In Bright Axiom


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In Bright Axiom
"Nothing here is quite what it seems."

What if you could take all the positive elements of being in a cult - community, inspiration, reassurance, a sense of purpose - and make them available without harming or exploiting people? What if you could encourage ordinary people to let go of their inhibitions and unleash their creative potential through fantasy and play? This was idea behind the Latitude Society, a very Californian project put together by the group of artists and designers known as Nonchalance. If you haven't heard of it, that's because its members were required to maintain Absolute Discretion. Spencer McCall's documentary gives some of those who were part of the now defunct organisation the chance to speak out.

Or is it only that? Nothing here is quite what it seems. It doesn't need to be, and that's really the point. In philosophy, the value of an idea is not dependent on its origin - why, then, should what originates in the imagination be any less important that what originates in external reality as we usually experience and understand it? This film is no less interesting if interpreted as part of the experiment.

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It begins with an appeal to curiosity. A mysterious invitation. A series of puzzles. You have been specially selected. We have been watching you for some time. It's unclear what the success rate was with this approach, how many invitations went straight into the bin, how many people had more interesting things to do on the nights in question or simply felt it unwise to head out into the hills (in the region where Charles Manson once held court) to meet someone they knew nothing about and, as it turned out, wander round in the woods with strangers. Then there were parties and free drink and, subsequently, obscure induction procedures and meetings with supposed aliens. (If it sounds unlikely that people would buy into this, I suggest you do some reading on Scientology.)

At first it seemed to work. Friendships were formed. People opened up, started trusting each other, found joy in the secrets and the special codes ('in bright axiom' is a greeting used by members). It seemed like a gateway to a better way of living. But societies, like their governments and companies and religions, always start out full of hope. The problem is that they're made up of human beings. Somewhere along the line, the money for Latitude ran out, and members were asked to make a financial contribution. It was, one woman tells us, very reasonable if only to cover the cost of what they were drinking, but for others it was a red flag. And there is no fury, no sense of entitlement like that of people who have been given something for free and are then told it won't go on that way forever.

There are few real surprises here but there's a happy ending here of sorts. Sometimes it only takes a small trigger to teach people how to make their own entertainment, create their own social experiences. Indeed, without going through that they might never really have been much more than spectators. Can one reach everybody? Probably not this way. But every individual inspired to get creative in day to day life can reach out and make life a little brighter for others. Perhaps that will prove true of viewers watching this, too.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2020
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In Bright Axiom packshot
Documentary about the House Of Latitude social experiment.

Director: Spencer McCall

Writer: Geordie Aitken, Farouz Gipson, Wylie Herman, Spencer McCall

Starring: Geordie Aitken, Tracy Pfau, Anna Seregina, Haley Who, Geordie Aitken, Tracy Pfau, Anna Seregina, Haley Who

Year: 2019

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


DOC NYC 2019

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