on March 14, 2004
The first two films of the Qatsi trilogy were made up of organic images accompanied by the music of Philip Glass. Astonishing achievements, they are, mostly because of this. The use of "found" images to tell a story - without dialog or a three-act screenplay - is quite an accomplishment.
So, in the third installment, what was left to achieve? The opposite: to tell a story with synthetic images, but also without reliance on dialog, characters, or formal dramatic structure. A purely abstract film, in other words, where every image could be controlled precisely. The result is Godfrey Reggio's Naqoyqatsi, which, in my opinion, is not quite abstract enough.
When relying on "real" images (i.e., representational) exclusively, you have to find metaphors and make connections indirectly. Koyaanisqatsi's most powerful example of this is a shot toward the end where we see an elderly person's hand emerge from an endless row of hospital beds seen obliquely so that they are nothing more than diagonal lines of metal and plastic. It's a haunting moment - humanity reaching out from the suffocating cocoon of technology it has woven about itself; reaching out for contact with something real.
But the computer-enhanced (and often computer generated) work in Naqoyqatsi goes for the obvious most of the time. Instead of oblique metaphors, we get transliterations: actual ones and zeros flying around the screen to represent information overload; corporate logos in 3-D zooming at us to tell us how pervasive they are - complete with the obvious Cheap Shot at Corporate Greed: the dreaded Enron logo; dollar signs raining on stock traders at the NYSE. And so on.
It's mostly clumsy. We even have a double-image of Dolly the cloned sheep intercut with shots of human eggs being artificially fertilized, followed by a big digital pull-back of lots and lots of naked babies, who are really the same four or five babies repeated endlessly. There is a certain aesthetic beauty in the work - the patterns are reminiscent of Salvador Dali's lattices of insects becoming clock hands; the periodic morphs, of his penchant for landscapes becoming faces. But as a whole, these images lack the elegance that marked the first two Qatsis. They're just too obvious.
That being said, Philip Glass' score is sublime. It's among his better works, eschewing strict minimalist formalism, while maintaining a minimalist kind of simplicity. It features some of the best Neo-Romantic orchestral writing I have heard in some time - a great counterpoint to the cold, industrial images of the film.
For the Completist, I recommend Naqoyqatsi. It's by no means a bad film. But for someone unfamiliar with the Qatsi aesthetic, I wouldn't start with this one. You need a grounding in the artistic sensibilities of the first two films to appreciate what does - and does not - work in this one.
on March 28, 2003
Okay. I saw this movie in November of last year, and even had the good fortune to meet Mr. reggio himself (I told him to watch "Dancer in the Dark", he said he loved Von Trier and I almost collapsed right there). Anyway, the movie. Of all the opening scenes in the history of cinema, I'd say the opening scene of "Naqoyqatsi" ranks in the top ten most beautiful of all time. The first image you see is an MRI image (made 3-D) of "The Tower of Babel", a painting by a famous Italian painter. It zooms in to show the incredible detail of the painting as the quite frankly INSANE music playing starts building up. Then begins a flawless, completely fluid transition from this amazing image to one even more amazing and, in my opinion, the most powerful in the film - the countless broken windows of an abandoned white building in Detroit. Now, when I saw this the first time, I had no idea where this building was or what type of building it was (someone here said it was a railroad station, though it looked to me like an apartment building). I believe the POINT is the anonymity, or better yet, the universality of the destruction and decay present in this image. It could be anywhere in the world. As Yo-Yo Ma's cello strikes out some of the most unforgettable music you'll ever hear, the camera sweeps to show the face of the ruined building in its entirety and believe me, it's one of the most haunting and beautiful images in the history of film. That's the BEGINNING of this movie! For the next 90 minutes, you're shown a panoply of images that define our times in all their confusion and strife, and all I can say is you probably won't get them out of your head for at least a week after seeing it. How can people call this a disappointment? What MAKES this film so beautiful is the integration of the real and the unreal, of the reality behind the image and the artificiality of the image itself. I believe this film is the synthesis of the trilogy, and that the filmaker's message is that life out of balance ultimately BECOMES life as war. Now, let's just hope it gets out on DVD soon.
