After “Life out of balance” (Koyaanisqatsi) and “Life in transition” (Powaqqatsi), the final chapter of Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy represents “Life in conflict.” Using a sequence of computer enhanced and generated images from a variety of sources, Reggio invites meditation on the dehumanising effects of technology in the 21st century. Taken from the Hopi language, Naqoyqatsi (pronounced nah-koy-kahtsee) translates into “war as a way of life” in which nature is presumed to be fighting a losing battle against a rampant and powerful enemy that increasingly pervades the way of life and death while distorting the world view of reality.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Years ago when Koyaanisqatsi and its sequel Powaqqatsi used to screen regularly at the Valhalla cinema in Melbourne, they attracted a lot of repeat custom from groups of hippies (I remember seeing one or other film on a double bill with Richard Linklater’s Dazed And Confused). Nearly fifteen years later, the final instalment in Godfrey Reggio’s non-narrative ‘trilogy’ again combines a stream of trippy images with the sawing strings and pounding percussion of a Philip Glass score. Compared to its predecessors, Naqoyqatsi shifts its focus away the natural world and towards human technology, making extensive use of digitally altered stock footage. Basically, though, it’s more of the same. Antelopes racing across the tundras. Athletes sweating and grimacing as they breast the tape. World leaders. Babies. Nuclear explosions. Grotesquely happy families from TV commercials. Time-lapse sequences (those video-game clouds, zooming across the sky at hundreds of miles an hour). Fractal computer images transforming into other fractal computer images. Everything is infinitely meaningful, and by the same token utterly banal: the film floods us with ‘archetypal’ imagery but reveals no trace of an artist’s necessarily quirky, individual point of view. Born in 1940, Reggio has profited over the last two decades from a mainstream-friendly sensibility shaped by the most mindless and least threatening forms of 1960s idealism; his work reduces the era’s avant-garde film techniques (pioneered by the likes of Bruce Connor) to blockbuster blandness. On a big screen with surround sound, the film has an undeniably hypnotic effect, primarily due to its rhythms rather than its content. But if you’re stoned enough to appreciate this properly you could probably have an even better time at any IMAX theatre – or by staying at home and flicking between CNN and the Discovery Channel. As for me, the next time I feel like a tripped-out cinema experience I’m going back again to see The Matrix Reloaded.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
“What can technology possibly deliver in 20 years time that it doesn’t offer us now?” The question is one of my favourite party-poopers and it invariably leaves the hapless victim lost for words. The inescapable truth is that we already have more technology than we can cope with. Think PCs, mobile phones and the teeming remote controls, all with more gimmicks, buttons and gizmos than the vast majority of us will ever need. You don’t have to be an Einstein to know that technology alters everything from the media, the arts, entertainment and sports to politics, medicine, warfare and the workplace. Reggio’s confusing and at times confounding lament, for all the digital fiddling and twiddling of its source material, corroborates that awareness without really enhancing it. Eighty percent of the images are drawn from newsreels, corporate videos, sports documentaries, cartoons and commercials, then tweaked into fast-mo, slow-mo and no-mo and juggled into a relentless jigsaw of no fixed resolution on the screen. Most of the faces, movie stars, musicians, politicians, terrorists (and Dolly the sheep) are familiar, famous and frightening, while some (like Julia Louis-Dreyfus from TV’s Seinfeld) seem to pop up at random as errant seeds in the fruit salad stewing inside the creator’s head. Snapshots of the bad, the bold and the beautiful are set in relief against stark manifestations of the “enemy” in tangles of circuitry wiring, reams of keyboard gobbledegook and the sinister silence of silicon chips. As in Koyaaniqatsi, Reggio sees nuclear technology as the ultimate threat to global security but it’s a bit of a yawn to see him repeat himself here. Philip Glass’s mood music and Yo-Yo Ma’s mellow cello are meant to complement the images but its effect depends on the whims of personal taste. I found the rhythms too strident and oddly out of whack with the images. And so it failed to move me as much as, say, the eclectic pieces selected for the infinitely more beautiful Baraka. As a social critique, Naqoyqatsi is meandering, incoherent and pretentious and I suspect that many a casual viewer might need to read what it was about to know what it is about. This kind of work doesn’t work unless it is seen as something profound, but it’s all rather facile and ineffectual. Reggio has a crushing cynicism about the dubious wonders of the technological age, but for a more refreshing fix we suggest you switch off the power and sniff the flowers.
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Unfavourable: 1 (Keith)
Mixed: 1 (Jake)
PRODUCER: Godfrey Reggio, Lawrence Taub, Joe Beirne
DIRECTOR: Godfrey Reggio
SCRIPT: Godfrey Reggio
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Russell Lee Fine
EDITOR: Jon Kane
MUSIC: Philip Glass
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista International
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: June 19, 2003; other states tba