Koyaanisqatsi / Powaqqatsi
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First-time filmmaker Godfrey Reggio's experimental documentary from 1983--shot mostly in the desert Southwest and New York City on a tiny budget with no script, then attracting the support of Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas and enlisting the indispensable musical contribution of Philip Glass--delighted college students on the midnight circuit and fans of minimalism for many years. Meanwhile, its techniques, merging cinematographer Ron Fricke's time-lapse shots (alternately peripatetic and hyperspeed) with Glass's reiterative music (from the meditative to the orgiastic)--as well as its ecology-minded imagery--crept into the consciousness of popular culture. The influence of Koyaanisqatsi, or "life out of balance," has by now become unmistakable in television advertisements, music videos, and, of course, similar movies such as Fricke's own Chronos and Craig McCourry's Apogee. Reggio shot a sequel, Powaqqatsi (1988), and completed the trilogy with Naqoyqatsi (2002). Koyaanisqatsi provides the uninitiated the chance to see where it all started--along with an intense audiovisual rush.
Powaqqatsi (1988), or "life in transformation," is the second part of a trilogy of experimental documentaries whose titles derive from Hopi compound nouns. The now legendary Koyaanisqatsi (1983), or "life out of balance," was the first. Naqoyqatsi (2002), or "life in war," was the third. Powaqqatsi finds director Godfrey Reggio somewhat more directly polemical than before, and his major collaborator, the composer Philip Glass, stretching to embrace world music. Reggio reuses techniques familiar from the previous film (slow motion, time-lapse, superposition) to dramatize the effects of the so-called First World on the Third: displacement, pollution, alienation. But he spends as much time beautifully depicting what various cultures have lost--cooperative living, a sense of joy in labor, and religious values--as he does confronting viewers with trains, airliners, coal cars, and loneliness. What had been a more or less peaceful, slow-moving, spiritually fulfilling rural existence for these "silent" people (all we hear is music and sound effects) becomes a crowded, suffocating, accelerating industrial urban hell, from Peru to Pakistan. Reggio frames Powaqqatsi with a telling image: the Serra Pelada gold mines, where thousands of men, their clothes and skin imbued with the earth they're moving, carry wet bags up steep slopes in a Sisyphean effort to provide wealth for their employers. While Glass juxtaposes his strangely joyful music, which includes the voices of South American children, a number of these men carry one of their exhausted comrades out of the pit, his head back and arms outstretched--one more sacrifice to Caesar. Nevertheless, Reggio, a former member of the Christian Brothers, seems to maintain hope for renewal. --Robert Burns Neveldine
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Top customer reviews
Years later I stumbled across Koyaanisqatsi in a now defunct Blockbuster Video store and was mesmerized. Imagine my horror when some time later it was pulled from the shelves and taken out of print.
Anyhow, to make a long story short these two films are a must-see for anyone who is into views of the world captured on film that are far from the mainstream. Some have criticized these films for being 'cultish' or being for 'college students to watch while stoned' (both of these two views are, in my opinion, a compliment).
But to me they are glorious, mesmerizing, and hypnotic. Koyaanisqatsi takes place solely, I believe, in the United States and spends more time filming things then people. Powaqqatsi spends more focus in other countries and spends more time concentrating on the people.
The blend of music and film without dialogue and without 'plot' (though there is a 'plot' but it is more thematic then it is linear) is brilliant. I have been able to watch these repeatedly and every time I am moved in different ways and pick up things I missed on previous viewings.
Allow yourself the time to be still and be carried away.
The films were made by Godfrey Reggio and the music score which plays as important role as the images do, was written by Philipp Glass.
The films have no spoken dialogue or plot and have to be experienced viscerally first, and then analyzed because everyone sees different in them. For some viewers - they are glorified long music videos, for the others - the revelation that may change the way we perceive ourselves as human kind and our place on Earth.
As for me, personally, I realized that the collaboration between Reggio and Glass may be one of the best creative unions between a visionary director and a brilliant composer ever.
