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Re-edited documentary likely to induce trancelike state
Special to The Seattle Times
Filmed in 1977 and originally released in 1979 as a four-hour trilogy, Graham Coleman's "Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy" does not lend itself to conventional criticism. If you approach it as a documentary primer on the finer points of Buddhism, it's essentially a solemn, shapeless religious travelogue, likely to bore the unenlightened while enthralling practicing Buddhists.
The soporific effect may be intentional, since the movie induces a kind of trancelike state as you immerse yourself in its intimate, unprecedented access to the essential core of Tibetan Buddhist practice.
Coleman has digitally restored and reedited his film to 134 minutes, adding his own English commentary along with exhaustive (and exhausting) English subtitles to accompany ritual recitations.
It's still a rigorous, labor-intensive viewing experience, but there's something to be said for its unadorned purity. The Dalai Lama himself considers this "one of the very highly accomplished films to be made about our culture."
After establishing the exile of Tibetan Buddhism by Chinese occupation, the film's three-part structure profiles a religion of sturdy resilience and vibrant, long-held tradition. Part 1 focuses on the Dalai Lama and introduces us to the routines of monastic life; Part 2 includes an intimate performance of the protective ritual known as "A Beautiful Ornament"; and Part 3 looks at a ritual cremation.
Dense and slow-going, Coleman's trilogy trades overall coherence for a decidedly unobtrusive approach; this isn't "Buddhism for Dummies," but a direct, observational film that presents Tibetan Buddhism with a minimum of explanation. As such, it's engrossing and tedious in equal measure.
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company