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The Qatsi Trilogy

by Jake Mulligan
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Dec 31, 2012
The Qatsi Trilogy

Perhaps the best possible introduction to experimental cinema, director Godfrey Reggio's "The Qatsi Trilogy" - spanning three films made over 19 years - is a singular, transcendent marvel. Made completely without dialogue and scored entirely by the legendary Phillip Glass, these visual poems have honestly been some of the most influential works of the past two decades (every time you see a time lapse shot of cars rolling through a city - that's "Qatsi" right there.)

Starting with "Koyaanisqatsi" ("Life Out of Balance",) then moving onto "Powaqqatsi" ("Life in Transformation") and "Naqoyqatsi" ("Life as War",) Reggio polemizes our society's turn towards technology and "progress;" essentially staging human life as a disease slowly eating away at planet Earth. But to try and explain the "Qatsi" films with words would defeat the purpose - so I'll instead focus on the bounty of extras Criterion has packed along with them.

First, let's start with the insane amount of interviews contained here - and yes, they do occasionally get repetitive, but I suppose it's better to have too much than not enough (just set a few months in between watching them all.) So you get: "Essence of Life," which interviews Reggio and Glass in regards to the first film; an interview with cinematographer Ron Fricke regarding the first film; an interview with Reggio regarding his multimedia files and the lengths he goes to protect them; another interview with Reggio concerning an alternate version of the first film; "Impact of Progress," yet another Reggio/Glass interview; "Inspirations and Ideas," another Reggio interview - this time on his inspirations; yet another Reggio interview from public television on the whole trilogy; an interview with Glass and Yo-Yo Ma; a panel interview with Glass, Reggio, and music critic John Rockwell; and finally an afterword from, yet again, Reggio. Even as a journalist, that may be too many interviews for me.

But luckily, in case you get bored with all the talking heads, that's not all. Coolest of all is a 48-minute demo version of the first film, a 'rough cut' if you will, that in some portions features Allen Ginsberg in place of the final soundtrack. You also get a brief making-of feature on "Naquoyqatsi" - the only one of the films produced during the DVD era - and a final twenty-eight minute Reggio montage, this one focused upon animals.

The tone poem construction of the "Qatsi" trilogy isn't for everyone. No doubt, some people are going to see these and say, "why did I pay so much for a screensaver?" But for those with 'experimental' tastes - or simply those of you who want to see something really trippy, and don't mind ignoring a devastatingly dark subtext - you can't do much better than "Qatsi."

"The Qatsi Trilogy"


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