Encores & Curtain Calls
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
— Henry Wordsworth
A dark cinema screen: a deep monk-like voice, layered upon itself, ominously chanting the word “Koyaanisqatsi” — portending something profound and ominous, growing in power until the word itself slashes, blood red, across the screen, as if in prophetic warning; yet of just what, we know not.
Slowly, soundlessly, primordial images — cave paintings of Neolithic humans; then, sudden disastrous explosions followed by snowstorms of scattering shards showering down, the obvious handiwork of the technological era; soaring views looking down at endless primal landscapes bathed in dawn light; now, flying lower, views of monolithic butte-dominated landscapes, glowing soft ocher in the early light. Then, the view plunges within the bowels of earth to reveal caverns sculpted millions of years ago by glaciers.
As these images progress, the primordial and natural becoming increasingly invaded by the contemporary and industrial, the puzzle begins to assemble itself into a clearer picture. We begin to wonder who is at the helm of this carefully planned front-seat roller-coaster ride from innocence to insanity.
For, without so much as a word, our anonymous tour guide has been eloquently revealing to us his love, his passionate reverence for the pristine world that existence has bequeathed him and his species.
The navigator is Godfrey Reggio, creator of the film “Koyaanasisqatsi,” which will be screened at Pothole Pictures in Shelburne Falls Saturday, June 8, at 7:30 p.m. The title is a Hopi word meaning “a life out of balance” or “a life in corruption.” The film is largely the creative child of three individuals: Reggio, cinematographer Ron Fricke and composer Philip Glass, whose wall-to-wall score has taken on a life of its own beyond its role in the film.
Glass’ score is as monolithic as is its graphic primeval subject matter and as almost mindlessly compulsive as the technological hyperdrive it eventually underscores, creating a kind of sustained hypnotic trance by which to further entrain the viewer’s brain into the compelling graphics that mercilessly assault it during the film.
Says Glass of the underpinnings for his score:
“Earth, air, fire, water — those are the four elements in the alchemical system, those become the basis of all matter, and we can say that the texts in this music are the basis of any kind of interdisciplinary art form whether it’s opera, or film or dance.”
The film will be preceded by piano music by Abdul Baki at 7 p.m. The film is part of the town’s annual Riverfest celebration that day.
Following, an excerpt from Reggio, speaking about the unusual underpinnings of his aesthetic vision:
“(The images are) meant to fundamentally to stir (us) up enough to actually create an experience of the subject, it is up to the viewer to take for herself what actually that means; and so, for some people, it’s an environmental film, for some people it’s an ode to technology, for some people it’s (expletives), for other people it moves them deeply — it depends on who you ask. If someone’s trying to figure out why they’re watching the film, they’re probably not going to get into it. It’s more like taking a journey; it’s the journey which is the objective, not the end place where we are going.
“I think there’s a thread in everyone’s life — in my life I entered a religious community of men at the age of 14, stayed till the age of 28, grew up in effect in the Middle Ages, which was remarkably insane and beautiful all at the same time; in other words, it wasn’t bad or good, it was bad and good at the same time. And I felt it gave me a very special preparation for life; the order that I was in prepared me to live a life of humility and service and prayer, and that certainly goes against the grain of 1940s of, say, New Orleans culture, which is something like ‘La Dolce Vita.’ And so, at the tender age of 13, I felt like I had explored that enough and I was ready to move on through idealism; like any adolescent, I was inspired by the life of other people whose lives moved me. These were religious men that taught me so I joined their order. How it influenced my films, I can’t say in a specific way, other than I have always been interested and motivated by what stands behind the surface of things; and when you’re religious and doing meditation and mental prayer and trying to go beyond words into some deep feelings and something that is willful, then it helps you prepare. And so I guess I had a great preparation for discipline and focus in that mad time.”
Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for kids under 12. Pre-purchased season tickets are also accepted.
The theater is located in historic Memorial Hall at 51 Bridge St., in Shelburne Falls and is fully air conditioned and handicapped accessible.
For information, call 413-625-2896.
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at