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The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller: Talking soundtracks and ephemera with director Sam Green and Yo La Tengo

Sam Green, narrating The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller live (Photo by Ed-Dittenhoefer for The Ithaca Times)
Sam Green, narrating The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller live (Photo by Ed Dittenhoefer for The Ithaca Times)

For 15 years now, NYC and San Francisco-based director Sam Green has been making documentary films, enlightening audiences about domestic radicals, exile, language, and more. For his latest project, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, he explores the life and work of Buckminster Fuller, with a little help from indie rock vets Yo La Tengo, who accompany his live narration with an original score.

Since debuting in 2012, the project has hit 10 cities, and will journey to Philly’s FringeArts this Friday. In advance of the show, I rang up Green and YLT’s Ira Kaplan—to talk songwriting, ephemera, and why Buckminster Fuller.

“His philosophy is in the air these days,” says Green, with a laugh, of Fuller. “He was pretty obscure for a while, but he’s back, as they say.” A mid-twentieth century philosopher who advocated sustainability, efficiency, and using design to solve real-world problems, Fuller is perhaps best known for inventing the geodesic dome, although his contributions to math, science, and urban studies are varied and great.

“He was a Batman character, a larger-than-life character, a very rich persona,” continues Green. “He was wildly optimistic, and a visionary. I put myself in that group as well.”

Green first encountered Fuller’s ideas while working on a project for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art—“they were running an exhibit about Fuller, and asked me to do a documentary,” he says. As he dug deeper into Fuller’s life, he became intrigued.

Green’s previous work, Utopia in Four Movements (a multi-episode oeuvre tackling China’s largest shopping mall, the rise of Esperanto, and more), used a live documentary format, in which Green narrated video clips and was accompanied by a live band. He decided to use the same format for Fuller.

“I was thinking: who would I love to do music for this? Who has the right sound?” He continues. “I’ve been a big Yo La Tengo fan for many years, and I had seen them do a similar show, where they played live music to movies, once before. So I got in touch with them, and they were up for it.”

“Sam came very highly recommended,” says Kaplan with a laugh, who was introduced to Green through a mutual friend. “I wasn’t too familiar with Fuller’s philosophies beforehand, but it’s far from required that you know about him to enjoy the show. This is not a dry academic performance.”

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Indie-rock royalty Yo La Tengo will perform a live score to The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller at FringeArts

Yo La Tengo | Photo by John Vettese
Yo La Tengo | Photo by John Vettese

Renowned local arts organization FringeArts just announced an exciting addition to its Spring calendar: the “live-documentary” The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, which will be performed at its Waterfront stage, with narration from Oscar-nominated director Sam Green and a score performed by indie rock legends Yo La Tengo.

The film follows the career of the 20th century designer and architect (and inventor of the geodisic dome) from whom the title borrows its name, and uses his story to explore issues of sustainability and conservation. Fuller himself lived in Philadelphia from 1972 until his death in 1983.

Diverting from the more traditional approach to documentary, director Sam Green will narrate each “screening” of R. Buckminster in person while cuing images and video from a laptop, with ever-eclectic indie rock royalty Yo La Tengo providing a live score to the proceedings (watch a 15-second clip of a 2013 performance here).

FringeArts will host two showings on Friday, April 4 at 7 and 9 p.m.; tickets for the general public go on sale March 1, more information can be found here. Watch the video for Yo La Tengo’s “I’ll be Around” off of the 2013 album Fade below.