on June 18, 2002
I just saw a preview screening of this in NYC tonight. It incoperates the same techniques of the previous films in the series (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi) which although may seem unconventional or strange in comparison to what we see see these days, is altogether enjoyable. In my opinion the visual narrative fails this time around but the soundtrack absolutely surpasses the others due to the contribution of Yo Yo Ma and another unflawed outing from the masterful Philip Glass. Naqoyqatsi intends to muse on our planet's war culture but get often mixed up with an ulterior commentary on technology (Although what I saw may not have been a final cut). Still worth seeing if you can find it come October. Also glad to see that the 3 will be making to DVD- a tremendous thank-you to those responsible for that!
on October 17, 2003
I bought the Naqoyqatsi DVD yesterday and have watched it two times since. My first impression was that this third in the Qatsi Trilogy was a lot like the first film only more hectic. I watched it a second time and it seemed a lot slower and not just a jumble of flashy digital images. On first viewing, I found the ending a bit disappointing but on the second viewing I was allowed to look more into the images. The film is great piece of art but still isn't as coheisive as Koyaanisqatsi. The music is probably what holds Naqoyqatsi together so well. The marriage of image and music is perfect.
The DVD has a extremely short clip of Steven Soderburg and Godfrey Reggio talking about the film which isn't all that important. There is a conversation with Yo-yo Ma and Phillip Glass which is nice to have on the DVD but really doesn't give that much insight on the movie. Probably the best extra of the DVD is the NYU Panel Discussion with Godfrey Reggio, Phillip Glass, and Visual Designer Jon Kane.
Some could call this just one long MTV video but I think it holds more substance than that. The message of the film could definitely be different for everyone but, I find that the message of the movie is that life is a stuggle, a struggle against technology, society, religion, and the future. Personally this is my second favorite "qatsi" film, second only to the first film. This is a great conclusion to a wonderful trilogy and should not be missed by fans of the Qatsi trilogy.
on November 23, 2003
I must admit that I cannot comment on the technical aspects of the DVD transfer. I am writing on the basis of my experience of this film in the theatre. That said, I would commend - and recommend - this film on several important aspects, especially as compared with the previous two films in the trilogy.
First, the score is amazing: mesmerizing, beautiful, and even at times serene. Philip Glass has matured (as have we all) since the release of "Koy"; instead of a barrage of 1/32 notes over and over, the music does not overwhelm either the visual images or the listner. By no means do I wish to criticize the "Koy" music as inferior work; I simply mean that Glass does not let technique drive the music, as I believe he does in some of his earlier works. Glass also gives Ma's cello breathing room, allowing Ma to provide the humanistic/humane counterpoint so essential in the juxtaposition of music and image in "Naqoyqatsi". Hands down, then, the aural experience of "Naqoyqatsi" equals or betters anything Glass has orchestrated.
This brings us to the visuals themselves. "Naqoyqatsi" is a true postmodern social critique, in that it uses the very images it wishes to critique in the critique itself. The lens is turned back on itself, as it were. Never has McLuen's idea of the "medium is the message" been better - or more effectively - illustrated than in this film. (In fact, the fact illustrated by Reggio that technology - the medium - comprises the world of messages in which we live is a key part of understanding the "Life as War" simile key to the point of the film.) Reggio's central theme is that technology has turned the world into Babel - hence the opening images of the film - a Babel of misunderstanding between cultures, nations, individuals and ourselves. Rather than bringing all these disparate elements together, technology has instead produced a violent fragmentation of human understanding, no matter how "beneficient" we believe it to be. Reggio uses digital images that perfectly demonstrate this point. For me, one very effective segment occurs later in the film: a barrage of cultural symbols (not words) that make up the mosaic of 21st century life spin dizzingly toward the viewer, approaching faster and faster until religious, political, economic/capitalistic and corporate symbols blur together and lose their unique, individual meanings. By showing these images in the medium (mostly digital) Reggio does, he performs a scathing critique (his "message") on the very danger posed by technology.
