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Koyannisqatsi wasn't a copy of anything, so why would anyone expect
Powaqqatsi to be a copy of it? Fortunately, I saw this film on the big
screen without seeing its predecessor, and I was delighted. The movie begins
with a shot of an African diamond mine. You see a miner ascending a ladder
in slow-motion, carrying a bag of mud on shoulders, accompanied by a heavy,
pounding music. The effects and the music work together to highlight the
miner's tiredness and strain. Other images follow, most of them from the
"third world." In each case the focus is not a thing, but a
Powaqqatsi revolutionized my concept of the world -- Go ahead and laugh! The film shows a vastness and variety and energy in the world that was beyond anything I could have imagined when I went into the theater. Everything is presented for what it is; there's no Western narrator to reassure you and tell you what everything means. There is perhaps no higher praise for a film than saying it changed the way I think, and Powaqqatsi deserves that praise.
Don't worry: no spoilers here. I felt the need to rebut several of the
negative reviews I have read about this film ( both here and, most
notably, from critics Maltin and Ebert). This film follows a totally
different concept from "Koyaanisqatsi," which concentrated on largely
inanimate structures in the continental U.S. This is a film about
people and lifestyles of the developing world, and for that I believe
Reggio chose wisely not to utilize many specialty visual techniques
(i.e. time-lapse and high-speed photography), and settle for a more
low-key approach. Though the film cannot match the visceral gee-whiz
impact the original 1983 audience must have felt with all the
revolutionary visual stylistics of "Koyaanisqatsi," "Powaqqatsi" has
greater thematic depth. Essentially, "Koyaanisqatsi" was best at
impressing the audience, and this film is better at making the audience
think. To tackle such a wide-ranging subject as globalization is a
tricky task, yet I believe this film to be the best cinematic portrayal
I have seen of the effects of modernity upon the 75% of the world that
still lives much of its life the same way it did hundreds of years ago.
All of the shots of people working, carrying baskets on their heads, etc. show the immense effort required in the third world to carry on an industrial revolution one hundred years behind the West, and in a much shorter span of time. Essentially, the societies in the Periphery are being forced to play catch-up. The imagery of the fallen laborer being carried up a hill (the opening shots of the film which are later referenced at the end) represents the immense hard work and sacrifice necessary to build a modern society - an idea lost upon many in the First World, who protest the working conditions of societies on the Periphery, yet do not realize that their own Western industrial revolutions faced the exact same hazards, tribulations, and hardships one hundred years ago - yet did eventually manage to emerge successfully. Like "Koyaanisqatsi," "Powaqqatsi" is a film one can view multiple times and absorb new meanings upon each viewing.
The structure of the film is the same as that of "Koyaanisqatsi", which I believe is the most important consistency between this film and the first in Reggio's trilogy. Both films are divided into three distinct sections: primitive/archaic life, early industrial life, and finally full-fledged modern existence (lifestyle, or "-qatsi", being the connecting thread within and between the films). In addition, Philip Glass score is a superb accompaniment to the visual images. Otherwise, the films are not at all alike, and should not be unduly compared to one another. Both films show their American audience something they have not seen before: in "Koyaanisqatsi" it is simply themselves from a very different angle, and in "Powaqqatsi" it is the rest of the world.
My first impression agreed with the post above but it grows on you. Here are
some reasons why.
Koyaanisqatsi was made by Americans, about America, for Americans.
The image style and content and the soundtrack (turn it up, even better by the 1998 rerecorded soundtrack and turn it up) are all familiar to American eyes and ears.
Poyaanisqatsi was made by a mixed team of nationalities about the countries of the Southern hemisphere. It goes places where we do not usually go, we face the unfamiliar. The soundtrack does the same thing. It uses rhythmical and melodic styles from the countries visited, once again unfamiliar to our American eyes and ears.
I enjoy Koyaanisqatsi for the awesome imagery including time scale effects a nd the unusual view it presents to us of what we live in everyday.
Both movies use picture with music but no words. The creators intended it to carry a message but left it to the viewer to create it. Here's a single example from the opening of K.
The visual shows the beginning of man's journey from Earth to moon, and the camera is put where we can see the rocket engines come to life close up. The soundtrack is completely contrary to the obvious visual idea. Instead of trumpet fanfares and explosions of sound we strain to hear deep solo voices chanting the title of the movie over and over as the dramatic rocket launch visual is slowed down so that 3 seconds ocupies 3 minutes. The result is a strange contrast between sound and vision which stands apart from conventional ideas. AS the rocket trembles in a shower of ice we are invited to ponder all the meanings that this event might possess and the space and time provided for our imagination to operate inside encourage the same contrary thoughts. The time distortion means that we no longer experience the explosive impulse created by man's mastery of metal, electricity and chemicals and let loose in a mighty roar when the clock counts ZERO.
