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Meetings With Remarkable Men

G.I. Gurdijeff originated thinking outside the box G.I. Gurdijeff originated thinking outside the box

Ever since it was first published in the 1960s, George Ivanovitch Gurdijeff's autobiographical Meetings With Remarkable Men has been required reading for spiritual seekers the world over. A decade later, a remarkable film was made based on the book, but with its own slant and storyline. I leave it up to the purists and the scholars to argue whether director Peter Brook's adaptation--who collaborated with Jeanne de Salzmann on the screenplay--does justice to its source. What I can safely say, is that the spirit of Gurdijeff permeates both of the works, and they're thus worthy of our undivided attention.

Gurdijeff was a spiritual teacher, whose urge to understand the meaning of human life forms the central theme of Meetings With Remarkable Men, both the literary and cinematic versions. Obsessed with this quest from an early age, this work documents his encounters with a series of extraordinary individuals, each of whom bring him a bit closer to his goal.

Gilbert Taylor's cinematography captures the images and Thomas de Hartmann's musical score the magical sounds of a stark and turbulent Transcaucasus, Armenia, Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia, where Gurdijeff spent most of his life learning and searching. Mikita Dimitrjevic plays him as a teenage boy, with just enough wide eyed curiosity and cocky courage to draw us into the story. A music contest is taking place in a desolate valley, and the musicians are urged to "make the stones vibrate" in order to win. An older flute player supplements his instrument with the most visceral, guttural chant that echoes back from the hillsides and nets him the prize of a lamb.

Dragan Maksimovic portrays Gurdijeff as a seekerDragan Maksimovic portrays Gurdijeff as a seeker"Where did he learn to play like that?" the young man asks. "From his father, who learned from his father before him, and so on." "How far back?" "All the way back to God," answers Gurdijeff's own father, who sets his son on the road to wisdom. Wearing the cadet uniform of his military school, the young man learns about love, rivalry, hate and death. "Father, when we die, is nothing left?"

"Some people say we have a soul, but I don't believe this. Yet through certain experiences we develop a very fine substance within ourselves, which lives on after we die." Jumping ahead in time, a mature Gurdijeff, played by Dragan Maksimovic, is working as a laborer on the railroad, and is visited by a friend who is studying to be a priest. "Science proves one thing, religion another, and they both seem equally true. I've read every sort of book and I'm more thirsty than ever. Why am I here? A group of us are shattered by that question."

He takes his friend to a living laboratory, where a woman is studying the effects of sound vibrations on a spider spinning its web, while others are out looking for second hand books on the mathematical basis of studies in the old monasteries. Haggling doesn't work to reduce the price of one of these collections, so Gurdijeff captures a sparrow, paints it beautifully, and sells it for the price of the books as a canary. This exercise in the end-justifying-the-means proves futile, when the books turn up nothing.

Finally, they find a trace of an ancient brotherhood that might still exist somewhere in an area forbidden to foreigners. A pack of savage dogs turn into puppies at the sound of their mistress' voice. There is a shooting, his friend is wounded, but they manage to find a map in the treasure chest of an old Patriarch, showing the location of this esoteric school somewhere in Egypt.

Aboard a freighter they work to earn their passage. His friend falls in love with the idea of learning about machinery, so he stays on the boat. Gurdijeff meets a Russian prince, a series of dervishes and an Italian priest named Father Giovanni, who all help him to cross the suspension bridge between the outside world and the hidden city that shelters the secret brotherhood. Regardless of the name, women are an integral part of this futuristic society, where graceful body movements and honest words from the heart serve as tools of communication, as well as methods of worship.

You can see the film on YouTube in segments

"You come like a lamb, but don't forget you have a wolf in you as well. Can you find the force to enable these two quite opposite lines to live together in yourself? Listen carefully, this will not happen by thinking, at any moment the wolf can devour the lamb." The Russian prince, played by Terence Stamp, finally discovers his life's purpose and he shows Gurdijeff the mixture of exact science and mysticism that guides the members of this group of seekers in their efforts to balance their energies by various exercises. "Affirming-Denying-Reconciling" chants one group over and over again, while their arms move as synchronized clockwork. Gurdijeff is told to stay as long as it is necessary, so that "the desire of your heart can become the reality of your being."

Peter Brook shot Meetings With Remarkable Men in Afghanistan, and this excellent film is 108 minutes long, but if you experience it fully, it seems much longer. That only emphasizes its depth, it's not boring by anyone's definition. Available from discerning video outlets that deal in quality films. Also, you can buy it on Amazon.com: the original VHS version from 1997 sells for $125-150 new, while a more recent DVD version sells for only $30.

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Highlights from the Peter Brook filmHighlights from the Peter Brook film

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Last modified on Monday, 29 October 2012 11:27

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