Saturday, November 01, 2008

Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation

Dear Garimpeiros*,

I recently watched the movie Powaqqatsi, part 2 of a trilogy of film collaborations by Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass. Though not as powerful as part 1, Koyaanisqatsi, it was, nonetheless, a beautiful and intriguing piece--particularly to you garimpeiros, I would think.

One of the images that recurs throughout the film Powaqqatsi is that of humans carrying burdens and carrying them, particularly, on or with their heads. And that is how we see you in the beginning sequence of the film. That scene is undoubtedly the most moving of the entire production. There you are in Serra Pelada**, sometime before the 1990's when this ant hill of production closed down, 40,000 of you, struggling up from the depths of a great pit under great burdens of rock and mud.

Godfrey Reggio recounts that the filming in the mine was taking place as planned, when a man was accidentally hit on the head with a rock. The camera person asked if he should stop filming and help. Reggio maintained that their efforts to help would be unwanted and so they filmed instead. The image of two garimpeiros carrying another up the rough trail impresses the viewer as a video version of the Pieta. Pity him. Pity them. Pity us all for the burdens we must carry.

This piece of video art, Reggio says, is an attempt to use the medium to question the medium. I'm not totally sure what he means. Supposedly he traveled broadly across the southern hemisphere to capture images from life that show the effect of industry and technology on the world. I would have to say that the work doesn't hold together in the same way that Koyaanisqatsi did, but it is beautiful and the music of Philip Glass is, as always, wonderful (if you love Glass) or repetitive to the point of a scream (if you don't).

"The computer is the highest magic in the world and something that we are all in adoration of. And that's what these films are about," Godrey says. But the word powaqqatsi is from the Hopi language and means "sorcerer life" or an entity or way of life that consumes the life forces of other beings in order to further its own life. The context of the film is this technological order. It studies the impact of progress. There is the implication in the film that technology is eating up the native cultures of the world, but that implication doesn't imply violence as much as complicity of these cultures. Powaqqi may be a black magician, but if he/she is, it operates through allurement. If the Southern world is being subsumed by progress, it is submitting willingly.

The language of the music is consonant with the language of the film. Apparently Glass followed Reggio around the southern hemisphere, but didn't always travel with him. He visited some of the same places. His hope was to explore the universe of this discourse, where the great conundrum of our age is the most immediately puzzling. "We are," they say, "already cooking in the stew of this technological age." This is the great burden that we are carrying around on our heads.

One of my favorite scenes of the film is one captured by the camera playing games with the depth of field. A woman walks, impressively carrying on her head a basket, while what appears to be a modern group of marathon runners stride up upon her slowly. The effect is breathtaking.

Powaqqatsi displays for us this great burden, embodied by those, like you, who still walk with bared feet in the mud and through the dust.

I read that Colossus Minerals of Toronto is now developing plans along with a group of garimpeiros represented by Coomigasp to core drill for gold at Serra Pelada. Pity.


*Brazilian Gold Searchers
**Serra Pelada - Very Famous Gold Open Pit Mine in the west of Brazil


cadh 8 said...

Very cool videos. Not sure i could last through a whole movie, but the concepts are thought provoking and moving. I liked the shots of the people carrying the bags.

brd said...

Yes there is something very "earthy" about that video. When I first watched it I had no idea, what these people were doing. Mining for gold may have been my last guess.