Here there is no clock, the deep voice marks the passage of time and the picture we see is of some machine never seen before that can rise gently up into the air to the sound of chanting.
Poyaanisqatsi explores the more ancient ways still existing, outdoor manual labor rather than factories, seasonal activities, self sufficiency by sailing, fishing, digging, plowing, reaping and grinding the crop on small scales.
Less time is given over to time compression which was a strong feature of Koy'si. More time is given to time expansion, slow-motion cinematography and multiple exposure process. We spend time with the camera close up with people, individuality begins to become important as we are able to disriminate groups and individuals within groups.
The second half of 'P'begins to include material that may have a direct distressing affect on the viewer, perhaps only an uncomfortable feeling at first, which in my experience with repeated viewing, becomes stronger. There are a handful of moving images that for me have become outright disturbing, and more so each time I see them. There is sense of something dreadfully wrong going on, that we know about but are helpless and unable to name it and abolish it.
If anything the soundtrack of 'P' is superior to 'K' but again upon repeated listening. There is a piece of singing (at about 80 mins) that is in Muslim religious style and which blew my socks off with the combination of vocal strength and clarity, subtlety of melody, subtlety of rythmyic phrasing and powerful capability to attract attention.
I have no hesitation recommending 'K' to anyone including children. 'P' is more difficult, by the end you have seen some uncomfortable truths about the poor quality of life affecting a large proportion of the world population. How comfortable can we be on our sofas watching this tale be told to us?
The imaginative slow-motion documentary without any line,sequence, camera just goes through nature , cities and public over third world counties. Everydays routines seems amazing , ordinary motions put in slow are breath-taking.Sense for camera scenes and views and extraordinary shots make this one worth to see. Plus mixed with Philip Glass's composed music - it is relaxing and mild. Also you can find some scenes showing our world going to destructive end and the most moving scene in the end when there is shown that we mostly even can not see pictures like these because this "kind" of world is situated behind a certain curtain, for most of us hard to see through - we live above and look only to our reflections.
This film is, according to its director, a look at a "global culture";
a visual assessment of the response of the "third world" to the force
of globalization and the pressure to modernize. He says there are both
good points and bad points to be observed, and hopes to portray the
creativity and industriousness with which people around the world
respond to the demands of their environments.
I do not see this. I see a moving, and beautiful film, but not about this. I see the destructive effects of the ever-increasing commodification of nature, life, and labor, on people as they are forced to abandon their homes and livelihoods to nationalist projects and capital ventures. I see (to use Karl Polanyi's words) the uprooting of peoples and places, and the destructive forces of market enterprise disguised under tropes of progress and modernity.
Yes. Human beings are creative and industrious, and have dealt with these problems in unique and fascinating ways. But, rather than simply celebrating the Beauty of Human Life, in all it's glory, let this film be a call to recognize this beauty, and recognize its value as intrinsic, as part and parcel to the livelihoods of the people it is embodied within.
Indeed! I do not agree that Powaqqatsi is a cheap imitation or second to Koyaanisqatsi. In fact, when I first viewed it, I was overcome with the feeling that this would be the film I would show to an invading Alien strike-force to convince them that humanity is a truly beautiful thing and must be spared. Philip Glass' soundtrack is again an immaculate one, and the marriage of Reggio/Glass devastatingly effective. There are images and transitions in this film that will stay with me forever. Haunting, beautiful, hypnotic, ecstatic. I challenge anyone claiming dissastisfaction with this film to explain how the "cover" sequence of the boy being devoured by smoke leaves the viewer so ( or the reflection of city lights in the rear window of the moving car, or the grain threshing sequence...). This film is another masterpiece, period.
Last week, I watched for the firs time Qatsi trilogy, which includes
the films Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi. All of the film
titles are taken from the Hopi language; Koyaanisquatsi meaning "life
out of balance," Powaqqatsi - "life in transformation," and Naqoyqatsi
- "life as war".
The films were made by Godfrey Reggio and the music score which plays as important role as the images do, was written by Philipp Glass.
