Saturday, January 28, 2012


by Drew Martin
This week's My Favorite Mistake page in Newsweek is by composer Philip Glass and is about his having two pairs of children with two wives, three decades apart. He writes about the notion of the solitary artist, spending time with his children as the finest moments in his life, and how his second family gave him a second chance to be a more involved father.

The mention of Glass influenced me to watch Naqoyqatsi: Life as War, which is accompanied by his music. Glass also created the scores for the first two films in this Qatsi trilogy - Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi. These films look at the contrast of modern and traditional life but Naqoyqatsi examines the transformation of a natural environment to a technological landscape.

The film starts with the Tower of Babel and gorgeous pans of dilapidated and empty buildings, and then moves on to glimpses of anything and everything (most of it in slow motion): athletes, soldiers, binary code, endless fractals, body scans, atomic bombs, happy people, sad people, traffic, factories, data centers, motherboards, trading floors, satellites, wax museum celebrities, assassination attempts, wildlife on the move, uprisings, police crackdowns, and ends with skydivers and stars.

The film is so stylized, digitally manipulated and intensely edited that I felt detached from the theme and it simply became a montage of images that reminded me of Czesław Miłosz’s poem Tidings:

Of earthly civilization what shall we say?
That it was a system of colored spheres cast in smoked glass,
Where a luminescent liquid thread kept winding and unwinding.
Or that it was an array of sunburnt palaces
Shooting up from a dome with massive gates
Behind which walked a monstrosity without a face.
That every day lots were cast, and that whoever drew low
Was marched there as sacrifice: old men, children, young boys and young girls.
Or we may say otherwise: that we lived in a golden fleece,
In a rainbow net, in a cloud cocoon
Suspended from the branch of a galactic tree,
And our net was woven from the stuff of signs,
Hieroglyphs for the eye and ear, amorous rings.
A sound reverberated inward, sculpturing our time,
The flicker, flutter, twitter of our language.
For from what could we weave the boundary
Between within and without, light and abyss,
If not from ourselves, our own warm breath,
And lipstick and gauze and muslin,
From the heartbeat whose silence makes the world die?
Or perhaps we’ll say nothing of earthly civilization.
For nobody really knows what it was.