Month: April 2018

‘Wild Wild Country’ Is Truly Wild

Netflix’s new documentary series, Wild Wild Country, explores a wild era in the 1980s when an Indian guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh asks his inner circle of followers to create a new community in rural Oregon. What happens next is unprecedented and unpredictable, as the followers of Rajneesh (called Rajneeshees) buy land and start building their perceived utopia next to a retirement town of only dozens of mostly older, socially conservative Oregonians. But perhaps the most surprising part of all for me was that I had never heard any of this before—and I’m guessing I’m not alone. After finishing the six hour-plus episodes, I have some thoughts on both craft and content. Minor spoilers ahead.

Topics of intrigue:

Contradictions galore. I’m fascinated by the contradictory nature of the Rajneesh movement, which was about free love and finding spiritual nirvana, among other things. Yet, Bhagwan and his followers encourage commerce and therefore materialism, are willing to physically harm non-followers and intimidate them with weapons, and even criticize many aspects of the U.S. government while also using and finding loopholes for political gain and to commit marriage fraud (!). And that’s only some of it. Color me shocked.

This guy. A man after my own heart for going through the town’s trash in hopes of discovering cult secrets. I’m all in.

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My personal hero  (Netflix

Outdated media terms. Flabbergasted by the fact that the media seemed to have an official term for people living in poverty in the 80s and that term was “street people.” Seriously. Every time I heard it used I shuddered in embarrassment. That makes it sound, you know, as if the people chose to live on the street.

What defines a cult? Several Rajneeshees ask this question, wondering why the locals and media were so quick to label them as a cult. They bring up a good point of asking why some religions like Catholicism and the Mormon Church aren’t considered cults. Something to leave us thinking about.

Pain points:

The unreadable font. Come on, producers! Yes, Jay and Mark Duplass, I’m talking to you two. Viewers have to be able to read your font! I’m fine with this font choice for the main title card of ‘Wild Wild Country,’ but using this hard-to-read script font for people’s names and names of towns just doesn’t work in the short time you have text on screen. This is especially tricky when so many people are using their Rajneeshee name, and thus names that are unfamiliar to many viewers and harder to guess.

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Wait, who is this?  (Netflix)

Whodunit? There’s a turning point between the locals in Oregon and the Rajneeshees that escalates matters—a bomb goes off in a Portland hotel that the Rajneeshees have bought and operate. The documentary goes on making us think that perhaps a local had set it off (luckily no one was seriously injured), but it doesn’t confirm either way who had done it. From internet confirmation, I now know that it was carried out by an Islamic terrorist group instead. I suppose that wasn’t convenient for the narrative of the Rajneeshees’ point of view in this fight or for the documentary. Oh well.

What’s your name, again? For the uninitiated, all the different names and terms for Bhagwan and his followers are confusing. Is it Bhagwan, Rajneesh, or Osho? People in present day refer to him as Osho from the start of the documentary, but it isn’t until toward the end of his life does he ask his followers to call him Osho. Others have Rajneeshee names in front of their given name, like Ma Anand and Ma Shanti. Still waiting for them to tell us what that means.

Give me more background. I wish the series delved into more of the actual teachings of Bhagwan. It jumps too quickly into the story of what happens in Oregon before having a better grasp of what was really driving the Rajneeshees to be so enamored with him in the first place and then be prepared to plan malicious acts in his name.

All in all, Wild Wild Country is so wild you have to say it twice.

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Take It From Me: You Don’t Have to Be Religious to Appreciate Jesus Christ Superstar

I’ll admit, I’m not a religious person so sometimes just hearing the words “Jesus Christ Superstar” together isn’t necessarily going to grab my attention in a positive way. However, I am a person peripherally aware of a lot of culturally relevant works of art, so hearing those words in that order is something different altogether. Even though I’ve never seen the play or original film, created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, I’ve definitely heard the “Superstar” song because it’s one of the greats (or so I’ve been told) among musical numbers, and I was also really into Cats as a child. Therefore, I listened to a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber compilation CDs in the 90s and you can’t forget those goose bump-inducing chords and chants at the beginning of that song. Yet, as a church-going but skeptical child (and an even more skeptical and non-church-going adult), I didn’t fully delve into this musical because I assumed it would be preachy, and even at a young age I was not about being preached to.

Obviously, I was wrong. The rock opera isn’t so much about “religion” or “Jesus” but about a story of people, relationships, points of view, choices, consequences, guilt, and acceptance. You know, a story about life. But even if you’re not interested in the morals of it all, you can still come for the fantastical musical set pieces and softly sung, yet deeply human melodies. My curiosity for turning on NBC’s live rendition of Jesus Christ Superstar really fell into the latter category—and I wasn’t disappointed. Granted, I had it on more for the sake of checking in to see how this live production stacked up against the others (perhaps only Grease and Hairspray beat it for me) and of course the fear of missing out on Chrissy Teigen’s live tweets (what I’m officially deeming FOMOOCTLT…rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?).

From a newcomer’s perspective, the show was energetic, heartfelt, and had Alice Cooper in it. What’s not to like?! All kidding aside, I actually came away from it with much more appreciation for the show, its cast (talking about you, Brandon Victor Dixon!), and the fact that it’s great to see live musicals on television in this age. But the most important moral lesson for me, because I suppose it doesn’t hurt to have some sort of moral takeaway on Easter Sunday, was that I shouldn’t have ever judged this show by its name alone. So, I’m glad that a modern production of a 70s musical starring John Legend wearing an extremely deep-v shirt helped me realize that you have to give everything a real chance before you can judge it. Plus, Chrissy Teigen’s tweets were pretty entertaining, too.