16 JAN 02
of the Spectrum
by Craig Baldwin
(16mm color and b/w sound
film approx. 93 mins.)
Spectres of the Spectrum
is a feature-length 16mm film utilizing old ‘kinescopes’ (filmed records
of early TV broadcasts before the advent of videotape, mostly from the
late Fifties’ educational show called ‘Science in Action’) to create an
eerie, haunted “media-archaeology” zone for a sci-fi time-travel tale,
wherein live-action actors search for a hidden electromagnetic secret to
save the planet from a futuristic war-machine, inspired by HAARP the High-Frequency
Active Auroral Research Program. (Though fictionalized for Baldwin’s film,
HAARP is, in fact, a very real phenomenon. On the surface, it is a data-gathering
tool to explore the Aurora Borealis in detail. But in fact, HAARP doubles
as one of the most sophisticated components of the Star Wars weapons arsenal,
a particle beam device that can be accurately targeted on specific sites
in the ionosphere.
Set in the year 2007 in the blighted desert outpost of Las Vegas, a young
telepathic woman (“BooBoo”) scavenges for survival on an old bombing range
with her father (“Yogi”) who is holed up in a cinder-block pirate-TV station,
broadcasting rambling diatribes on the impending global electromagnetic
‘Pulse’. A solar eclipse gives BooBoo a cosmic opportunity to save the
world, through a superluminal voyage back into time to retrieve a secret
message left on the airwaves by her scientist grandmother.
With their Airstream trailer converted into a spaceship, the amazed BooBoo
is able to catch up with outwardly propagating Fifties’ educational-TV
broadcasts, affording an accelerated review of mid-century science and
science-fiction cinema; and narrating a loose and collage-happy history
of heroes and martyrs of the electromagnetic revolution. Commentary on
Mesmer, Morse, Bell, Tesla, Farnsworth, and others comes from Yogi and
his ‘TV Tesla’ correspondents, in a playfully speculative effort to trace
the growth of corporate hegemony over the electromagnetic spectrum. Through
an increasingly abstract montage of live-action, archival film, broadcast
video, and ‘exploded’ interviews, the fantasy narrative warps into disjointed,
abstracted, audio-visual phrases, suggesting the breakdown of personal
ego/memory, historical representation, and, yes, of spacetime itself.
This science-fiction allegory about ‘electromagnetic autonomy’ in opposition
to the hegemony of the culture-management industry, tracing a history of
media technology from its early days to a 21st century “New Electromagnetic
Order” that threatens to take total control of our lives.
Jewish Renewal Makes It to Film
by Rami Shapiro
Raising the Sparks: A
Personal Search for a Spiritual Home in Judaism. Chuck
Davis. Throughline Productions
and Delphi Productions, 2001.
With its very first scene,
Raising the Sparks, a delightful and disturbing
documentary of producer/director
Chuck Davis’ year-long sojourn into Jewish
Renewal, draws us into the
central dilemma of postmodern Judaism: the tribe. The
film opens with his youngest
son’s brit milah. Amid the boy’s screams of terror
and the practiced nonchalance
of Jewish friends and relatives, Chuck verbalizes
his angst at circumcising
his son to appease a God he does not believe in and to
make his son a member of
a tribe he is not sure is worth joining. In a sense,
Raising the Sparks is Chuck’s
attempt to justify tribalism in what for him and
most secular Jews is fast
becoming a post-tribal world.
of the world’s religions responds to a specific question. As long as the
question is compelling and
the answer relevant, the religion thrives. When the
question is moot, the religion
dies. This is why centuries of effort to convert
Jews to Christianity have
been so unsuccessful: Jesus is the answer to a
question Jews don’t ask.
And it’s also why, without even attempting to convert
Jews, Buddhism is making
such inroads among us.
answers the question: “How can we overcome Original Sin and avoid
eternal damnation?” Most
Jews don’t ask this question, so Christianity is
irrelevant to them. Buddhism
answers the question: “What is suffering, and how
can we end it?” This is
a question Jews do ask, and the concise, practical
advice of the Buddha is
quite compelling. The question Judaism answers is this:
“How do I adhere to the
tribal standards set by God Who chose us from among all
peoples to be His holy nation?”
This is a question fewer and fewer Jews even
think to ask. If Judaism
is to survive it must answer a different question.
not necessarily new. Judaism must shift its focus from tribal
survival to planetary survival;
it must move from halachic conformity to aggadic
creativity. God did not
command us to be Jewish; God commanded us to be holy.
