's most recent picture suffers from the same faults as the movie itself --- an over-devotion to its subject and lack of clarification of same. Ambling work, which hovers unsettlingly between a making-of, an encomium to the helmer and a political pamphlet for the Dalai Lama, offers little real grist on how "Kundun" was put together or other backstage info of interest to buffs and film historians.

With:
(Original English version)

This aptly titled docu on Martin Scorsese’s most recent picture suffers from the same faults as the movie itself — an over-devotion to its subject and lack of clarification of same. Ambling, loosely constructed work, which hovers unsettlingly between a making-of, an encomium to the helmer and a political pamphlet for the Dalai Lama, offers little real grist on how “Kundun” was put together or other backstage info of interest to buffs and film historians. Tape-to-film transfer opens Oct. 7 in Paris, but is more likely to be consigned to the tube elsewhere.

Director-writer Michael Henry Wilson, a French-born American who co-authored “A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies” (1995), enjoyed unimpaired access to the helmer and could have made a fascinating docu on one of his subject’s most atypical films. Instead, it’s a mildly entertaining saddle-up with Marty, gussied up with some arresting archival footage (including Andrew Marton’s 1952 “Storm Over Tibet,” which incorporated footage shot in the ’30s), an interview with the Dalai Lama and several vanilla ones with Scorsese’s co-workers, such as production designer Dante Ferretti and scripter/co-producer Melissa Mathison.

Scorsese, who never ceases to be “on” for Wilson’s camera, says the pic “crystallized” around the time of the making of “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and thanks to the Indian authorities’ refusing him a shooting permit, “Kundun” ended up being shot in almost exactly the same location, around Ouarzazate, Morocco. For mood, but not visual style, he watched pics by Italian neo-realist Vittorio De Sica; even more surprisingly, he did not storyboard the film (apart from its opening), instead notating the script with ideas.

Questioned about the movie’s nonviolent but politically charged subject matter, Scorsese says “causes” — except for film preservation — are not really his thing. The only way to go, he avers, is “compassion.” Mathison says the greatest challenge was “how to present a religion, and sneak in the little things about Buddhism.” There’s also lotsa talk about what an emotional experience the making of the film was for everyone.

This is pretty thin stuff to emerge from more than 100 hours of material assembled by Wilson from four trips to the Moroccan locations. Docu gives no feel for the logistical problems on an obviously difficult shoot, nor the pressures, planning or post-production. Instead, as in “Kundun” itself, reverence replaces rigor.

In Search of Kundun with Martin Scorsese

French

Production: A Compagnie Panoptique production, in association with Ray Prods., with participation of Canal Plus. (International sales: Panoptique, Paris.) Produced by T. Celal, Jean Labib, Dale Ann Stieber, Michael Henry Wilson. Directed, written by Michael Henry Wilson.

Crew: Camera (color), Jean-Jacques Flori , Frederic Vassort; editor, Rick Blue; editorial consultant, Thelma Schoonmaker; music, Ken Lauber; sound, Patrice Mendez (Morocco), Manu Goyal (India), John Boyd; line producer, Dale Ann Stieber. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Cinema/cinemas), Aug. 8, 1998. Running time: 94 MIN.

With: (Original English version)

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