Â Movie Magic: Excavating a Great Indonesia AdventureÂ
By Laurane Marchive
The Bali Times
Doesnâ€™t everyone dream of meeting the real Indiana Jones, the anthropologist who travels to remote places discovering mysteries, animals and traditions, hunting giant squid and mermaids?
Recently I met with filmmaker Lawrence Blair, who fits that description exactly. Heâ€™s spent his life looking for natural treasures all around the world, especially in Indonesia, where he is now living.
Lawrence grew up in Europe, and moved to Mexico at the age of 14. He studied philosophy, anthropology and even wrote a psycho-anthropologic book, Rhythms of Vision, the Changing Patterns of Belief, published in 1975. His mother was a psychotherapist born in India, so Lawrence was introduced to gurus, meditation and mysticism from a very early age.
When he was 18 years old, he moved back to Europe to be a writer, and started working in theaters. In 1965 he took his first trip to Java, as a delegate for a spiritual conference. He was so taken with Indonesia, he returned with his brother, Lorne, who was working for the BBC, and taught him how to make films. Together, they made the first color movie of the greater bird of paradise, and some years later, in 1988, their documentary about Indonesia, Ring of Fire, became an instant classic. â€œThis country is the last wide garden of the bottom of the world. Itâ€™s like Eden,â€ Lawrence, 66, says of Indonesia.
Once he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker, Lawrence started traveling to more and more remote places, looking for cultural events that could teach us more about traditions and the roots of contemporary societies. One of the stories he likes to tell, as an example of this work, is of the Pasola ceremony on Sumba Island.
â€œThis ceremony was amazing, because it showed the cultural changes a traditional society could go through, for better or worse. It was actually a disguised form of human sacrifice; the people of the island would stage battles on horseback without wearing any armor. The aim was to shed the blood of their opponent,â€ he told The Bali Times.
Pasola was a long-running tradition, but as people were getting hurt every year, the government decided the wooden sticks the men used should not be so sharp. As it became more difficult to draw blood, opponents started aiming for strategic points, such as the throat, or the head, because it was the only way to wound oneâ€™s opponent. People then started to die, instead of getting injured. â€œThis is a very interesting example of how things arenâ€™t always black and white, and sometimes, aiming to change a tradition because of the way we view it in contemporary society can make things worse,â€ Lawrence said.
Still, with time, Lawrenceâ€™s work has changed, and in his latest movie, Myths, Magic & Monsters, his aim is to chase the origins of myths. â€œWhere do the unicorns come from? Does the phoenix really exist? There is so much more to be discovered,â€ he says, adding: â€œThere are such strong cultural connections around the world, legends are never ending. Now I would like to understand where they originated.â€
However, he says dealing with the supernatural, mysticism and traditional beliefs is not always easy, as it is not always possible to film the unbelievable. â€œI have found myself in situations where people would not allow me to film, or where I could feel supernatural phenomenon, but it has to do with senses other than vision, so I knew filming it would not lead me anywhere.â€
He talked about a problem he encountered in the past with a man called Dynamo Jack who could heal people by creating energy and pass it on to others with his hands. Lawrence says he could move objects without touching them, and even create fire out of a newspaper using only what he called â€œYin and Yang energy.â€ â€œWhen I first met him, my brother was still alive, and we were so enthusiastic we filmed and broadcast him working without realizing there had been a misunderstanding; he hadnâ€™t wanted everything about his work to be revealed. After he saw the movie, he disappeared, and I didnâ€™t meet him again until 10 years later. As a moviemaker I know I must be very sensitive in filming all those incredible phenomenon,â€ he said.
When he began work as a filmmaker, Lawrence was part of a meditation group in Mexico, and said he always knew that there was something above our Western comprehension of life. But he says he must be careful about what he believes and films, because a lot of people are just pretending to deal with the supernatural.
â€œStill, I have always thought there is something special going on in Asia. The people here are more in touch with the intuitive, holistic and unconscious parts of their minds. We have become too rational in Western countries, and I think every human being has to find the balance between reason and intuition, left and right brain.â€
Of Bali, which is now struggling to keep its own traditions, whilst welcoming Western culture, he says, â€œEverything is about balance, and I believe there is a lot more to learn about our spirit, and also about nature. This is why I like finding the origins of myths. Some people would say demythologizing the legends is damaging them, but I donâ€™t share this point of view, because I am deeply convinced that the real is more extraordinary than the fantasy.â€