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Mon-Tue, Aug 2-3


  • Dir. Walon Green
  • USA
  • 1978
  • 97 min.
  • G
  • DCP
  • Assistive Listening
  • Hearing Loop

Part of Music City Mondays.

Plants pop and the mind boggles as Stevie Wonder provides the score for this rarely screened and impossible-to-stream 1978 documentary about the pain and joy that plants experience, how they communicate it, and the interconnectedness of all things.

Alternating sequences of the planet Earth in time-lapse grandeur with segments exploring various biologists at work, the rarely-screened 1978 documentary THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS — most certainly a product of its time — traverses the globe in pursuit of the interconnectedness of all things. A polygraph technician applies his science to track the emotional response of a houseplant. A woman teaches the Japanese alphabet to a cactus. All the while, Wonder employs an era-appropriate battalion of synth, vocalizing the action, acting as co-narrator, and turning out some of his most unusual work — later released as the record A Journey Into the Secret Life of Plants. The film had a very small release in 1979, its cinemascope images cut in half for VHS release, and is currently unavailable in a serviceable home video format.

With regard to Wonder’s double-disc film score, it was only the second album to ever be recorded digitally (Ry Cooder’s Bop Till You Drop preceded it by a few months) and the first album to use a digital sampling synthesizer in the form of the rudimentary Computer Music Melodian.

“Rather than attempt to carry on with [Songs in the] Key of Life’s trajectory and his own heritage...Wonder literally branched out, reaching upward towards an undetermined new destination, exploring intuitively and fearlessly in a manner that few artists have ever managed to do in the history of pop music.” Andy Beta, Pitchfork

“Wonder’s technical mastery — he produced the [double-LP] and plays almost every instrument — works well in the service of the all-suggestive mysticism at the center of both the film’s subject (plants’ secret lives as a key to human knowledge) and his own career.” Ken Tucker, Rolling Stone (Jan 24, 1980)