Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
Search for Posters
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: n/a
Written by: Godfrey Reggio
Directed by: Godfrey Reggio
MPAA Rating: PG for violent and disturbing images, and for brief nudity
Running Time: 89
Date: 09/02/2002

Naqoyqatsi (2002)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Life as War

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When I was a teenager, Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1983) enthralled me. It felt like a secret little discovery, a true cult item, just weird enough to annoy patrons of the mainstream. Plus, to one so young, it seemed to hold the secrets of the universe. Never mind that, if I thought about it long enough, I would have admitted to myself that it could be repetitive and annoying.

And I never kidded myself that it was more than a one-hit wonder, which is why I never felt the need to see its 1988 sequel, Powaqqatsi. However, Reggio would argue that the two films, plus the new third part, Naqoyqatsi, which opens today in Bay Area theaters, each have their own themes.

Reggio even credits himself as "writer" of all three films, though it's hard to believe that any writing actually went on. He's more like a father who videotapes his family 24-7, hoping for images that strike him as "pretty." If no such image shows up, he can take an ordinary one and merely slow it down, digitize it to make the images leave little trails, or turn it inside out and show it in negative form.

Naqoyqatsi spends a good deal of time looking at people doing the things that people do, but in slow motion and in negative. I couldn't figure out why Reggio thought we'd be more interested this way, or what it was all supposed to mean. Either the film contained some, great untouchable message about the secret of mankind or it contains a dozen little messages, so simple a child could have crafted them: violence is bad, technology is everywhere, we watch too much TV.

As with the other two films, composer Philip Glass provides the score for the new film, this time punctuated by bursts of cello by Yo-Yo Ma. Truth to tell, he simply riffs on the music he wrote 20 years ago for the first film, and it doesn't come anywhere near as penetrating as it did then. (I far prefer his score for Martin Scorsese's Kundun and his 1999 Dracula score.)

Each of the three films comes with its own presiding theme. Koyaanisqatsi claimed to capture "life out of balance," while Powaqqatsi explored "Life in Transformation." Naqoyqatsi looks at violence inherent in modern-day society. Though how technology fits into this theme, I'm not quite sure.

Reggio seems both disdainful and giddy about technology. He makes fun of it, but uses very cool animated computer graphics to do so. He also seems to want to say something about the cult of celebrity, but thrills at images of Marilyn Monroe, Dr. Martin Luther King and other immediately recognizable faces. He even visits a wax museum and runs his camera across a seemingly unconnected collection of faces (ending, with a thud, on Dubya's monkeylike visage).

I recently saw Baraka, a similar film by Ron Fricke, who worked with Reggio on the first film. Baraka also had no single point to make, but somehow seemed more open and more direct thanks to its unfamiliar images from all over the world.

By contast, Naqoyqatsi doesn't really show us anything we haven't seen before. Nothing in it is as shocking as, say, Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou (1928), which makes a much deeper impression in only 14 minutes.

Hulu Castle Rock SVOD