Friday, January 8, 1999

Buddha pests

Movie: Free Tibet

Posted on Fri, Jan 8, 1999 at 4:00 AM

*
Our Rating: 1.00

Some things never change. As they bound onto the field of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in director Sara Pirozek's rockumentary "Free Tibet," the brain-dead spectators of an ultimately meaningless benefit concert for the Tibetan Freedom Fund excitedly bellow the event's title slogan, displaying no more understanding of why they're there than their older brothers and sisters did when they shouted "No nukes!" two decades ago.

But Pirozek doesn't shy away from the overwhelming evidence that the audience members she's filming are profoundly ignorant of the nearly 40-year occupation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China. The most they can do is acknowledge that the stories of torture they've been hearing from the Beastie Boys sound really sad.

Pirozek loads almost half of the film with documentary footage that serves as a crash course in the struggle for Tibetan freedom. But the voluminous material doesn't compensate for the total lack of information coming from the stage of the concert -- the film's alleged raison d' être. As a result, we're left feeling like insomniac TV viewers flipping back and forth between two wildly disparate programs, one a slightly informative History Channel study of Asian issues, the other a lackluster VH-1 concert special.

The Foo Fighters kick off the film's musical portion, followed by acts as disparate as the Fugees, John Lee Hooker and Sonic Youth. Meanwhile backstage, the utterly insane Björk explains that she's spiritually connected to the Tibetan plight because she grew up rooting for the Indians in American Westerns. Rock the vote, Björk.

Transfixing performances would make the omnipresent idiocy easy to ignore, but not one entire song is shown. What footage we do view is grainy and hopelessly crippled by Woodstock-era camera moves. The terrible audio reduces the soundtrack to the level of a bootleg made on a smuggled-in microcassette recorder.

The only reason to keep watching is to witness the collective brain power of the assembled throng shrink away to nothingness, leaving Pirozek to pick up the pieces. Meekly asserting that any effort at "raising awareness" is better than none, she proves that she doesn't know her own culture half as well as she knows Asia's. Free your mind, and Tibet will follow.

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