“Walden”. Today in the midst of war, in a society that seems to be struggling to find the appropriate values to live by, it seems like America could learn a lot from the writings of Henry David Thoreau. Embracing nature and simple living, Thoreau stressed bettering oneself through ignoring the confusions and trappings of the modern world in order to find ones inner self and potential. A beautiful message to be remembered Thoreau’s “Walden” is viewed by many as a text as relevant now as when it was first published back in the 1800’s. Filmmaker’s Arthur Gross and Bruce Martin Campbell Merwin (Not to be confused with Bruce “Evil Dead, I cut my hand off with a chainsaw” Campbell) attempt to capture the spirit of Thoreau in their film “New Walden”. How, you may ask, does one capture the essence of one of the most revered authors of the 19th century? If you’re Gross and Merwin you use a plethora of really confusing dance numbers, one large dream sequence and a man chained to the back of a truck.
The words “inspired by” in any credits are reason to worry because they are essentially the film telling you all bets are off and “New Walden” is no exception. Add “cosmetic fantasies” as a credit and you know you are in for something special. Henry David Thoreau as played by Walker Fischer falls asleep in his cabin and then for the next forty minutes observes the dream realm where dancers in skin tight leotards with leaves draped over them prance about to inappropriate folk music. At random intervals Thoreau can be heard chiming in with some of his writing but overall the amount of Thoreau’s actual work is outweighed by original music supplied by Ben Moffatt and the near constant dancing. In one scene a man, bare chested aside from a vest, wearing jeans prances around with another gentleman who wears a Guardian Angels cap along with wrestling tights and three women (who appear to have been stolen from a Cyndi Lauper video) in a field. Why? No answer is ever given.
These dance sequences are occasionally punctuated by hallucinatory images such as Thoreau wandering into a convenience store along with his forest dancers (who are partial to a Crystal Lite machine in what may be the strangest product placement captured on film) or an African American gentleman chained up in the bed of a truck, only to be released later while his captor is buried up to his neck on a beach. One almost wishes for more of these instances since the visuals are so striking but sadly they are few and far between.
Since the direct corraltion between Thoreau and the accompanying images seems apparent only to the filmmakers a great deal of the overall meaning is lost. However, despite the confusion, “New Walden” is oddly captivating providing a cinematic experience I can in all honesty say I have never experienced before or probably ever will again. If dance numbers with out of place folk rock in the spirit of a long dead author is what you are looking for than look no further than “New Walden”, all others may choose to avoid.