The Qatsi Trilogy (Criterion Collection Blu-Ray Box Set)
dir. Godfrey Reggio (2013 - BRD Release) *****
Koyaanisqatsi (1982) dir. Godfrey Reggio ****
Powaqqatsi (1988) dir. Godfrey Reggio ***
Naqoyqatsi (2002) dir. Godfrey Reggio **
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Turn out the lights. Close the curtains. Mute your phones. Relieve yourself of all waste matter. Sit. Fire up a mega-doobie. Sit.
Do not move for 274 minutes except to change discs, fire up more doobies, address munchie/thirst-concerns and/or (if you must) relieve yourself of any additional waste matter that builds up. Given the themes of the films in question, you must engage in all the aforementioned activities in a completely off-grid environment (including waste relief in a compost toilet).
Everybody loves a good "head" film. Since the 1960s, eager youthful audiences always sought out movies that could be appreciated under the influence of marijuana and/or hash. LSD was not always recommended, but some braved this type of motion picture experience with mega-doses of acid anyway. Different strokes. IT'S. ALL. COOL. BY. ME. MAN. Some of the bigger "head" films (intended as such or not) include 2001: A Space Odyssey, El Topo, Holy Mountain, Liquid Sky, Eraserhead and the grandaddy laugh riot head film (about "heads") of them all, Louis Gasnier's masterpiece Reefer Madness.
In spite of the considerable virtues of the aforementioned, Director Godfrey Reggio delivered the ultimate cinematic "head" experience of all time - stoner celluloid of the highest order - and not just one movie, but an entire trilogy of cinemalis cannabisus sexualis.
Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi might well be the best mind bending movie trips for drug addicts ever made. I'm not certain is Mr. Reggio would agree with my assessment, but what I'm especially certain about is that there isn't a single spell-check program in the known universe that's going to give even a smidgen of help with these titles. (If spell-check in Hopi exists, please illuminate me.)
What you're going to get from these movies is absolutely no plot, though in their own psychedelic mind-fuck-eye-candy fashion, they tell a story - the story of man and his relationship to the natural world, or in other words, a beautiful world that man is fucking up with his increasing reliance upon technology which, in turn, creates waste that destroys all that is natural.
Each film is comprised of seemingly unrelated images, but they are all indeed connected, gorgeously shot and accompanied by music written by Philip Glass, everyone's musical go-to boy for hypnotic, repetitive, New Age-styled beats. The third in the trilogy even has cello solos by the incomparable Yo Yo Ma. Get 'yer dancin' clogs on.
Reggio's first stab at this avant-garde exploration of man and nature is without question the best of the lot. Koyaanisqatsi is the clearest of all three in terms of stunningly reflecting the translation of the title, which is: "Life Out of Balance". Seeing one gorgeous piece of natural beauty after another in an America mediated through optical manipulations, stop motion effects, experimental use of stock, lighting and filters, then accompanied by haunting images of technology wreaking environmental havoc, this is a work that is as profoundly important as it is a perfectly fashioned bauble of big sledge hammer activist cinema.
Every element of the picture works like clockwork and yields powerful, imaginative images that are expertly captured by cinematographer Ron Fricke (who would go on to direct his own similarly-styled head films, Baraka and the recent Samsara). Though Reggio's touch is decidedly lacking in any subtlety, the message is an important one and profoundly clear. Even more astounding is that the movie was initially released theatrically by a major studio, generated fabulous box office and continued to amass grosses in repertory, non-theatrical markets and eventually home video. The Philip Glass score here is also first-rate - perfectly in balance with the themes and images and a sure addition to the overall experience for those many who choose to partake in the film under the influence of hallucinogens of their choice.
Powaqqatsi feels like more of the same, even though we're clearly into new territory. The rendering of images that follow adhere to the English translation of the title from Hopi into English as "Life in Transformation". Here, Reggio leaves America behind and shoots in a variety of third world countries. The focus is upon mostly images of man engaged in work - hard, physical labour against the backdrop of the natural world. Cinematographer Ron Fricke abandoned his post and moved on to directing Baraka and though the movie has more aural Clarence Carter-like "strokin'" from Philip Glass, the movie is not without merit, but loses a fair bit of the punch Reggio's first outing had.
Naqoyqatsi definitely has its fans, but I'm not really one of them. The title translated from Hopi to English means "Life as War" and here, Reggio dabbles in the idea of a complete lack of personal communication in a digital age, coupled with violence mediated through even more impersonal technological means. All of this is presented within the super-obvious context of The Tower of Babel. We get Philip Glass, Yo Yo Ma cello strokin' and tons o' digital imagery, but the movie sadly feels dated compared to the "old-fashioned" Koyaanisqatsi which successfully managed to remain vital and ahead of its time in spite of the fact that it's over 30 years old.
All in all, this is a truly worthwhile purchase - especially on Blu-Ray. Criterion provides Reggio-approved HD transfers, first-rate sound and a treasure trove of extra features that enhance the viewing experience of all three films.
And, I should also clarify that the trilogy, while a stoner experience of the first order, can be equally appreciated by those who remain straight. Much of it is mind-blowingly mind-fucking without mind-altering substances.
The Qatsi Trilogy is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection.