The “Qatsi” trilogy, as it were, which includes the original two films “Koyaanisqatsi,” and “Powaqqatsi”… these films are really hard to classify. They’re not really documentaries and they’re not just experimental films either. In fact, these movies tend to get very mixed reviews. The third film, Naqoyqatsi will likely be reviewed much like the others… ^ Oh yes. If I could show you the nasty reviews on the first film I did, it would blow you’re mind! Really. I was in Berlin in 1988 and I’d just presented “Powaqqatsi” with Phillip (Glass) to a packed house – the boos started to come out and the cheers started on the other side and this audience was going back and forth. I went to a press conference and a guy came up to me and spit in my face. Told me what a terrible thing I had done, so I felt it was a badge of courage to be truthful and to have touched that person so much that he could be that heavy with me.
I just wonder what kind of expectation he must have had? Because you cannot judge this trilogy of movies by the same set of criteria you review, say, the latest Julia Roberts movie. ^ Well, it’s just a different thing – movies are under the regime of theatrical movies – they follow theater, they’re talking. Here, all of the foreground is taken out. The characterization, the plot, the acting, that’s all removed the background or the mise-en-scene, is left for the film and that becomes the subject. And people don’t get that expectation. The score is the narration. And because music portends a direct communion to the soul, there’ll be 100 people who go see the film tonight, and there will be 100 different points of view about it.
So, I need some coaching. How do I pronounce the title of the film? No-qoy-qatsi, (struggling) I know I’m gonna blow it if I ask? ^ Na-koy-kat-see.
How does Naqoyqatsi fit into now this trilogy of movies? ^ The first film, “Koyaanisqatsi,” which came out 20 years ago, is about northern hemisphere hyperkinetic society – its industrial grids. The second film “Powaqqatsi,” is about cultures of the south – cultures of morality. Handmade cultures. Cultures that create their own existence. Cultures that are tragically, or sadly, on the way out, and how those cultures become consumed with the myth of progress and development. The third film, Naqoyqatsi, deals with the globalized world, the moment that we’re in. How the image becomes the location. From my point of view, the film deals with the tragedy of technofacism – how technology is something we live or use, but it’s something we live. It’s the comprehensive host of life, and so in that sense, is a very tragic event.
What are some of the challenges in making a movie that, let’s be honest, has no story. And when I say challenges, I mean critical response, theatrical release, marketing…? ^ First of all, there is a story inside of it, but it’s a story that’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s like, if you do a painting, you never ask the painter, “What did you mean by that?” It’s how it moves you, so there is a method to the madness. The biggest challenge is the collaborative nature of the event. You can’t write the screenplay, because there’s no narration. But I write a dramaturgical shaping which gives a limit or an isometric or a freedom by presenting a limit to the project. And then because I myself do not use cameras, don’t even use e-mail, I have to work through the very talented abilities of other people. So, it’s getting everybody to collaborate, which is a very big challenge. Most people who make films have enormous egos, fortunately if you don’t have vanity with that ego, you have the ability to go under a critical regime of collaboration. Phillip Glass, who’s been my constant collaborator over these three films, has a very good mind, but no vanity. So he and I are able to be very critical with each other. And that’s why we sustain our relationship, but that is difficult.
How did you use new special effects technology to achieve some of the imagery in the film, ecause the two previous films are stunning visually? ^ Here’s the thing, those two previous films were shot in the real world, and we engaged the subject and we had photography and we went back and edited. In this film, every image is itself a special effect. This image is not the location of the image or themselves images. So we relocate on to the iconic, we vivify those images, torture them through the torture chamber of digital technology and present, what I think is going to be, a difficult, but hopefully, rewarding film. It will be quite different from the other two. It won’t have the natural beauty because the subject’s different. The subject of Naqoyqatsi is itself, the manufactured image, which is the comprehensive wallpaper of the globalized world, where image is horizonless. It has no season, it’s something that is more important than truth in this world and that’s why I call it a film about technofacism.
You know what’s unbelievable? I actually understood everything you said. I’m really proud of myself. ^ There you go.
How satisfying is it that on one side you have critics that just don’t get it, and audiences that don’t get it, and others who are praising it as the cinematic equivalent of doing drugs? ^ (Laughs)
And I mean that as a compliment. ^ Well, you know, drugs have been a part of humankind since our existence. They’ve been used to get us to a state beyond ourselves which is who we are really.
I’m thinking maybe you’ve done some drugs yourself? ^ (Smiles) There you go. Maybe you’re just guessing? But I make them in terms of the film because what a drug does is offer you another perception. Of course, you can abuse that or you can use it all. Shamen use drugs as part of their connection to the spirit. So they can offer their lives to others. But to use drugs to run away from reality, then you’re not using them for what they’ve been given to us for. So, if the films are compared to drugs, I take it as a great honor because I feel drugs can enhance a person’s life if they’re used for elevation. And they are used all over the world no matter what prohibitions are. In the case of my three films, I used drugs to metaphor for my crew what the energy is. In the case of “Koyaanisqatsi,” we’re looking at that white powder. Anything that’s powder, I think, is deadly. So I feel that is not a good drug, so that’s cocaine. In the case of the second film, the drug would be marijuana or opium. Something very slow-paced. A very a pace that gives you another perception of reality where you can see right through things. I would say in the case of this film, I would say LSD is the drug for the metaphor. We’re going to take you on a journey into an untellable world where words can no longer describe the planet in which we live, hence, we use the language of the beast which is the language of image. So this film, as it were, embraces a contradiction. It uses a heavy base of technology to be critical about the technological order which, for some, is hypocritical for the technological world in which we live.
Well I don’t do drugs, but Godfrey I do your movies! Thanks! ^ (Shake hands)
Posted on October 23, 2002 in Interviews by Chris Gore
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: PINK FLOYD THE DULL
- GODFREY REGGIO: MAKING THE FINAL “QATSI”
- BETTER LIVING THROUGH CIRCUITRY
- THE WAR ON THE WAR ON DRUGS
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