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Förening Film i Malmö presents
Dir. Godfrey Reggio
Music by Philip Glass
Cinematography by Graham Berry
The sensation of watching ”Powaqqatsi,” which opens today at the Ziegfeld, is that of being at an eternal World’s Fair. The film maker’s family-of-man approach involves the cross-cutting of parallel scenes from vastly different cultures around the globe, intermingled with the kinds of nature shots that demonstrate the marvelous capabilities of color film. A lot of this footage is impressive, as much for Mr. Reggio’s enterprising way of finding unusual faces, places and artifacts as his gift for framing these glimpses in interesting ways. But these virtues have as much to do with coffee-table art as with cinema.
”Powaqqatsi” (its title, from two Hopi Indian words, is pronounced pow-ah-COT-see, and means something like ”entity that consumes the life forces of other beings in order to further its own life”) like ”Koyaanisqatsi” (which was translated as ”life out of balance”), has a long, ambitious and changeable score by Philip Glass. The music’s varying degrees of jubilation and tension become one of Mr. Reggio’s principal ways of editorializing; film speed is another, with the primitive imagery of the film’s early sections photographed in rapt slow motion, and the later urban scenes sped up to an anxiety-ridden tempo. The slower scenes strive for a particularly hypnotic effect, as they reduce the motion of a hard-working calf muscle to its very components or capture every ripple on a body of water. Moments like this create the feeling that to watch the film in an entirely sober and lucid state of mind is to miss something essential.
What the film does best, especially in its introductory sections, is to convey a sense of the vastness and variety of the planet. The fact that the settings are not identified only serves to heighten their mystery. Capturing beautiful, remote sites in countries including Peru, Brazil, Kenya, Egypt and Nepal, Mr. Reggio splices together an extraordinary scrapbook, a resonant array of unspoiled scenery and uncomplicated lives.
Later on, in places like Hong Kong, he films the misery of urban existence, but even this is made strangely pretty. An unimaginably vast high-rise complex, for instance, may signify the most dehumanizing aspects of city dwelling, but it is photographed in an aerial shot that emphasizes its imposing symmetry. Courtesy of the NYT