By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 15, 2012)
The Qatsi trilogy – Criterion Collection Blu-ray (box set)
In 1982, an innovative, genre-defying film called Koyaanisqatsi quietly made its way around the art house circuit. Directed by progressive political activist/lapsed Christian monk Godfrey Reggio, with stunningly beautiful cinematography by Ron Fricke (who would himself later direct the similar Chronos, Baraka, and Samsara) and music by Philip Glass (who also scored Reggio’s two sequels), the film was celebrated as a transcendent experience by some; dismissd as New Age hokum by others (count me as an ardent fan).
The title, from the Hopi language, translates as “life out of balance”. The narrative-free imagery, running the gamut from natural vistas to scenes of First World urban decay, is open for interpretation (depends on who you ask). Reggio followed up in 1988 with the compelling Powaqqatsi (Hopi for “parasitic way of life”), which focused on the Southern Hemisphere and the First World’s drain on Third World resources, then closed out the trilogy with the 2002 release of Naqoyqatsi (Hopi for “life as war”). The third film (arguably the weakest) takes a kind of Warholian approach, eschewing the organic imagery of its predecessors for a more obtuse collage of digitally manipulated archival footage, making some kind of point about how we are becoming the Borg (I think).
Criterion has done its usual exemplary job with picture and sound restoration for all three films. The remixed audio pays off particularly well for Koyannisqatsi; I detected ambient sounds (wind, water, urban white noise, etc.) that I’ve never noticed before, as well as enhanced vibrancy for Glass’ score. Criterion has ported over the extras from the MGM and Miramax SD editions, and added some new 2012 interviews with the director.