Of three Qatsi movies, my favorite is certainly, Powaqqatsi, and I know I'll come back to it many times more until my last day because it is not just a gorgeous movie with amazing images; it is one of very precious experiences that happen rarely in life. What made this experience possible is above all and without doubt the MUSIC. It was not the first music by Philip Glass I heard. I like his minimalistic and somehow disturbing scores that go right to your senses for "The Hours", "Notes of the Scandal", and "The Illusionist" (2006). Powaqqatsi was the second movie in Reggio's "Qatsi" trilogy for me. Just before it, I saw "Koyaanisqatsi" (1982) or Life out of Balance", the first of three Reggio-Glass movies. I like "Koyaanisqatsi" very much but I think it is the images that make it so memorable. "Powaqqatsi" for me, is about Glass's magnificent, un-earthy, divine and literally uplifting and transcending score. It is the music that could've been played after God had finished his work of creation and looked down at Earth and saw that it was good. I am a music lover, and I love music of different genres, epochs, and cultures. I enjoy listening to Mozart and Beatles, Nino Rota and Metallica, Zamphir and Scott Joplin, Bob Dylan and Lucianno Pavarotti, Bach and Edith Piaf. I love them all but I don't recall ever being so moved and taken out of this reality, feeling happy and overwhelmed, proud to be able to witness and enjoy the incredible achievement of human creativity and genius as when I was watching and listening to three "Anthems" and "Mosque and Temple" scenes of "Powwaqatsi: Life in Transformation". I don't buy the DVDs very often, I am not a collector but when the movie leaves unforgettable impression, when it brings something amazing into my life, I have to have it. I already ordered and received both, "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powwaqatsi" on DVDs and I keep rewatching my favorite scenes and the music has the same impact at me making tears of joy coming to my eyes every time I hear the majestic hypnotic triumphant sounds of music written by Phillip Glass.
I would like to add the words of one of my favorite writers. They match perfectly the feelings and emotions the film has evoked in me:
"Mother Earth. She lived, this world of trees and rivers and rocks with deep stone thoughts. She breathed, had feelings, dreamed dreams, gave birth, laughed, and grew contemplative for millennia. This great creature swimming in the sea of space. What a wonder thought the man, for he had never understood that the Earth was his mother, before this. He had never understood, before this that the Earth had a life of its own, at once part of mankind and quite separated from mankind, another with a life of her own."
Harlan Ellison "The Deathbird"
To try describing it further would be folly, about like saying that the Mona Lisa is a piece of stretched canvas with dried, oil-suspended pigments stuck to it. As director Godfrey Reggio says in a wonderful interview included on the DVD, an audience gets from it what they bring to it. More than the sum of its parts, Koyaanisqatsi is an evocative and haunting meditation on nature, technology, social politics, mass media, consumerism, pop culture - and perhaps whatever else you care to read into it.
Long unavailable, it is gratifying to see both Koyaanisqatsi and its sequel, Powaqqatsi finally offered together on two magnificently produced DVDs. What can be said of one film can be said of the other: they are the same, yet different, like two movements in the same piece of music. One film complements and expands upon the other. Where Koyaanisqatsi seems preoccupied with the technological revolution in the so-called "first world" and its devastating effect on the Western psyche, Powaqqatsi is its inversion - a celebration of rich cultures and vivid lives led by people paradoxically struggling under the burden of crushing poverty in the Third World.
Taken together, the films seem to suggest a philosophical conundrum: comfort, wealth, and ubiquitous technology spell the death of the human soul - while societies in transition from agrarian to technological, despite horrendous conditions and back-breaking labor, are fertile ground for authentic compassion, artistic expression, and spirituality.
But again, words are inadequate. Minimalist composer Philip Glass' score, fused with cinematographer Ron Fricke's brilliant images, waxes far more eloquent on these matters than I could ever hope to in this review. For the price, these two DVDs are a rare bargain for those who appreciate fine art. For students of cinema or would-be film makers, they are essential.