“Civilized Violence”

Tonight was one of those nights when nothing seemed terribly appealing. When my mind is afflicted with this kind of torpor sometimes it pays to try and do something spontaneous. Not necessarily dramatic, mind you, but simply letting your instinct guide your choice. With that in mind, I decided to watch ‘Naqoyqatsi’ (2002), directed by Godfrey Reggio. Like many who have watched all three films in the ‘Qatsi Trilogy’, I was transfixed by the synchrony of sound and images achieved in ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ when it appeared in 1982. Much has changed in the twenty intervening years, which is reflected in the third installation of the series. Relying exclusively on stock footage and computer generated imagery, ‘Naqoyqatsi’ evokes a world awash in technology. Familiar images, both natural and manmade, are transfigured into neon colored vistas of digitized shapes and movement. Comparable to the previous two ‘qatsi’ films, ‘Naqoyqatsi’ is driven by a mesmerizing score composed by Philip Glass, who said of his music for the film: “In Naqoyqatsi, Reggio turns to a visual language heavily dependent on digital, synthesized images. With this film, the ‘civilized violence’ in the narrative of the film goes beyond anything seen in the two preceding films. In this case, I chose a contrasting language for the music, composing music for a large (acoustic) symphonic ensemble featuring a solo cello throughout. My instinct was to balance the quite startling effect of the synthetically composed images with a sound world of ‘natural’ timbres. Furthermore, the solo cello — played superbly by Yo-Yo Ma — quickly emerges as the ‘voice’ of the music, lending the score an overall human dimension.” For me, what informs my appreciation of these movies are the Hopi notions of transformation–koyaanisqatsi, powaqqatsi, naqoyqatsi–which are part of the cosmos itself. In this case, ‘naqoyqatsi’ isn’t an abstract theological concept, let alone an ideological one. Instead, it denotes a natural phase in the life and death of all things. There are times of harmony and times of conflict. We may knock the world out of balance with our selfishness and our insecure need for wealth and power, but like the upheavals seen in the earth herself, the world has a way of cleansing itself. Nevertheless, the choice we are still faced with is: do we want to survive the flood or do we want to be swept away?

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