Sunday, May 14, 2017


In the tradition set by director Godfrey Reggio in the documentaries Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Powaqqatsi (1988), and Naqoyqatsi (2002), Ron Fricke, the director of Samsara (2011), uses photos and film taken over a period of five years to comment on the human condition.  Drawing mostly from cultures and people from various parts of Asia and Africa, to a lesser extent from Europe and the Americas, he shows people engaged in a array of activities: eating, dancing, childrearing, worship, walking along streets. The film is an assemblage of images (though assemblage suggest a three-dimensional structure, which we don’t have here) or montage (which implies an array of images we view all at once, which we cannot do here): the film gives us a series of images in linear order, and any order we find in them comes from our ability to look for echoes, repetitions, interactions among the images. We notice images showing women in various roles of subordination, in service to men.  We notice many images of poverty, interspersed with some images of wealth and affluence. We are given a sense that humans across the world in one way or the other face parallel burdens and obstacles, and that economic disparities, violence, and war (all emphasized as we near the film’s conclusion) are counterbalanced by images of worship, access to a so-called higher truth.  A particularly painful series of clips show chickens, steers, and pigs being fed, slaughtered, dismembered, and prepared for market in a massive industrial factory setting. The music for this film varies between spiritual music sung by choir-like voices and vaguely New Ageish music.  Samsara lacked the movement, energy, and hypnotic effect of Powaqqatsi and Koyaanisqatsi.  If the conditions shared by the human race are supposed to be a source of hope and support, as this film would have it, I felt only hopelessness.

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