KOYAANISQATSI, Reggio's debut as a film director and producer, is the first film of the QATSI trilogy. The title is a Hopi Indian word meaning "life out of balance." Created between 1975 and 1982, the film is an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds -- urban life and technology versus the environment. The musical score was composed by Philip Glass.
KOYAANISQATSI attempts to reveal the beauty of the beast! We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive. If one lives in this world, the globalized world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon another. In our world the "original" is the proliferation of the standardized. Copies are copies of copies. There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. We do not live with nature any longer; we live above it, off of it as it were. Nature has become the resource to keep this artificial or new nature alive.
That being said, my intention in-other-words, let me describe the bigger picture. KOYAANISQATSI is not so much about something, nor does it have a specific meaning or value. KOYAANISQATSI is, after all, an animated object, an object in moving time, the meaning of which is up to the viewer.
Art has no intrinsic meaning. This is its power, its mystery, and hence, its attraction. Art is free. It stimulates the viewer to insert their own meaning, their own value. So while I might have this or that intention in creating this film, I realize fully that any meaning or value KOYAANISQATSI might have comes exclusively from the beholder.
The film's role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from the experience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning. If meaning is the point, then propaganda and advertising is the form. So in the sense of art, the meaning of KOYAANISQATSI is whatever you wish to make of it.
This is its power.
POWAQQATSI's overall focus is on natives of the Third World -- the emerging, land-based cultures of Asia, India, Africa, the Middle East and South America -- and how they express themselves through work and traditions. What it has to say about these cultures is an eyeful and then some, sculpted to allow for varied interpretations.
Where KOYAANISQATSI dealt with the imbalance between nature and modern society, POWAQQATSI is a celebration of the human-scale endeavor the craftsmanship, spiritual worship, labor and creativity that defines a particular culture. It's also a celebration of rareness -- the delicate beauty in the eyes of an Indian child, the richness of a tapestry woven in Kathmandu -- and yet an observation of how these societies move to a universal drumbeat.
POWAQQATSI is also about contrasting ways of life, and in part how the lure of mechanization and technology and the growth of mega-cities are having a negative effect on small-scale cultures.
The title POWAQQATSI is a Hopi Indian conjunctive -- the word Powaqa, I which refers to a negative sorcerer who lives at the expense of others, and Qatsi --i.e., life.
Several of "POWAQQATSI's" images point to a certain lethargy affecting its city dwellers. They could be the same faces we saw in the smaller villages but they seem numbed; their eyes reflect caution, uncertainty.
And yet POWAQQATSI, says Reggio, is not a film about what should or shouldn't be. "It's an impression, an examination of how life is changing", he explains. "That's all it is. There is good and there is bad. What we sought to capture is our unanimity as a global culture. Most of us tend to forget about this, caught up as we are in our separate trajectories. It was fascinating to blend these different existences together in one film."
To be certain, POWAQQATSI is a record of diversity and transformation, of cultures dying and prospering, of industry for its own sake and the fruits of individual labor, presented as an integrated human symphony -- and with Philip Glass' score providing the counterpart, performed with native, classical and electronic instruments, its tribal rhythms fused by a single majesterial theme.
More important than empires, more powerful than world religions, more decisive than great battles, more impactful than cataclysmic earth changes, NAQOYQATSI chronicles the most significant event of the last five thousand years: the transition from the natural milieu, old nature, to the "new" nature, the technological milieu.
Nature has held earthly unity through the mystery of diversity. New nature achieves this unity through the awesome power of technological homogenization. NAQOYQATSI is a reflection on this singular event, where our subject is the medium itself, the wonderland of technology. The medium is our story. In this scenario human beings do not use technology as a tool (the popular point-of-view), but rather we live technology as a way of life. Technology is the big force and like oxygen it is always there, a necessity that we cannot live without. Because its appetite is seemly infinite, it is consuming the finite world of nature. It is in this sense that technology is NAQOYQATSI, a sanctioned aggression against the force of life itself - war life, a total - war beyond the wars of the battlefield.
NAQOYQATSI takes us on an epical journey into a land that is nowhere, yet everywhere; the land where the image itself is our location, where the real gives way to the virtual. As the gods of old become dethroned, a new pantheon of light appears in the integrated circuit of the computer. Its truth, becomes the truth.
Extremes of promise and spectacle, tragedy and startling hope fuse in a digital tidal wave of image and music. In a poetic nanosecond, NAQOYQATSI give utterance to a new world coming, a new world here.