Picture of Light (1994)

More and more I have come to find that the most pleasurable cinematic experiences are those that come with a small amount of work. Whether I’m tracking down a rare video, traveling some distance to see a film, or suffering through a sickness simply because I don’t know when I’ll get another chance to see a particular piece, I often feel that a little bit of sacrifice makes for a splendid experience.

To see Picture of Light, I had to suffer through horrible allergies, which I tried to suppress with an unrecommended dose of antihestamines. Perhaps, my altered state helped me take in the downtempo pace of this thoughtful and wonderful personal documentary.

Canadian filmmaker, Petter Mettler, travels to the a Northern border town on the edge of civilization in the hopes of capturing the Northern Lights on film. Long, pregnant periods of traveling and waiting give Mettler ample time to ruminate on film, nature, and human existence. Suddenly, the skies explode with a dazzling light snow that no words could ever hope to describe or explain. Then, it’s back to waiting and wondering.

This combination or film essay, nature film, and sociological study through way of cinema is growing to be a most rewarding form of filmmaking. I greatly cherish, even envy, filmmakers who choose to use movies as a form of meditation and I am quick to consider Mettler to be a master of the genre. It’s a small genre, but the folks who inhabit the genre are, in my opinion, some of our greatest filmmakers. Herzog, Benning, Dorsky, Jennings, Marker et al.

On a side note, there was a strange moment of time slippage that occurred for me during this film. While stuck in a hotel Mettler has the television on and the news anchor is talking about how the ground troops may soon enter Iraq. It took me a moment to remember that this film was made in 1991 during the first Iraq conflict – Desert Storm.

I was planning on staying to see one other Mettler documentary – Gambling, Gods, and LSD, but sadly, I knew that I would not make it through this 3 hour epic on transcendence. Plus, I was still thinking through Picture of Light and I will be for some time.


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