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"Spark: A Burning Man Story": A Monster Rises in the Desert 

Wednesday, Sep 4 2013

Steve Brown and Jessie Deeter's documentary Spark: A Burning Man Story is a monster movie, an updating of Frankenstein. The creature is the annual Burning Man festival, born in the 1980s when a modern Prometheus decided to burn a wooden effigy on a San Francisco beach. (Archival video reveals there were already drum circles: clearly, portents of doom.) The creature grew into a weeklong event in the Nevada desert, but the bigger it got the less controllable it became; attendance reached an unmanageable 10,000 by 1996, and a shift in the wind caused the climactic Burning of the Man to become (even more) dangerous. In 2012, a new ticketing system ("Don't call it a lottery!") to deal with the 60,000 souls at the gates resulted in a PR nightmare, one which Brown and Deeter were quite fortunate to be around to film. Like most monster movies, the third act of Spark: A Burning Man Story is the creature in full rampage mode, full of neon light and belching fire and thumping techno — all in the name of self-expression and art for everyone (who can afford to be there), yet looking like empty spectacle for those watching from a safe distance. And, most chillingly, we see similar monsters being born around the world. The cycle continues.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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