×

Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Times of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche

One of the most important as well as controversial figures in bringing Buddhist precepts to the West is profiled in "Crazy Wisdom."

With:
With: Pema Chodron, Ram Dass, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Thurman, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Anne Waldman, Jeffery Paine, Diana Mukpo, Traleg Rinpoche.

One of the most important as well as controversial figures in bringing Buddhist precepts to the West is profiled in “Crazy Wisdom.” The late Chogyam Trungpa’s very colorful life makes for a most engaging narrative here, even if broadcast docu veteran Johanna Demetrakas and her collaborators take an acolyte’s viewpoint that won’t be as fully explanatory for lay viewers as a more detached perspective might have been. Fest, smallscreen and possible niche theatrical exposure are likely.

Recognized as a reincarnated master while still an infant, Trungpa was already the head of eastern Tibet’s Surmang monasteries when he was forced at age 20, in 1960, to flee Chinese government forces along with 300 other monks — many of whom didn’t survive the long Himalayan trek. After a stint in India, he got a grant to study in England, a few years later, creating the West’s first Buddhist center in Scotland.

Already, Trungpa’s larger-than-life charisma and behaviors were making waves. Practicing what he preached in terms of “secular enlightenment” as opposed to the strictly religious kind, he married 16-year-old upper-class schoolgirl Diana Mukpo (who says here that even after decades together, “Fundamentally, I didn’t know what made him tick”). He was partially paralyzed after driving a car into a shop window.

This was just a warm-up, however, for his adventures in the U.S. Moving there in 1970 at the height of Vietnam War protests and countercultural questing, he absorbed American culture as eagerly as he had British, fast attracting supporters ranging from multicreed fellow religious leaders to stellar artists in various media. He invited many of them to teach at the Western Hemisphere’s first Buddhist university, Boulder Colorado’s Naropa Institute.

But there and in seminars elsewhere, his antics continued to flummox the faithful. He carried on affairs with numerous female students and was often publicly drunk; seemingly incongruously, he decried all “spiritual materialism,” frowning upon rock music and marijuana, among other things.

Some followers considered these to be deliberate provocations in the Tibetan Buddhist “crazy wisdom” tradition. But such arguments here come off as convoluted and unconvincing, while the depiction of Trungpa as the “bad boy of Buddhism” skims over or omits some of the deeper schisms he triggered with many onetime allies.

What the docu can’t quite convey is the apparently extraordinary magnetism and insight Trungpa manifested in person. His humor and elegant command of English come across in archival footage, but not the more profoundly impactful presence to which one interviewee after another testifies.

Assembly is solid.

Popular on Variety

Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Times of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche

Production: A Crazy Wisdom Films production in association with Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation. Produced by Johanna Demetrkas, Lisa Leeman. Directed by Johanna Demtrakas.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Pablo Bryant; editors, Demetrakas, Kate Amend; music, Sean Callery; sound, Midge Costin. Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival (Documentary Features -- competing), Feb. 4, 2011. Running time: 88 MIN.

With: With: Pema Chodron, Ram Dass, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Thurman, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Anne Waldman, Jeffery Paine, Diana Mukpo, Traleg Rinpoche.

More Film

  • Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’

    Ena Sendijarevic’s ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ Wins Top Prize in Sarajevo

    “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” Bosnian director Ena Sendijarević’s coming-of-age story about a teen raised in the Netherlands who returns to Bosnia to visit her ailing father, won the top prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival Thursday night, earning the Amsterdam-based helmer the coveted Heart of Sarajevo Award. The jury heralded the “beautifully photographed, acted, scripted [...]

  • Khadar Ahmed - BUFO - photo

    Bufo Sets Key Cast for Co-Production ‘The Gravedigger' (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —   Actor Omar Abdi, who starred in the Ahmed-scripted short “Citizens,” and actress Yasmin Warsame, who made her name as a Canadian model, will topline romantic-tragedy “The Gravedigger,” the latest big screen project from Bufo, the Helsinki-based outfit behind Berlinale winner “The Other Side of Hope.” The film follows a Djibouti gravedigger [...]

  • Jacobs Ladder Movie 2019

    Film Review: 'Jacob's Ladder'

    It’s understandable that someone would want to remake “Jacob’s Ladder,” Adrian Lyne’s 1990 head-trip thriller about a Vietnam veteran haunted by fragmentary nightmare visions. I was far from alone in finding the original to be an overwrought but rather thin “psychological” horror film that was more punishing than pleasurable. And it wasn’t exactly a hit, [...]

  • Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles

    Film Review: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

    Still beloved and routinely revived 55 years after its Broadway debut — including a Yiddish-language version now playing in New York — “Fiddler on the Roof” is a popular phenomenon that shows no sign of subsiding. Max Lewkowicz’s “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” provides an entertaining if hardly exhaustive overview of how the unlikely success [...]

  • 'Weathering With You' Heads for $100

    'Weathering With You' Heads for $100 Million Box Office Haul

    Makoto Shinkai’s animated romantic drama “Weathering with You” passed the JPY10 billion ($94 million) mark in Japan on Wednesday, according to an announcement by distributor Toho. This makes it the tenth-highest earning Japanese film of all time. Since its release on July 19 on 448 screens in 359 complexes, the film has racked up 7.52 million admissions. The [...]

  • Burn review

    Film Review: 'Burn'

    There’s more smoke than fire in “Burn,” a reasonably promising single-location thriller that never quite settles on what it wants to be — a straight-up suspense piece, twisty black comedy, oddball character study, etc. “All the above” would be a tall but not impossible order to pull off. The problem is that writer-director Mike Gan’s [...]

  • Rounds

    Sarajevo Film Review: 'Rounds'

    Five features (plus a scattering of documentaries) into his career, leading Bulgarian writer-director Stephan Komandarev has resisted cultivating a clear thematic or stylistic throughline to his oeuvre. Yet his latest, the overnight police patchwork “Rounds,” feels surprisingly close to quintessential, pulling as it does plot points, structural models and tonal switches from his previous films [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content