Considering the age we live in where we have almost all facets of life presented to us in neatly packaged forms and where we look for the most for the least. Ease of use and efficiency is the name of the game and anything that is complex should come with an easy to read set of instructions or explanation. Something you will not find in today’s art world, or maybe?
If you build it, they will come…
Perhaps this need for efficiency has led to the demise of today’s Western Cinema and Hollywood’s exploit of one liners and easily accessed entertainment. The old cliché of “if you build it, they will come” is followed by buying overly priced tickets, popcorn and soda. It has been a working formula for decades. Except for a few avant-garde, experimental, foreign and documentary films, mainstream Western Cinema has based its success on financial gain. To build this wealth far beyond the box office, the idea of video rentals and purchases keep audiences pleased even after the opening day anticipation. A consuming society is willing to offer up a few more extra dollars months later to maintain their favorite viewings at home to be remembered and watched over and over again. Today there are even the re-released versions with new and never seen content. Consumers are bombarded with this enticing idea that the available DVDs, and now Blu-Ray Discs, are packed with special features and enhanced content. (By enhanced content, I am not talking about higher resolutions or HD.) Skeptically the questions should be raised as to what can be expected with this enhancement or special content? How does it add or take away from the previous viewing experience?
Although uncertain myself and have, at one time or another, bought into the special formula of Capitalistic Cinema, I believe that the presentation of this new media, being the DVD Enhanced Features, has also permitted some artistic expression to be found in specific genres of cinema. I will not say, for example, that all commentaries played back on a particular DVD are beneficial or even necessary. At best they are merely anecdotes that leave the viewer with nothing more than the misguiding voice of one’s preferred actor or director. But I would say that I have initiated a few selections that offer some plausible insight to the director’s cause and the purpose for creating a film.
Immersed in the Imagery
For my basis and analysis, I have included a collection of films transferred to our now complacent medium the DVD. Although there may be many more for my testimony, these few exemplary films include, and are not limited to, Ron Fricke’s Baraka and Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (first of the ‘Qatsi trilogy). The first inclusion is a film called Baraka by Ron Fricke. From the “behind-the-scenes” selection we are introduced to the meaning of the title. Because of the limiting factor of the English Language the word Baraka was chosen because of its origins in the Sufi language of the Middle East, which means “blessing” and “breath of life”. The initial scope of this film is taken from this and “with humanity’s relationship to the eternal.” Intentionally left without subtitles or any narration we are allowed to be immersed in the imagery. Ron Fricke’s comments tell us “we aren’t meant to dwell on the where you are, or why your there, but more of what is the experience of what is there.” He remarks further by saying, “there are no main characters; the characters are the locations and the essence of what comes out of the images.” Ron Fricke also likens it to painting where, “there is a concept, an aim, where you gather all this data…and build a structure with what works with the concept.”
Experience of the encounter…
The second inclusion is a film by Godfrey Reggio called Koyaanisqatsi. This films photography is much like that of Baraka because Ron Fricke was the cinematographer, but its approach by Reggio as director is much different. We can see from the Reggio’s comments below how dissimilar he is. Godfrey Reggio comments that, “Koyaanisqatsi is not so much about something, nor does it have a specific meaning or value. Koyaanisqatsi is, after all, an animated object, an object in moving time, the meaning of which is up to the viewer. Art has no intrinsic meaning. This is its owner, its mystery, and hence, its attraction. Art is free. It stimulates the viewer to insert their own meaning, their own value. So while I might have this or that intention in creating this film, I realize fully that any meaning or value Koyaanisqatsi might have come exclusively from the beholder. The film’s role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from the experience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning. If meaning is the point, then propaganda and advertising is the form. So in the sense of art, the meaning of Koyaanisqatsi is whatever you wish to make of it.”
From Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi we are presented with a catalog of attractive imagery that is complimented with an eventful composition of musical and natural occurring elements. It has been my experience that while investigating the added content of the above mentioned DVDs we are able to make new connections of understanding and meaning. The associations that we are left to make on our own are indeed limitless and I feel should be encouraged. We have already seen how influences on meaning, understanding, perspective and aesthetics can vary by culture and historic existence.
In this exploration I cannot and will not say that meaning can be reduced to what can be said verbally about a particular piece of art, nor can it be simplified to only the director or cinematographer’s summation of the viewed artifact or experience. I can only suggest that the knowledge gained from knowing the historical and contemporary perspective of the involved artist, in this case the director or cinematographer, can possibly enhance the artistic meaning for the included viewer.
Baraka. Dir. Ron Fricke. DVD. MPI, 1992. Koyaanisqatsi. Dir. Godfrey Reggio. DVD. MGM, 1983.