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  •  REVIEW: NAQOYQATSI

    Naqoyqatsi

    Picture imperfect

    "Naqoyqatsi" brings the lush image-and-music approach of "Koyaanisqatsi" to the subject of war, but the message is muddled.

    By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
    Offoffoff.com

    Three's a crowd in the guise of "Naqoyqatsi," the third and final chapter in experimental filmmaker Godfrey Reggio's trilogy contrasting natural and man-made civilizations.

      
    NAQOYQATSI
    Edited by: Jon Kane.
    Produced by: Joe Beirne.
    Music by: Philip Glass.

    Directed by: Godfrey Reggio.
    Written by: Philip Glass, Godfrey Reggio.
    Cinematography: Russell Lee Fine.
    Edited by: Jon Kane.
    Produced by: Joe Beirne.
    Music by: Philip Glass.


    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
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    • Official site
    If you're fluent in the Hopi language (from which the three films' titles are all derived — "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powaqqatsi" being the first two installments) then you could be forgiven for thinking that "Naqoyqatsi" is "about" war as a way of life, since the Hopi title translates roughly as "each other-kill many-life." But it's not clear what Reggio is trying to get across in his latest impressionistic tone poem, since his elaborate, kaleidoscopic pastiche of wordless images pulls in just about everything but the kitchen sink. (And with its somnambulistic fusion of sound and image you might be lulled into sleep just as that very likeness appears on the screen!)

    No, war as a way of life (or "civilized violence" according to an Oxford English interpretation) is not necessarily an obvious theme in Part 3. While there are certainly images of war and warfare — armed forces, generalized militia, goose-stepping Nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, riots, water cannons, ballistics, headshots of Hitler and Martin Luther King Jr., discharging firearms, explosions, etc. — these make up a small percentage of the film, and the classic image of a mushroom cloud doesn't even make its appearance until the 60-minute mark (out of 89). It's not a film to be taken literally on any level, but its focus always appears questionable.


      
    As with previous Reggio/Glass collaborations, the film is bold, intense, intoxicating, maddening, and oftentimes simply too much. But perhaps for the first time the film doesn't really convey a feeling of organized structure.  

      
    As with the previous two Qatsi films, the sound here is provided via dizzying Philip Glass soundscapes, with circling, repetitive string and synthesizer sequences marrying the mesmerizing imagery to a T. And as with previous Reggio/Glass collaborations, the film is bold, intense, intoxicating, maddening, and oftentimes simply too much. But perhaps for the first time the film doesn't really convey a feeling of organized structure: "Koyaanisqasti" clearly demonstrated a "life out of balance," and "Powaqqatsi" gainfully imagined "life in transformation" by exposing the beauty inherent in the rigors of the everyday.

    "Naqoyqatsi" is not so sure of itself. It applauds athletes and athleticism, loves never-ending spirals of capitalist symbolism, prefaces consumerism, posits split-screen images of waxwork world leaders, morphs artistic nudes, tracks slowly around mysteriously abandoned architecture, and pits binary digits one against the other, all to a mesmerizing music score that features deep, sawing cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma and, in the film's opening sequence, a deep baritone intoning the film's title with heartfelt resilience.

    There's lots to like though, and lots to take in. Everyday images are presented in a uniquely vibrant light by being "treated" in one way or another — colorized, solarized, truncated, elongated, speeded up, or slowed down. Nevertheless, "Naqoyqatsi" is an acquired taste that may exhilarate some viewers while leaving others confused, annoyed, or just plain bored.

    NOVEMBER 19, 2002
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Naqoyqatsi:

  • [no subject]   from Veronica, Apr 11, 2003

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