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Samsara (2011).....spectacular 70mm masterpiece


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Filmed over nearly five years in twenty-five countries on five continents, and shot on seventy-millimetre film, Samsara transports us to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders.

Camera  Fricke 65 Time-Lapse, Panavision System 65 and Schneider Variogon Lenses 
Panavision 65 HR Camera, Panavision System 65 and Schneider Variogon Lenses
Laboratory  FotoKem Laboratory, Burbank (CA), USA (65mm film services)
Negative Format  65 mm (Kodak Vision2 50D 5201, Vision2 250D 5205, Vision3 250D 5207, Vision2 500T 5218, Vision3 500T 5219)
Cinematographic Process  Digital Intermediate (8K) (master format) 
Panavision Super 70 (source format)
Printed Film Format  35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383) 
D-Cinema
Edited by Stephen Perera
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I quote a review:

A film that took 5 years to make and co-ordinate. Shot in Panarama 70mm, across 26 countries, needing major government and regulatory clearances, having to wait for certain seasons or lunar phases to get the light to hit the way director Fricke wanted...carefully strung together with a massive 7.1 surround sound design and music score from Michael Stearns, Marcello de Francisci, and Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance).

The 70mm negative has been digitally scanned and oversampled at 8k resolution (much like the 'Baraka' Blu-ray); the TIFF Lightbox theatre installed a brand new Christie 4k projector (Christie Projection Systems rushed the projector before its release to the market specifically for this event) making it the first true 4k screening of it's kind. 

From sweeping landscapes to time-lapse sequences of the night sky and from exclusive looks into the processing of food to the consumption and effects it has on the human body, Samsara is nothing short of astounding. Modern technology, production lines, and human robotics are juxtaposed against a backdrop of deserts, garbage mounds as far as the eye can see, and traffic congestion in modern centres. The time-lapse footage is simply transcendent. In fact, I caught myself questioning the reality of some of the landscape vistas and night skyline montages...they looked so hyper-real that I thought they must have come from a CG lab somewhere. Simply astonishing. The richness, depth and clarity of colour and image achieved within the processes utilized gives birth to the most beautiful visual meditation that I have ever witnessed.

As one film journalist noted, "That Samsara is instantly one of the most visually-stunning films in the history of cinema is reason enough to cherish it, but Fricke and co-editor Mark Magidson achieve truly profound juxtapositions, brimming with meaning and emotion. It sounds preposterous, but it's true: In 99 minutes, Samsara achieves something approaching a comprehensive portrait of the totality of human experience. If you're even remotely fond of being alive, Samsara is not to be missed."

If you ever come across the chance to see this film in a decent theatre, run, and let your eyeballs (and earholes) feast upon its brilliance.

 

 

Edited by Stephen Perera
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Thanks for reminding me of this great film. Saw it on a quite large screen, looked and sounded as you say.

I would have swore I saw it at least 15, or close to 20 years ago, apparently time doesn't always fly as fast as I think.

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I saw it in 4K in NYC when it was released, it was beautiful. I saw "The Master" in a 70mm print that same week so it was interesting to compare 65mm film taken through a 4K digital process versus photochemical finish and projection in a print. The 4K viewing experience for "Samsara" was cleaner and sharper, however the period setting for "The Master" made the 70mm film print more appropriate to capture the feeling of the times.

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I had the opposite reaction regarding the passage of time -- I lived and worked in NYC for two years for the TV show "Smash" in 2011-2012, and for three years (skipping 2020) for "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" starting with the pilot in the fall of 2016, then the series starting in late spring 2017.  For some reason, I thought I saw both movies in that second period but it must have been in 2012.

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My problem is that I'm a bit older than you and don't live quite as interesting a life, so I'm  very sensitive to the passage of time, and was then pleased to think that "man, Samsara was only 9 years ago," as opposed to "it seems like I saw it yesterday." 

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Samsara is a masterpiece. I sadly have not seen it on film and I believe the intention of shooting it on 70mm was to get an 8k digital file, not to record it back to film. Ron was not much a fan of film, he just wanted the highest resolution possible and 5 perf at the time was the best way to achieve that. I don't think the final prints of Bakara (which I have seen on film) or Samsara, really met with the quality he expected. He kinda talked down the "film" process quite a bit and said that his next movie (if he were to make one) would of course be shot on film. They carried all their film around with them to the locations instead of shipping it. So that experience alone must have been horrible and tricky. I always wondered why he never shot on IMAX because certainly his movies would have gotten more eyes on that format, even if blown up from 5 perf to 15 perf. I don't know what happened, but when it was brought up, he kinda never fully answered the question. I think both films died in obscurity unfortunately, but both are fantastic pieces of art. Must see's in my opinion. 

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One of the Koyanaquastsi (sp?) people, maybe the Monk himself, made a black and white shot-on-video film that I saw during the theatrical release. I can't remember the name of it, but it was in the vein of the others. It was shot in super-high def (at least for the time) video, and was made after Samsara, I think. The b/w video looked excellent as I recall, to my slight disappointment.  

The movie was, of course, also a tremendous movie.

Now that I think about it, I saw Samsara in digital, and was not disappointed.

On the topic, broadly, if I think of film (meaning film and video) only as film qua film, I have to say that Koyanaquastsi could be the best feature-length movie ever made. 

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13 hours ago, Tyler Purcell said:

 I don't think the final prints of Bakara (which I have seen on film) or Samsara, really met with the quality he expected. 

I got the chance to see a 70mm print of "Baraka" three times back in september 2002 and it was really beautiful. By coincidence I had just seen "Apocalypse Now Redux" the week before, which looked amazing on its own (100 ASA 5247 + 35mm anamorphic, hard to beat), but paled in comparison. In fact, I still find the Blu-ray of "Baraka" very lacking not because it looks bad, but because it lacks the clarity, color fidelity and fine detail found on that 70mm print. 

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