Civilized Violence: Images of the Modern World in Naqoyqatsi
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“Naqoyqatsi,” meaning “life as war” in Hopi, is the third installation in the Qatsi Film Trilogy. The Arlington Theatre screened all three films, produced by Godfrey Reggio and scored by Phillip Glass, on Saturday Jan. 25 as part of UCSB’s“Arts and Lectures” series. Glass and Reggio’s newest collaboration, “Visitors,” premiered Saturday as well.
While “Naqoyqatsi” contains no spoken dialogue, it loudly critiques the integration of technology and violence in contemporary society. The film opens with a zooming shot of Pieter Bruegel’s painting of the Tower of Babel, a classic representation of the consequence of humankind’s self-glorification. This is followed by a sequence of shots of the abandoned Michigan Central Station. While impressive in size and structure, the building is covered in grime and graffiti. The abundant floor-to-ceiling windows have been smashed, making the building look lace-like and ethereal. Michigan Central Station is perhaps a modern day Tower of Babel, and the combination of this and Bruegel’s painting solidifies Reggio’s critique on unregulated human “progress” that the rest of the film explores.
The film is largely a compilation of news footage, television commercials and computer generated landscapes and cityscapes. The images and video clips were digitally altered to appear as if they had been shot by x-ray or infrared cameras. The footage is often overlaid with binary code, dollar signs and various computer icons. The shots often featured people in crowds, riots or some variation, demonstrating depersonalization. There are several shots of highly synchronized groups, such as army troops, with only the mechanized marching of their feet visible in the shot. Reggio is depicting the world as seen through the cold and unfeeling lens of technology, where people and nature are reduced to little more than parts of a machine.
As the title suggests, “Naqoyqatsi” included many representations of violence in the modern world, using footage of nuclear bombings, terrorism and simulated video-game violence. The film, which was created just prior to September 11, critiques toleranceviolence, and emphasizes that the modern world is permeated with aggression that is often aided by technology.
The film ends with the figure of a person spinning and fading into the abyss of outer space. Reggio leaves the viewer to contemplate the fate of humans who are obsessed with making a name for themselves through technological advancement. Yet, as the film itself is a form of technology, the message is perhaps laced with hope as the medium of technology leaves room for critique of itself.
Upcoming events in UCSB’s “Arts and Lectures” series include a production of “Giselle” put on by the Royal New Zealand Ballet at the Granada Theatre Feb. 5, an evening with the infamous Gloria Steinem at the Arlington Theatre Feb. 13 and the Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Arlington Theatre Feb. 25.