The Qatsi trilogy at the 2011 Edinburgh International Festival
Godfrey Reggio's film trilogy with Philip Glass Ensemble live score is a masterpiece
This article is from 2011.
It’s been twenty-eight years since I saw Koyaanisqatsi, twenty-odd since I saw Powaqqatsi, and almost a decade since Naqoyqatsi. The first two I saw in empty art house cinemas on wet afternoons, I watched the third in a somnambulistic state from my sofa on a noisy DVD player. Looking back on the notes I took after each film, ‘the hyperkinetic psychedelia’ of Koyaanisqatsi spoke deeply to the (then) wannabe art student in me, while its sequel seemed ‘a little worthy but clearly a beautiful and important film’ (I didn’t really go into why). For the third film, I simply note it was an ‘endgame’, ‘a fin’, and that ‘closure had been reached.’
Never trust a film critic. Then as now, I clearly know nothing.
Re-watching the Qatsi trilogy with live accompaniment by the Philip Glass Ensemble, which as I write this I am two thirds of the way through, I realise what a mountainous and momentous achievement Godfrey Reggio’s trilogy really is. These aren’t three separate films, they are a wave of humanity, an offering of image and music from two profound artists, ultimately their meanings are up to the viewer but there are certain philosophies that advance like a meditating spectre across them. They are:
1: The natural world is a very beautiful place.
2: Man is a beautiful and spiritual being.
3: Man and commerce together are very capable of turning everything to shit.
4: Environmentally speaking and for no particularly good reason we have already totally fucked the planet.
5: Everything is poetry.
Sitting in Edinburgh’s playhouse and watching Philip Glass and his remarkable ensemble perform below projections of the first two films in the trilogy has been a revelation for me. The brilliant Glass, who’s involvement in all three films went way beyond simply creating a soundtrack for bolted together National Geographic style images (Glass and Reggio collaborated from the ground up, by viewing raw footage in an orchestra rehearsal space) is a humble figure to the right of the conductor. There’s no pomposity or grandstanding despite the fact that what Glass is re-representing to the audience is a marvel of spectacle and sound. The grandeur is all there on the screen, mankind in all its magnificence and misery.
The List is sponsoring the Qatsi trilogy, so this may seem like some puff piece to administer the requisite tinsel and fuss, but honestly this one’s from the heart (as Qatsi trilogy producer Francis Ford Coppola would say) – go buy yourself a ticket for Naqoyqatsi tonight. It’s your last chance to witness this remarkable event, the like of which may not come around for a long time.
Naqoyqatsi, Mon 15 Aug, The Playhouse, 473 2000, 8.30pm. £12-£35.