The films have no spoken dialog or plot and have to be experienced viscerally first, and then analyzed because everyone sees different in them. For some viewers - they are glorified long music videos, for the others - the revelation that may change the way we perceive ourselves as human kind and our place on Earth.
As for me, personally, I realized that the collaboration between Reggio and Glass may be one of the best creative unions between a visionary director and a brilliant composer ever.
Of three Qatsi movies, my favorite is certainly, Powaqqatsi, and I know I'll come back to it many times more until my last day because it is not just a gorgeous movie with amazing images; it is one of very precious experiences that happen rarely in life. What made this experience possible is above all and without doubt the MUSIC. It was not the first music by Philip Glass I heard. I like his minimalistic and somehow disturbing scores that go right to your senses for "The Hours", "Notes of the Scandal", and "The Illusionist" (2006). Powaqqatsi was the second movie in Reggio's "Qatsi" trilogy for me. Just before it, I saw "Koyaanisqatsi" (1982) or Life out of Balance", the first of three Reggio-Glass movies. I like "Koyaanisqatsi" very much but I think it is the images that make it so memorable. "Powaqqatsi" for me, is about Glass's magnificent, un-earthy, divine and literally uplifting and transcending score. It is the music that could've been played after God had finished his work of creation and looked down at Earth and saw that it was good. I am a music lover, and I love music of different genres, epochs, and cultures. I enjoy listening to Mozart and Beatles, Nino Rota and Metallica, Zamphir and Scott Joplin, Bob Dylan and Lucianno Pavarotti, Bach and Edith Piaf. I love them all but I don't recall ever being so moved and taken out of this reality, feeling happy and overwhelmed, proud to be able to witness and enjoy the incredible achievement of human creativity and genius as when I was watching and listening to three "Anthems" and "Mosque and Temple" scenes of "Powwaqatsi: Life in Transformation". I don't buy the DVDs very often, I am not a collector but when the movie leaves unforgettable impression, when it brings something amazing into my life, I have to have it. I already ordered and received both, "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powwaqatsi" on DVDs and I keep rewatching my favorite scenes and the music has the same impact at me making tears of joy coming to my eyes every time I hear the majestic hypnotic triumphant sounds of music written by Phillip Glass.
I would like to add the words of one of my favorite writers. They match perfectly the feelings and emotions the film has evoked in me:
"Mother Earth. She lived, this world of trees and rivers and rocks with deep stone thoughts. She breathed, had feelings, dreamed dreams, gave birth, laughed, and grew contemplative for millennia. This great creature swimming in the sea of space. What a wonder thought the man, for he had never understood that the Earth was his mother, before this. He had never understood, before this that the Earth had a life of its own, at once part of mankind and quite separated from mankind, another with a life of her own." Harlan Ellison "The Deathbird"
This is a superb second film of a once planned trilogy that began with Koyaanisqatsi. While the first had effects that might be likened to video-game razzle-dazzle, and was entertaining in its own right, Powaqqatsi is a celebration of humanity and does not repeat the earlier images. Perhaps some were disappointed by this, but this film stands finely on its own terms. A moving and delightfully photographed tour of the world. I have often wondered what became of the third leg of these efforts.
Well, when it came to Powaqqatsi's camera-work, I certainly had nothing
to really complain about in regards to that. Overall, it was quite
excellent and impressive to behold.
But, with that said, I honestly have to admit that viewing recurring images of 3rd World poverty and population overload (set at a gruellingly slow pace) did, indeed, become quite tiresome to sit through, in the long run.
In fact, I ended up watching most of Powaqqatsi in fast-forward mode - 'Cause I knew that I just couldn't have endured viewing it, from start to finish, at its full 99-minute running time. No way.
Powaqqatsi was directed by Godfrey Reggio. Its budget was $2.5 million.
I saw Koyaanisqatsi several times in the late eighties and was truly
mesmerized. After that Powaqqatsi was a true disappointment. I didn't
understand it, to be honest.
Many years later I bought the DVDs and saw them both recently. I still like Koyaanisqatsi, even if it couldn't meet my great expectations. But now Powaqqatsi emerged as a true beauty!
I find the photography and music far superior to that of Koyaanisqatsi. Real people, instead of land- and cityscapes (even if wonderful). Some of the Powaqqatsi scenes are simply breathtaking. African women in clear red cloth against the desert sand, the introductory (horrible) scene from the Brazilian mine, etc, etc.
I strongly recommend all those that were utterly disappointed 10 years ago to see Powaqqatsi again!
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