(1983) Chanting the Hopi word for "life in turmoil," a basso profundo accompanies footage of a violent explosion with debris from the engines of a rocket lifting off from its launch pad. With a score by composer Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke, this visually and aurally stunning film, directed by Godfrey Reggio, takes us through a moving montage of scenes, beginning with nature in the nude to cities clogged with people (from whom we never hear a word until the end credits), crammed full of cars and buildings.
An aerial view of sculptured landscapes, corduroy ripples of desert dunes, steaming cauldrons, shifts to dynamics of air and water: time-lapse clouds scud across the sky, a waterfall, ocean waves. Early on the music and images reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey in those scenes without human dialogue.
Forests, lakes, and rivers give way to an expansive field of cultivated flowers; a flooded desert forms the reservoir of Lake Powell: rock blasted and giant earth-moving machines. Human transformation of the planet: pipelines and power lines carry electricity and fuel to and from bellowing smokestacks.
Open-pit mines, oil rigs, steel furnaces, an atomic explosion with a mushroom cloud juxtapose with a nuclear power plant beside bathers on a beach, a skyscraper reflecting clouds on its glass façade, a United Airlines jetliner like a mirage through heated-air-distortion of the runway.
Freeway lanes of cars, a lot with rows of parked vehicles, are followed by rows of armored tanks, military aircraft, missiles, an aircraft carrier with "E=mc²" on its deck, bombs exploding.
Construction and destruction of a city: highrises in ruins, projects abandoned, buildings collapsing under controlled demolition. The sunlit monolithic Microdata slab of glasspanes reflects clouds above a crush of crowds with individual portraits; a surreal scene features an enormous full Moon rising past a skyscraper.
Patterns of people and transport in uniformity: fluid like blood through arteries, time-lapse traffic at night rushes in a stream of red and white - a choreography of cooperation and conformity. Mechanization of manufacturing and food processing: an extrusion of hotdogs and humans. Consumption and automation: videogames, shopping malls, fast food.
Crazy life: too fast - a racetrack through the city - too much - overwhelming overload - multiple exposure. Cities seen from far above are compared with circuit boards. There's an aged patient in a hospital ward; individuals are lost and alone among the masses.
Though this film appeared before either event - the chorus vocalizes Hopi prophecies - it eerily contains intimations of the Challenger disaster and 9/11.
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