<= 2002.09.17

2002.09.19 =>

out of balance

Weird weather here—breezes and thick lumps of cloud. Apparently we're catching the tail end of a hurricane somewhere or other. And I just got hit by a repressed memory from one of the science books I read as a kid: there was an article explaining how the hydrogen (or thermonuclear) bomb actually contained a smaller atomic bomb, because the atomic bomb's energy was necessary to initiate the hydrogen bomb's fusion reaction. Illustrating this was a cartoon in which a large, anthropomorphic hydrogen bomb gazed lovingly at a smaller, female atomic bomb and said, "I'm nothing without you." Both bombs seemed quite happy.

"The longer we wait, the more deadly his regime becomes," the secretary said.

Three protesters, chanting "Inspections, not war!" briefly interrupted his testimony. A police officer escorted the women out of the hearing room.

"As I listened to those comments, it struck me what a wonderful thing free speech is," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans.

—Hopi prophecy, quoted in

Koyaanisqatsi (1983). I'm pretty late to the party on this, but it doesn't seem at all dated. Non-narrative cinema is tricky; it's awfully hard to dispense with plot and character without becoming boring and banal. Koyaanisqatsi manages to sidestep these limitations rather spectacularly, since its avowed purpose is to show the familiar and make it strange. The idea is that technology has become the very air we breathe, completely mediating our experience, and we no longer think about what it looks like. This film aims to show us through jarring techniques such as time-lapse photography, aerial views, and of course that Philip Glass music. Sped up fifty times, the New York subway system starts to look a lot like Hell; the same goes for the weird urban dance of pedestrians and cars and the Oscar Meyer wiener factory. The drawn-out slow-motion gazes of homeless people are terrifying, as is the anonymous withered hand reaching up from a hospital bed. There is a section on the technology of war, but it's not nearly as strident as it could have been—a few explosions are sufficient to make the point, and a single long shot of a mushroom cloud in the desert whose black smoke rises, curling on itself, until it truly begins to look like an awakened demon.

Powaqqatsi (1988), which depicts Third World societies rather than our own, is not nearly as good. In the attached interview, director Godfrey Reggio fends off charges that he was romanticizing poverty and oppression—he just wanted to show that there were other ways of life. The problem is that we don't know much about these other ways, so that instead of making the familiar strange, the film shows us images that are completely strange and doesn't bother to elaborate on them. A lot of the movie turns into a guessing game about what country we're currently in: Mexico? Syria? Oh, this must be Tibet. Well, there's some sort of ritual happening here. The format of the film doesn't allow for any explanation, so we get no more than a tourist view of these parts of the world—interesting images, whose significance we completely fail to comprehend. A handful of the shots are gorgeous, but many are surprisingly uninteresting, and the music doesn't help at all. Though Glass has done well with world music in the past, this time around he seems content to program some generic drumbeats and top them off with idiotically happy synthesizer lines. The effect is that of those multicultural IBM commercials from a few years back. Reggio's well-spoken interview convinced me that his intentions were sincere, though he gets points off for saying "co-equal" and referring to the number three as "the matrix of my deliberation." His format just doesn't do this particular subject matter any justice.

Naqoyqatsi comes out in a few weeks. The trailer makes it look like it'll be much closer to Koyaanisqatsi in spirit. Its avowed subject is war as a way of life.


<= 2002.09.17

2002.09.19 =>

up (2002.09)