If this name rings a bell, you’re most likely recalling Stevie Wonder’s most puzzling album, Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants- an ambitious, but convoluted mix of ambience and pop which has some big fans, but mostly left listeners confused. Just as confusing is the documentary few have actually watched that Wonder’s soundtrack was made for: The Secret Life of Plants, unearthed here, for you, by request.
Part nature documentary, part biography of a fascinating pseudo-scientist, and part pop music video, this hodge-podge of trippy timelapse and archival footage makes for a unique late 70’s experience. It opens with the kind of traditional, dry narration that makes people run far away from PBS… and then goes into some fascinating and gorgeous timelapse footage of plants blooming, which, as clichéd as it may seem, still remains fascinating and gorgeous even today.
We also get a brief history of the great George Washington Carver, complete with what’s basically a YouTube lyrics video of Same Ol’ Story, Stevie Wonder’s biographical song about Carver. Then we get into the cra-cra stuff: Cleve Backster, an ex-CIA interrogator who became obsessed with using polygraph tests to prove that plants had ESP. Few cinematic moments are more eye-catching than the one offered here of a cabbage being chopped while a neighboring plant, wired up to some device straight out of The Jetsons, emits sounds of empathetic suffering.
The film just keeps going from there- Beatles songs, mysterious tribal dances, African-American women pioneering urban gardening, old White lady clubs, Eartha Robinson channeling a Black Orchid in an interpretive dance… even Stevie himself makes it onto the screen as he prances through nature to end this genuine timepiece of a film. Impossible to find, improbable to have been made, The Secret Life of Plants is a truly unique cinematic artifact.