Saturday, March 18, 2023

#2,901. Powaqqatsi (1988) - Qatsi Double Feature


Godfrey Reggio’s follow-up to his 1982 documentary Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi (which, in the Hopi language, means a parasitic way of life, or life in transition) is, at times, a beautiful film.

Shot in Africa, India, South America, Jerusalem, and other locales around the world, it observes how industrialization has encroached on more traditional ways of life. A boy walks along a road as a truck speeds by him, enveloping him in a cloud of dirt. A cart pulled by oxen makes its way down a busy city street. Customs and traditions that have gone on for thousands of years are still observed, but now against the backdrop of the late 20th century. In the villages of Africa, festivals are held (shown here in glorious slow motion). Along the Ganges, women wash their clothes by beating them against rocks. Yet there are skyscrapers now, and automobiles, and traffic.

Life is indeed, in transition.

As with Koyaanisqatsi, Philip Glass composed some extraordinary music for Powaqqatsi. The opening moments of the film grab you: thousands of men at the Serra Pelada gold mine in Brazil are carrying bags of dirt up a hill. They are covered in mud, and the work is clearly grueling. Yet set to the music of Philip Glass, there is something majestic about it. While Glass’s compositions for Koyaanisqatsi were also excellent, I believe his music in Powaqqatsi is even stronger. There is an old-world feel to it, and it enhances every image, every sequence.

Not all of Powaqqatsi worked for me. As with the first movie, there are two brief segments that show TV news broadcasts and portions of commercials from around the world (no audio, just video). Christie Brinkley, Dan Rather, and other recognizable celebrities pop on for a second or two. These quick asides worked with the theme of Koyaanisqatsi, where North America and other modern cities were the focal point. Here, these two segments stand out like a sore thumb. They were not necessary. Reggio was driving his point home well enough without them.

Arguably, the most impactful moments in Powaqqatsi are when Reggio and his cinematographers are focusing on the faces of children, most of whom stare directly into the camera. Some have inquisitive looks. Others are stern, perhaps even annoyed by the intrusion. These moments made me reflect on how these kids are growing to adulthood in areas that are both old and new. I found myself wondering what the future had in store for them, and which values they would embrace.

It’s one of several times Powaqqatsi caused me to think, and that makes it the perfect companion piece to Koyaanisqatsi.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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