2002, Movie, PG, 89 mins


Godfrey Reggio's 1983 KOYAANISQATSI, the first film in his now-completed "qatsi" trilogy, was a groundbreaking mix of hip visual stylings and deeply serious intent. The title, taken from the Hopi language, meant "life out of balance," and Reggio made his argument — that "civilization" has pitted modern man against the natural world, rather than bringing him into harmony with it — in purely visual terms. Time-lapse photography produced scudding clouds and shadows, and sent a giant moon arcing gracefully across an urban night sky; accelerated motion made crowded train stations look like seething ant colonies, and minimalist composer Philip Glass's propulsive score lent ominous urgency to idyllic landscapes. But Reggio wasn't a dour polemicist; his canny editing juxtaposed nature's grandeur with the grubby products of human industry, wordlessly speaking volumes about man's propensity to run roughshod over the world, but also captured the shimmering beauty of sunlight skittering across the reflecting skins of modern office buildings. POWAQQATSI (1988), "life in transition," used similar strategies to evoke the modern world's encroachment on less technologically advanced third-world cultures. Where those films focus on the diminishing past, NAQOYQUATSI ("conflict as a way of life") looks to the future, and sees a cyber-landscape of corporate logos, cartoons and commercial messages. It suggests that our experience of the world is now almost entirely second-hand, interpreted and packaged with an eye to furthering some agenda, and is composed in large part of digitally altered stock footage (only 20% was newly shot), familiar and familiar-seeming images multiplied, flipped, reversed, layered and imbedded within each other through the miracle of computer manipulation. The irony: Though Reggio has embraced cutting edge technologies, advertising executives, music-video directors and kids with souped-up computers have caught up with, appropriated, and outstripped his sophisticated manipulation of raw visual material; his dense collage of digitally altered images often looks shockingly like some super-hip media agency's show reel. Reggio isn't naive: a sequence in which the camera tracks slowly into a three-dimensionalized version of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1563 rendering of the Tower of Babel is positioned early in the film and suggests that the lingua franca of images he helped invent has already devolved into a terrifying onslaught of visual gibberish. But it requires no leap of the imagination to envision this thoughtful essay flickering on the wall of some deserted warehouse while blissed-out ravers dance the night away. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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