Monday, June 01, 2009

Enlighten Up - Yoga Doc Fraught with Boo-boos

The other night I saw the Yoga documentary "Enlighten Up," written, produced directed, and everything else'd by local Kate Churchill. As someone who likes to dissect films and someone who has dabbled in the healing arts, I thought it would be interesting. It certainly was, but for reasons maybe that the filmmakers wouldn't think (or even want.)

The premise is that Churchill was taken aback by all the "Baskin-Robbins yoga" we have here in the West, and was determined to get to the heart of the whole Yoga matter. Her idea was to take a layman from New York and try and see if six months of immersion in the Yoga culture could transform him physically and spiritually. Now, the film would have you believe that they chose this guy (Nick Rosen) out-of-the-blue, but the post-film Q & A Churchill conducted at my screening revealed that she had prior knowledge of him and she selected him for a reason. Nick is a journalist who was writing nothing really very interesting, but had just the right amount of skepticism that it would make for a great story when he finally converted at the end.

Well, as 29 year-old Nick started doing his Yoga thing, visiting different trainers and schools, throughout the world (even, most hilariously, ex-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page's "modern" take on it in his "Yoga for Regular Guy's" class, where DDP encourages the camera man to scope out his ex-wife's cleavage during one of the poses.), he definitely feels physically stronger and better, but the spiritual awakening eludes him. Much to Kate's chagrin. At several moments, we are privy to their conversations, and she seems to be antagonizing him, trying desperately to steer him the way she wants him (and her film) to go. This struck me as kind of horrible. At no point during this process did she think, "Well, I guess you can lead a horse to water..."? There were even times when he said he kinda, sorta thought he was feeling something, but I'm wondering if he was feeling it because she wanted him to, or he wanted her to leave him alone. There was even a segment when he said she didn't speak to him for days.

Now, documentaries are supposed to report the facts, by definition. However, make no mistake, they have a story just like any movie. Clearly, Kate had this plan, and it wasn't going the way she wanted. Nick was not finding any inner peace through Yoga. After months of pushing him to try and force it, Kate finally had to punt, I guess. This is where the film fails, because I think it was evident in the final product that her "arc" wasn't there. In fact, the final conclusion of the film, as illustrated by "Ultimate Yogi" Saran Ananda, is that enlightenment is different for everyone, and how you get there makes no difference. And if Nick wants to do all his poses and still go home a heathen, then that's his business. As those crazies I see daily outside the abortion clinic prove, you can't force spirituality/beliefs/religion on anyone. And in fact, the more people try, probably the less successful they will be.

That's my main problem with the doc. Technically, there are a few mistakes. She has a few head-on shots, with people talking directly into the camera, and it's jarring and distracting (You should always kind of have your subject off to the side a bit. That way they're not talking at the audience.) She also would cut people off in mid-thought and jump to the next scene, and I'm not sure if she was making a point or was just being sloppy, but it wasn't good.

In the end, it's a pretty good film, but I doubt anyone other than Yoga enthusiasts will be terribly entertained or enlightened, so she's pretty much preaching to the choir. Hell, the guy in the movie wasn't terribly enlightened. Why should I be?

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