That brings us to the third and perhaps most brilliant aspect of "Naqoyqatsi". I notice that many peer reviewers criticize the movie for not addressing the theme "Life as War". If one goes solely by a count of "traditional" warfare images - mushroom clouds, battlefield scenes, and the like - then such criticism stands. However, the "war" Reggio/Glass want to condemn is the dislocation of self from self - oneself from another, oneself from nature, and oneself from one's own self - made possible through technology. "Life as War" as defined in this film, I believe, means that technology has the frightening potential (a potential already realized in many ways) to so fragment our existence that we lose our humanity. Technology threatens to create an ever-widening gulf of alienation between what is "real" and what is "fabricated", so much so that we lose touch with the humane life. Life instead becomes empty symbol and meaningless chatter and image. What little remains of human dignity and human cooperation lies in danger of further disintegration. This sets the stage for near-total dehumanization, where acts of killing, murder and maiming lose any reference point on a moral compass.
This is why Reggio must use the digital images as he does in "Naqoyqatsi": only by using those images can he demonstrate the alienating potential of technology. The critique becomes much stronger by using the images themselves rather than through some other approach.
For these reasons I rate this, the last of the trilogy, as the best of the three. I would heartily recommend this film to all concerned with what it does mean to live in the 21 century - and what it will mean to make life humane despite the siren call of technological abuse.
on November 2, 2002
This afternoon I saw Naqoyqatsi.
Koyaanisqatsi totally amazed me, when I saw it in the mid 80s. Because I hadn't seen the kind of imagery- the amazing visions that movie has - and hadn't heard Phillip Glass before. None of us had seen the kind of images now common in tv commercials. The time-lapse photography. The infinite depth of focus shots over crowds, freeways and landscapes. I suspect someone seeing Koyaanisqatsi for the first time now wouldn't be as impressed, because the camera techniques are now commonplace.
Making Naqoyqatsi, they faced a big challenge to deliver visions we've never seen before. Ive absorbed lots of images & video and musical genres since the mid 80s. Could they create a movie that was a commentary on war, technology & modern life without it being familiar? Tough order. Could they do it without being preachy or blunt?
Answer: they did a great job.
And for you who are tired of Phillip Glass music, don't let what you've heard from him before discourage you from seeing this movie. His style has completely evolved, and is no longer a repetitive, familiar and derivative. (Don't get me wrong, after Koyaanisqatsi, I obsessively listened to PG for years, but eventually it wore me out.)
For me, the music was the most impressive part of the movie.
Now, _I want the soundtrack to Naqoyqatsi._ I was super-impressed. It was totally fresh and wonderful.
on January 10, 2004
There is no question that this film, like others in the trilogy, includes powerful and beautiful imagery. These images and pieces are amazingly well-crafted. Throughout the film there are wonderful images unfortunately interpersed with a number of too-familiar pieces of stock footage. (Do we really need another series of mushroom cloud images?)
As much as I admire Philip Glass & Yo-yo Ma, I found the music far less interesting than in the other installments of this trilogy.
I agree with those that assert that the main weakness of the film is that lack of a coherent flow or structure. The message is clear from the beginning and doesn't develop or unfold. I confess I watched the DVD in three sittings because I couldn't maintain attention long enough to get through it.
on December 9, 2005
The final installment to the Godfrey Reggio-Philip Glass trilogy, a series of dialogue-less movies which documents the transformation from serene and organic Mother Earth to present-day artificial cyber-repetitiveness.
Many of the complaints filed by devoted followers of first movie Koyaanisqatsi stem from the notion that Naqoyqatsi is overblown with bells-and-whistles artifice, lacking the mystique and shamanistic qualities of Koyaanisqatsi. I tend to agree, in the sense that cinematographer Russell Lee Fine apparently throws every special effects filter into his digitized computer editing software for Naqoyqatsi. Throughout the movie, I frequently asked whether the film-makers have made a technical mistake and put the entire movie on negative film (as opposed to positive film), thereby generating practically 90% of the images in reverse. Is Fine trying to show us that viewing a reverse image will somehow enable us to penetrate into the depths of a setting? This would be akin to using big words to describe deep thoughts.
