(Godfrey Reggio, USA, 2002)


At the start of Naqoyqatsi – the third film in Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1983) series – composer Philip Glass gets a five/four beat happening which scans really well with the syllables in the film's title. It doesn't quite have the swing of David Brubeck or Jethro Tull, but it certainly sets the bombastic tone.

I spent much of the ninety minutes of this film tapping out five beats, seven beats, fifteen beats ... mainly because the movie itself is so mind-numbingly stupid – albeit spectacular in that technologically vacuous way that seems to win a cinema release these days.

Naqoyqatsi is a non-narrative "cinema of images" for people who have never seen an authentically experimental movie. (Stan Brakhage must be turning in his grave.) If Reggio had not had the foresight to get the astonishingly overrated Glass on board back in 1983, I wonder whether we would be watching this dross now.

There seems to be no pictorial cliché too awful for Reggio to avoid. Images of birth and death, of construction and destruction, of city and country, of sky and land, of human and machine, file by in banal juxtapositions that most film-school students get past in the first semester of their first year.

And just at the moment when I thought to myself, "surely he is not going to show the nuclear mushroom clouds", around eight of them appeared in metronomic splendour.

There is a strange kind of film, including those of Reggio, Baraka (1992) – immortalised in The Matrix Reloaded (2003) – and Travelling Birds (2001), which are unusual in that they have created an audience for films purely about landscapes or animals, but without being in conventional formats of either documentary or fiction.

These odd lifestyle accessories deserve a footnote in cinema history – but only a very tiny one.

© Adrian Martin June 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search