BRIMSTONE & GLORY: Goodness Gracious Great Balls Of Fire
Brimstone & Glory is a unique documentary and you'd be doing yourself a disservice to not catch it in theaters.
Documentaries are most often concerned with conveying thoughts, ideas, and messages. Rightfully so, they’re the perfect medium to inform and bring to light underrepresented individuals and events to a mass audience. Much harder to convey through non-fiction film is an experience, since the act film viewership is relatively homogenous, regardless of the movie being watched. Blockbuster studio fare has striven for years to create a memorable theater experience through special effects and screening gimmicks like 3D, to mixed results. While documentaries have wealth to offer in a variety of ways, they’re rarely able to achieve the feeling of transporting you to another world, limited by the bounds of reality as they are.
In his feature debut, Viktor Jakovleski has achieved that rare feat for a documentary and created a film culled from reality that makes you question whether you’re still in your theater seat. And I want to emphasize that, your theater seat; not your couch, or a subway car or wherever else you might watch things. Brimstone & Glory is an adrenaline inducing documentary, with a pulsing soundtrack that needs to be experienced on a big screen with big sound, and challenges (and I’d say beats) Get Out, Baby Driver, and mother! for the theater-going experience of the year.
A Technical Marvel in Front of and Behind the Camera
Brimstone & Glory immerses you in the world of Tultepec, Mexico during the town’s annual Fiesta de San Juan De Dios. The festival is a week-long pyrotechnic extravaganza, bookended by flaming towers of metal the height of radio towers and enormous painted bulls top loaded with fireworks. As you might imagine, it’s total bedlam.
Early scenes provide the bare context for what’s to follow. We learn that this town has only one industry, and though everyone works in it, they almost universally hate it, but familial pressure to continue traditions keep the fireworks festival vibrant and thriving. These scenes are a marked contrast with the visual fire-poetry that define the film, but Tobias von dem Borne’s floating steady-cam serves to unify them through tone and style, instilling an exciting place on the mundane task that go into making fireworks.
And the cinematography of Brimstone & Glory is really its key, elevating it from what might be an interesting travelogue or two-minute Vice video you scroll past on your newsfeed, to a full-fledged work of documentary art. The various techniques employed, the already mentioned steadycam, as well as Go-Pro and drone shots (the latter of which I’m usually sick of, but here is actually warranted) help create the sense of being a local. The filmmakers donned head-to-toe fire retardant suits to get right up in the action with Tultepec’s most fearless. As a result, there’s an intense closeness throughout the film not just to flames but to people. Jakolevski doesn’t go into much depth about the lives of his subjects, but you get some sense of their characters just from being among them during moments of acute excitement.
Just as essential as the beautiful imagery is the pulsing, soaring score by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin. Lacking a narrative format, the music carries the viewer through the film. Rather than going the obvious route with latin themes, the composers went with percussive rhythms Possibly taking a cue from Philip Glass‘s classic score for Koyaanisqatsi, of which Brimstone & Glory is definitely an aesthetic if not philosophical descendant, Rohmer and Zeitlin recognize the anticipatory effect of silence. It’s disruptive, and when that disruption is resolved you’re left relieved, satisfied, and ready for what’s next, just as with a well done scene in fiction. I was literally bouncing in my chair throughout the film.
But at least as much credit has to go to everyone depicted onscreen, because this festival is truly unlike anything else I’ve seen. The towers and especially the bulls are entirely original works of art, but the bulls especially are a sight to behold. Attendees flock to the sparks bestowed upon them by these paper mache behemoths rolling through narrow streets on metal frames, and almost immediately comes the burns and the blindness. People risk such calamity because of the thrill, and through this film we get to experience a little bit of that.
You’ll never be impressed by the 4th of July again
At a festival screening this year Jakovleski was sure to make clear that his film is not an intellectual one, which is both humble and accurate. Brimstone & Glory prioritizes sentiment over information, imparting upon the viewer the sensation of stupefied wonder that a child might feel seeing fireworks for the first time; because it is like redefining your whole concept of what fireworks are and can be.
But that’s not to say that it’s purely sensational; the concept of a town gripped by a tradition that it both resents and celebrates and the unmaskable emotion brought out by displays of colored sparks lend the film a depth that goes beyond merely an experiential surrogate. This is just a really unique documentary and you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not catch it in theaters. Why would you do that, don’t you love yourself? If you love yourself, see Brimstone & Glory.
Brimstone & Glory is out now, check its website to see when it plays near you.
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