To Find Our Life – The Peyote Hunt of the Huichols of Mexico (1969)

This ethnographical film documented a 1968 Huichol journey in search of the psychoactive cactus peyote, an event of supreme cultural importance. For the Huichol participants, the pilgrimage was intensely spiritual and sentimental, as seen in the end of the journey (not shown in this clip) when everyone wept. The film is rightfully acclaimed for its sensitivity, for it’s evident that the indigenous participants had full trust of the filmmakers/ethnographers. However, even a casual spectator would not fail to notice the bland voice-over that narrates in English the passionate thoughts of the band leader Ramón Medina Silva without a single trace of emotion.

This blandness may be merely technical, for after all this is not a film for entertainment. But there may be underlying philosophy: to this date, anthropology can not decide if it is science or art (although it might be offensive to most anthropologists if you suggest that anthropology is not a science). This ambivalence is shown in a recent controversy concerning dropping the word “science” from American Anthropological Association’s statement of its long-range plan.

There are similar questions. Whether we, the spectators (or “participant-observers”), are outsiders or insiders? Do we believe make-believe? If not, do we believe in make-believe?

In our own comedic arts, make-believes are never contradictory to truthfulness. In fact, by instinct, we know the truth of comedy is inseparable from its entertainment value – a detailed scientific proof of a humor’s validity would render the humor humorless. Humor is its own truth serum:

René of the café talks to the “outsiders” from the “inside”.

In fact, we invest our body and soul in more serious forms of dramatic arts where the boundary between fancy and reality blurred almost to the level of the Huichol peyote hunters, when we are moved by the drama. Here, even our bland voice, just like the voice of Mrs. Venable – played in the film by the peerless Katharine Hepburn – in the conclusion of Suddenly, Last Summer, betrays our trembling heart:

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I wouldn’t say there is any homosexual context to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), considering the film is about (two) “normal” marriage(s) and it stars one of the most “virile” straight couples, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

No, I would say there is no homosexual context to it at all. However, if this film – and Edward Albee’s play – does honestly reflect the time, deep inside, it shares the same socio-cultural roots with that new identity and lifestyle movement (pardon my choice of words).

It’s most tellingly in the theme of pretended and hysterical pregnancies (the union of childless couples). The deliberate exposure of the vulgarity in academia and its New England setting, on the other hand, gave this theme a convincing class/geographical background, which in my humble opinion explains that movement.

In style the film surprisingly resembles Sweet Smell of Success (1957), a film I admire. However, the tenderness under torrents of verbal abuse makes Who’s Afraid more touching, for there is no bad guy in this film: everyone is bad, and everyone is good.