I think an oversight of Naqoyqatsi naysayers is that they overlooked the notion that this closing installment is, in fact, a continuum, a fulfillment of the prophecy set up by the Hopi words in the preceding two movies: Koyaanisqatsi (1. Crazy life. 2. Life in Turmoil 3. Life out of balance 4. Life disintegrating 5. A state of life that calls for another way of living), and Powaqqatsi (An entity, a way of life, that consumes the life force of other beings, in order to further its own life). Koyaanisqatsi, in 1983, visually predicted a future where cosmopolitan grids would be no larger than a micro-processor chip. Naqoyatsi merely realizes this prophecy.
If one were to inspect our present environment, our popular movies, and our daily household surroundings, it would become obvious that much of our world has been digitized. Naqoyqatsi presents that reality quite accurately. A trilogy of works is often a documentation of elapsed time, for the creator of the artpiece as well as his or her audience. Certainly Koyaanisqatsi's cinematographer Ron Fricke, is acquainted with that concept, as his other film along the same genre, is entitled Chronos. For Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass to return to the format of their initial movie after some twenty years, would have been a dreadful mistake that would shortchange an artist's evolutionary vision.
What I find lacking in Naqoyqatsi, is the spiritual insight, an earthy shamanism that reveals all that we see around us, but fail to realize. Koyaanisqatsi was singularly the most influential movie in my life, as I often revisit the concept of time, the repetitiveness of our lives, and the way we squander our short stay here over negligible trade-offs. Koyaanisqatsi was a wake-up call that forced me rethink and spend my lifetime searching for another way of living. Naqoyqatsi, in contrast, is a sign of the times: It does not question, it does not seek. It is simply content with its artificial digitized CGI (computer generated images) reality, and expects us to accept it, unquestioningly.
And that, is its deepest message.
on November 22, 2002
Like its predecessor films, this is an exquisite blend of sight and sound, featuring eye-popping imagery and gorgeous music. Once again, composer Philip Glass (accompanied by master cellist Yo Yo Ma) brings his minimalist stylings to bear on a score that is almost perfectly married to the visual content. (The soundtrack is available, and I highly recommend it). It is the music that ultimately distinguishes this film, because director Godfrey Reggio comes very close to sabotaging an otherwise excellent effort. The message here--that the forces of information, technology, and violence are threatening the continued existence of life on this earth--is almost drowned in a sea of flashy graphics and hyperactive camera work, processed imagery and synthetic visuals, all connected by sometimes thin narratives. It borders on overkill, like an MTV video gone mad, and there are points where the message gets lost in a sea of graphic imagery. That's a shame, because Reggio's previous efforts ("Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powaqqatsi," both highly recommended) made extraordinary statements about social justice and humanity's place in the world. This one does as well, but comes very close to missing the mark.
In addition to this trilogy, I also recommend Ron Fricke's "Baraka," another mesmerizing blend of sight and sound.
on November 24, 2004
For anyone looking for a fitting conclusion to the trilogy that began with the exciting Koyaanisqaatsi and then continued with the gorgeous Powaqatsi, this film is a bit of a disappointment. Instead of the beautiful cinematography of the first two films, this film relies on animation and special visual effects. If there is a single purely "in camera" shot, I didn't see it. It is very tiresome to see scenes so distorted by visual trickery that they are entirely disassociated from the real world. The Phillip Glass music sounds like someone trying to sound like Phillip Glass. The jumbled and distorted images eventually grow monotonous and it felt like a very long film for being only 90 minutes.
The best thing about the DVD is the interview with Glass and Reggio who you rarely get to hear speak about the trilogy. I highly recommend the first two films, but the third one is best watched while doing the dishes or folding your laundry.