Qatsi trilogy, 1983-2002

Three movies by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass, these are meditations on modern life. There’s no story, nor any words but those sung. The movies are images accompanied by music. The subtitle of each movie is presented as translating the Hopi word that is the title. From the additional material on the DVDs, I’m not convinced that’s quite so, but the viewer can draw his own conclusions. Having watched these maybe a year ago, I write from memory.

I like the music, but it is pretty distinctive; if you don’t like it you may hate it.

Koyaanisqatsi, 1983

Subtitled Life out of balance, this is the best of the three. I was all set for a liberal/luddite attack on western society, but it’s not like that. Whatever Reggio’s politics or philosophy, this is honest work. The images are of nature, technology, and people. I borrowed it on DVD from the library, watched it a couple of times the week I had it, and look forward to seeing it again sometime. It’s available online, but for the photography I’d get the DVD.

Powaqqatsi, 1988

Subtitled Life in Transformation, this is about as good as the first; some may like it better. The images are mostly from the third world, with more people and faces than in Koyaanisqatsi. Again, I expected and did not find a condemnation of western imperialism. If anything the far left might take issue with how it shows some of the people, though I think it’s sympathetic on balance. As with Koyaanisqatsi, I’d watch this again.

Naqoyqatsi, 2002

Subtitled Life as War, this is disappointing. It may have been influenced by 9/11, but I can’t say how, because it’s unwatchable. There’s so much trick photography – black-and-white reversal, like in a photographic negative; other things like that – that I gave up and went fast-forward. I tried again later, and could not get through it. Oh well, that’s two very good out of three.

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