Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 21, 2020 6:29 am 
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From chronic fatigue to visions of the cosmos

Howard Bloom is not to be confused withHarold Bloom, the late venerable Yale professor of English and literary critic (1930-2019) , who authored such luminous and inspiring works as The Visionary Company, The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life and The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible. Howard Bloom is someone we've never heard of, and even after watching this little documentary he remains a mystery, part of which is why this short documentary came to be made about him. True, he is a pundit, a sage, and an amateur scientist with lifelong interests in cosmology and microbiology, who talks about sweeping aspects of nature and the cosmos. But this film doesn't altogether convince one that what he says is necessary.

This Bloom's books, of which there are seven, include The Lucifer Principle (the first), Genius of the Beast, and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. His last two books show a shift to more popular subjects but no increase in modesty. They are How I Accidentally Started The Sixties (2017) and Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me (2020).

But a title that jumps out at me is The Muhammad Code: How a Desert Prophet Brought You ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram. According to the Wikipedia bio, an article he published in Omni magazine focused on "The importance of hugging", suggested that "Islamic cultures treat their children harshly, they despise open displays of affection ... the result is violent adults", and as a consequence, "An entire people may have turned barbaric for the simple lack of a hug." This led the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to stage a sit-in at Omni's New York main office. It's reported that Blioom expressed similarly racist and Islamophobic prejudices in his first book, The Lucifer Principle. Charlie Hoxie's short documentary doesn't allude to this troubling aspect of Boom's thinking.

This is a life of contrasts. After a youth that showed serious scientific interests, Bloom was led astray by disco music and pop and this led him became a publicist for a raft of highly successful performers, including Michael Jackson, Prince and others including Run DMC and Aerosmith (he shows framed awards) who all had No. 1 hit songs while he was doing their PR. Joan Jet, Kyle McLaughlin and Jeff Bridges address the camera.

In 1988 Bloom contracted Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He had to give up his PR work and the punditry gradually began. Several scientific persons speak, acknowledging Bloom's being "ahead of the curve" in his first book and being scientifically knowledgeable and well read though "totally an outsider." But some years were spent housebound and helpless, and it wasn't till 1995 that The Lucifer Principle was published, by the Atlantic Monthly Press. By his report Bloom still combats the disease. He takes upwards of thirty pills at moments in the day, and an injection of something he self-administers. He credits exercising with enabling him to get out of bed, though his idea of what a push-up is, jiggling up and down a bit with arms outstretched, seems at best peculiar. At any rate, we see him up and about and walking around in New York, outside his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where he owns the building, and smooching with randomly encountered dogs on the sidewalk and in the park. Later we follow him to Indiana to give a lecture at the arrangement of a tall young man, a student, who says he immediately thought of Bloom when the topic of "paradign shifts" arose.

The film disappoints by its failure to probe, question, or identify. It has silly, pretentious (or playful) divisions with titles like "Chapter 2,384. Attention is the Oxygen of the Soul." What that means is we need attention. Bloom, who reports he had a lonely childhood, acknowledges that he has found his best source of positive feedback in hugging dogs. He is divorced, and still friendly with the lawyer, who comes to his 74th birthday party. He keeps saying he is "looking for a new girlfriend," and has found a "wonderful, astonishing" online relationship with a lady in South Africa. He hugs and nuzzles every dog he comes across, if its owner allows.

An example of Bloomo's oddity, if more were needed, is his (unexplained) relationship with a burly, bearded giant of a personal trainer called Amir Siddiqui, who runs Symmetry, the self-declared most expensive personal training gymn in Dubai. When we first hear of Siddiqui the two have never met, yet Bloom plans to leave his building to this gentleman so the latter can establish a foundation to carry on his, Bloom's, ideas. These we could get a better idea of. We know that he is a space travel advocate, connected with several related international organizations. We know he thinks nature means to shock us. Comments he makes elsewhere indicate he may not consider global warming a problem, or not our problem. At the Indiana lecture, Bloom reads a lot of his talk, which may be why, by his report, he isn't invited to lecture very often. On arriving in town he is surprised by an Indie 400 vehicle on display, then declares it to be worthless because it's sport.

We get a glimpse of the 74th birthday party at Bloom's cluttered apartment, with a table appearing to bear at least a dozen mismatched bottles of peanut butter. There are a dozen people who don't know each other seated around, and Bloom introduces them one by one. It might be a scene from a "High Maintenance" episode, though sadly lacking a visit from "The Guy." In the background is Bloom's African American secretary-manager, who wishes he would give up using AOL and adopt gmail. After five years, she plans on quitting.

After the lecture on "paradigm shifts," there arrives another big event in Howard Bloom's life: Amir Siddiqui comes to New York to "sign the deposition for his remains." And so at last they meet. They hug. They sign the papers. Some more dog hugging follows as Bloom sits alone on a bench. When last glimpsed, he's disappearing down a tunnel in the park.

The Grand Unified Theory of Howard Bloom, 67 mins., debuted at DOC NYC Nov. 10, 2019. It will releases on digital and on-demand July. 21, 2020.

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