The old question: “How to
be a Jew?” has to be replaced with the older and
timeless question: “How
to be holy?” And it is here that Chuck’s journey into
Jewish Renewal is most welcoming
and helpful, for he shares with us a Judaism
that dares to ask the right
Jewish Renewal does, and does so well, is shift emphasis from peshat, the
literal meaning of Torah
and tradition, to drash, psycho-spiritual
interpretations that transform
tribal teachings and custom into a dialect of
universal truth. Judaism
in the hands and hearts of the wonderful Renewal rabbis
interviewed in Raising the
Sparks is no longer the parochial culture of tribal
Israel, but the highly sophisticated
spiritual lifeway of yisra-el, of the god
wrestlers and spiritual
warriors from many backgrounds seeking to infuse and
repair the world with holiness.
Renewal asks not “How can we maintain our uniqueness as a people?,” but
“How can we use 3,500 years
of Jewish experience to repair the world and
ourselves with holiness?”
Here is a question worthy of our utmost attention. And
answering it will insure
Judaism’s survival as a vital spiritual force in the
world for generations. But
before Judaism can be the answer to this question,
Jews must begin to ask it.
And this is where Raising the Sparks is disturbing.
encounters in Renewal Judaism a practice that is devoted to holiness, to
universal questions. God
is the Nameless Source of Reality that manifests all
life. Torah is a spiritual
map written in symbols open to endless
are spiritual practices for chipping away at ego and
freeing the soul from the
enslaving self. Prayer is a technology for stepping
outside boundaries and experiencing
the unity of all things in God. Halachah is
a toolbox for repairing
both person and planet. Yet at the end of his journey,
Chuck is still struggling
with the old question of tribalism. He cannot get over
the fact that Judaism is
for the Jews. He hears and even appreciates the Jewish
Renewal answer, but he cannot
yet bring himself to ask the new question. For
Chuck Judaism is still a
matter of tribe.
not alone. Most Jews still think of Judaism as something parochial. They
see themselves as members
of a beleaguered tribe. While few are willing to
adhere to the customs of
that tribe, even fewer are willing to let the notion of
tribe go altogether. Why?
the answer lies in an unarticulated fear of the hyphenated identities
demanded by postmodernity.
The emerging global village will not see an end to
human diversity, but an
expansion of it. As barriers fall between seekers of
different faiths, hybrids
will develop. This is not new. Moses Maimonides
created Aristotelian Judaism.
Abraham Abulafia created Jewish Sufism. What is
new is the self-conscious
nature of postmodern hybrids. Maimonides and Abulafia
did not admit, let alone
celebrate, their creativity. But our age is different.
What earlier Jews saw as
peshat, postmodern Jews see as drash.
postmodern world everything is drash. We borrow openly and liberally from
other faith traditions and
begin to speak of ourselves as JuBus, Jufis, and
Hinjews. Ironically, we
draw the tribal line at Jesus, the one world-teacher who
was Jewish and who addressed
the world through the medium of Torah. I suspect
this barrier, too, will
fall, and when it does it will be a sign of the final
fading of tribalist thinking.
Renewal offers an alternative to both tribalism and hybridization.
Choosing the way of interspirituality,
Jewish Renewal uses the insights and
sensibilities of other faiths
to search out, reveal, and revive similar insights
and sensibilities in our
own faith. Jewish Renewal takes advantage of postmodern
openness without falling
into the blather of spiritual Esperanto, abstract talk
about God, and holiness
stripped of all cultural richness and nuance. Where much
of New Age talk pits religion
against spirituality and offers a pristine
spirituality devoid of religion,
Jewish Renewal allows spirituality to do what
it was meant to do: uplift
without religion is like the sap of a tree without the tree itself.
The sap has nowhere to flow,
nothing to enliven, no way of manifesting life in
the world. Jewish Renewal,
in all its formsfrom the most ecstatic to the most
silent and contemplativeresurrects
the tree of Jewish life by freeing the
spirit of holiness it was
meant to embody.
the Sparks is an excellent and honest portrayal of a contemporary Jew’s
search for Judaism. It offers
a compassionate and clear-eyed view of Jewish
Renewal and her teachers.
It is a film worth seeing. More importantly, it is a
film worth talking about.
Rami Shapiro is senior
rabbi and president of Metiva,
a center for contemplative
Judaism in Los Angeles,
CA. His most recent book is Proverbs (Bell Tower 2001).
Raising the Sparks can
be purchased from Delphi Productions, 888-443-2400.