Godfrey Reggio - continued from previous page
It seems like, on a larger scale, a lot of us tend to fall back on, and reflect, models that we had, maybe growing up. Just what we were surrounded by, even if it's unintentional. So you not having had any film school experience, how do you feel that that has informed your approach to the movies?
When I started making films, you could count on one hand the number of film schools in the United States, literally. It was just not there. Now every grade school, community college, university, you name it, has a moving image, or some equivalent, study group. The picture, the image, has replaced the word as our idiom, as it were. So it's the most desirable job in the world right now, filmmaking in particular. So it's all predicated on getting a job. Like the big feeders, for example, USC in Los Angeles. You specialize right away after you do your general courses, so you're going to be an editor or a script writer, or a director of photography, or a director, or a lighting director, or costume, or whatever, and then it feeds you into the business of filmmaking. That's not true all over, obviously. I mean the university of, say, South Dakota, probably has a film school but I'm sure they're not feeding into Hollywood, unless there's some very bright kid there, it's hard to get into these top schools. But having said that, that's where the jobs are today, it's all about imaging. And it teaches you a form, and it's usually based on getting a job. That's true for most of the sciences, for the humanities, for everything, it's all based on getting a job. Schools are based on jobs. Do you know Ivan Illich?
Yeah, I've come across a couple of his books over the years.
Yeah, he's got two great books, Deschooling Society and Medical Nemesis, talking about how these basic human needs of what's good for us, education, health care, or even the terms 'education' and 'health care' have been futzed with. We need to learn and we need to take care of our bodies, but radical monopolies have arisen to take care of that for us and then screw us in the process, and it's not good for us at the end of the day to begin with. School was a perfect example. I taught school for years. I've spent more time dealing with the oppressive structure or form of the educational machine that I was in, rather than dealing with the joy of working with people in a creative way that maybe stepped outside of boundaries. So I think it's the time today to question the form in which we live. It's the form that produces meaning, it's what we do everyday without thinking that is the real event. Marx asked this super question, he said, 'is it the content of your mind that determines your behavior, or is it your behavior that determines the content of your mind?' And I'll take it from there with a homily, as it were; it's 9 people out of 8 who answer, of course it's our mind that determines how we behave. But it's just the opposite. It's what we day everyday without thinking that determines the content of our mind for almost all of us.
You bring up Illich, I feel like he verbalized these ideas that at first seemed radical, but they're actually the most logical and un-radical ideas, they're almost the most simple, logical ways of living or existing. But they're so distant from what we have today.
Well you know his ideas, he was a threat not only to the establishment but to the radical left. Let me explain why. Revolutionaries, basically, were not interested in changing the form of society, they were interested in gaining the power. But if you don't change the form, then you're just changing who's in charge. Look at Cuba today, it's a fucking dungeon. I'm not putting down all the great things they've done, but it's top-down, it's like the ruler at the top, he's a revolutionary, well what does that mean? He's in charge rather than Batista, who was a scumbag. I don't think Castro's a scumbag but he's certainly a monster. Like all other people who have to have their will over everyone else. So Ivan Illich, he was way to the left of revolutionary movements, he was a threat to them, just for the reasons you said, it's common sense what he talks about. He was talking about something way more radical than revolution. He was talking about changing the forms in which we live, which are much more difficult to pull off than changing the power form, and we know how hard that is to do. Real radical ideas deal with changing the way in which we live, not who's in charge.
I come from an anarchist tradition, but that's such a difficult word to use, it's defined by those that were its enemies: anarchists were a violent bombthrower that were going to destroy central authority. They're not against organization, they're not against anything reasonable, it doesn't have to be with bombs, it just means that one has to create their own life. To me, the very essence, as a monk, of Christianity is anarchy. That's why I was never involved in liberation theology, which was revolutionary, because the only game in town was Marxism, which is for me a new religion. You know, religion is about love, not about dogma, and Marxism is all about dogma, not about love. It's about, you know, the right idea. Well that's always the wrong idea. If everybody has the right idea, it's the wrong idea. The beauty of life is its diversity.
Also, I must say that I don't consider myself an environmentalist, even though my films have been tagged that way. My view of technology is not how it affects the environment, not how it affects politics, not how it affects religion, the economy, it's that now everything is situated in technology. Technology is the new host of life. In that sense, technology is not something we use, it's something we breathe, it is the host of life, it is the new environment. So technology, we keep seeing it as something we can use for good or bad. It's bullshit I think, that point of view. It has its own politics, its own determination, its own determinants. And so it's, how would I say, it's become the environment of life, it has replaced nature as the host of human habitation and the rest of nature pays the enormous price for that.
Having said that, we live on a planet where there are four or five or six or seven different worlds. Bravo. What the problem is is we're trying to create one world, one way, one idea; 'the blue planet'. That's a very environmental idea and I find it fascistic. To me the most fascistic image of our day is that which is hidden in plain sight, used by everyone from not-for-profits to the UN to every group, church, every social group - the blue planet itself. That image of the blue planet is the quintessential new swastika, but it's much more dangerous because it's embraced, it looks positive. I'm not trying to be ridiculous but I'm trying to say our world is our range of relationships, not all this heady shit about one people, one world. We have to have our own lives, we have to create our own existence. And the beauty of life is that it's held together through diversity. So, even if it's for 'saving the planet', which I'm not into, I don't believe it's my business to save anything, I believe it's my business to create my own life and to live my world as my range of relationships. Now my world is the whole planet because of this madness of globalization, but it's not human, and there's no limit to what we're capable of.
