In “Words,” the documentary that he made with Jason Holzman, Gregg Brown likens the Chaos Theory to Telephone. The former posits that the beating of a butterfly’s wings in the eastern hemisphere can cause a storm in the western hemisphere. The latter is a game where a number of people stand in a line, the first person whispers a word to the next person, and when it reaches the last person, it’s become a different word. Brown, who appears in “Words,” illustrates this point by getting twenty some-odd New Yorkers to play Telephone. As the people are passing on the word, Brown narrates that while the first and final words may seem unrelated, the middle words are like links (much like the events that take place between a butterfly’s wings and a storm). However irrelevant a string of words may be, they represent ideas which in turn lead to experiences that can sprout more ideas.
The documentary itself is constructed much like a game of Telephone, except that its start and finish are more similar. “Words” begins with a round of the game. Brown then hits the streets of New York to ask people about religious or spiritual experiences they may have had or wish to have. The first man talks about going to a Native American sweat lodge once where he had a near out-of-body experience. It prompts the filmmakers to invite people to a sweat lodge up in Pine Plains, NY. About half a dozen individuals accept and join Brown on a short car ride to self-discovery and understanding. The concept behind a sweat lodge and how it can help a person reach a deep level of self-awareness is that you’re in a really hot teepee, and as you sweat, you exfoliate the negative energy that is buried in or clinging to you. As Jim “Dark Cloud” Jackson explains, one must “weaken the body” to “strengthen the mind.”
With nothing but positive feedback from those who experienced a sweat lodge for the first time, Brown returns to New York’s streets to collect some more stories. He finds a Native-American woman who discusses the sweat lodges she’s been to and her words lead to a segment on the demystification of the bosom (let your imagination jog a bit and you’ll probably get the gist of who Brown interviews for it and what they’re not wearing). The next portion is of people who, at Brown’s request, pose like photos depicting Hindu deities. Brown then explores a more serious topic of how death and tragedy affects the lives of several people. Brown then shares a very personal experience that he had during the making of “Words.” The World Trade Center fell and he was given the opportunity to videotape ground zero from the air.
Brown and Holzman bring “Words” to a close by asking customers of a gas station to share their ethnic backgrounds. The filmmakers receive a diverse set of answers. Some people are from South Asia, some are Italian, one man is Russian, and another guy is from Brooklyn. Brown instructs the people to put their left arms into a tall yellow container the size of a port-o-potty. These individuals come from different places, but they react the same when they touch what is in that big box: they laugh.
“Words” ends with another group of people playing a round of Telephone, making word associations and forming ideas that will inevitably lead to new experiences.