In regards to the third of the qatsi trilogy is Naqoyqatsi, the Hopi word meaning 'life as war', you've mentioned how technology has essentially become the new environment, how apt do you feel that the word, "war", is in this sense?
Oh, I think it's endemic to the way we live that 'war' is the predicate. But it's beyond the war of the battlefield. It's much more insidious, much more pervasive, and a war that appears like not war, it looks normal. I mean, we've gone to war with the entire rest of the planet, the animal kingdom, the vegetation kingdom, the very air of the earth itself, the vibrations within the planet, the relationship between the outer-core and the inner-core where we're exploding nuclear devices underground for 50 years, I mean, we're really messing around here. We all have within our bodies elements that didn't even exist a hundred years ago, they're ingested like the air we breathe. It all seems normal. I mean, just to support this war of living, the price we pay for this technological happiness is off the charts, and our life becomes predicated in speed, faster and faster and faster and faster. We've outrun our future. To me, the end's already occurred, we're living in the aftershock of the event, and to me that's what I mean about being hopeless about this order, so that one can have the veracity of hope. Hope is the substance of what you hope for, it's the only term in theology that uses the term to define itself. So it's not just, 'oh, I hope things are fine,' that's just willy-nilly. It's the substance of what you hope for that makes hope. So I'm hopeful, but I'm hopeless.
Could you tell me about your experiences being a monk, because you've said that you weren't particularly a religious person.
No, I wasn't. I never have been, really. I'm a very neurotic person. Somehow I'm a spiritual person, but I think that's different than the religious form. On the other hand, I think we all need community and religion is about creating community. It's not about dogma, it's about living in communion with other people, with love as the bind. To me, who we are is our soul. I mean, that's what music is about. Music is Lady Atmos, Atmos is the esoteric name for the atmosphere. It's that which we breathe, it's around us. I'm from New Orleans, I grew up with music as a child all through my adolescence, well until the age of thirteen when I left home. That's what the spirit is. I want to pose a conundrum: we are, both, spirit and matter. I'm sure that the spirit is concomitant with the matter, but we're way beyond just physicality, we have something else deep inside of us, we call it 'soul' or whatever you want. I mean, it doesn't matter what we call it, at the end of the day, it's beyond... it's not that it's unreasonable, it's beyond reason. I think what our mind can understand is probably this much [makes pinching gesture] compared to infinite possibility. To think that one could wrap their mind around the totality of what's going on, that's pure hubris.
St. Augustine on the beaches of North Africa was pondering the meaning of god, of existence, of the universe. He was walking up and down the beach going nuts. He saw this little kid, and he got really taken, and this little child had built a big hole in the sand carved out of a place about this big [gestures with arms], and he had a little bucket and was going over to the sea and was bringing the water in, into the hole. And so Augustine said, 'what are you doing there, kid?' And the child said, 'well you know, I'm going to put all of that water here in this hole', and Augustine laughed at it. And the kid said, 'I'll fill up this hole before you figure out what's on your mind.' Whether that's a real story, it doesn't matter. it gets the point, that we have a real limit to what our capacity is, that makes us who we are, it gives us a certain fragility and indicates our clear relationship and need for love. It's who we are. You know, we'll never figure it out, it's just not in the cards. So in that sense, I do miss my religious community.
In regards to the film you're currently working on, how has your approach to filmmaking changed or evolved over the years?
I'm not interested in, or probably capable of, making a real movie. I've discovered a form that I'm really locked in with now that I love. Though I don't want to keep repeating myself, so I've introduced into this film narration as a point of view - though it's non-spoken narration. It's the narration of body language, facial display, eye behavior, gesture.
The first rule of cinema - there are exceptions of course, but that only proves the rule - is that the actors never look directly into the eye of the camera, except with extraordinary exception, in order to keep the illusion of this voyeuristic event taking place. You're sitting in a black room watching the most intimate, from death to love to comedy, taking place as if these people are not aware of you, like you're peeping through the hole. I want this film to be in dialogue with the audience. I want to bring the audience in. So all the people that we're looking at are in direct eye contact with the audience at all times. And the setting, as it were, is between the real and dreamstate. The dreamstate, of course, all of our dreams are colored with the metaphors of life - in other words, nature, people we know, buildings, stars. This is who we are. Our dream world is populated with the images of the daytime, so they're nighttime images bathed in the light of day, let's say. But then at the moment we wake up, you're right in that twilight zone between the real and the dream, and if you've had a vivid dream, you're not sure of what's real. In this film, we're looking for that moment where there is this confusion between the real and the dreamstate. I'm looking to confuse reality and dream.
It's going to go out with a live orchestra. The qatsi's have been performed live now over 250 times. We still have a little more shooting to do. And then get the venues and go through all kinds of ideas and see everyone's schedules to be able to perform it live like the others. But this one's going to be different from the other ones. It has a different feeling.
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