Life in Transformation
Powaqqatsi, or "life in transformation," is the second part of a projected trilogy of experimental documentaries whose titles derive from Hopi compound nouns. The now legendary Koyaanisqatsi, or "life out of balance," was the first. Naqoyqatsi, or "life in war," once it obtains funding, will be the third. Powaqqatsi finds director Godfrey Reggio somewhat more directly polemical than before, and his major collaborator, the composer Philip Glass, stretching to embrace world music.
Reggio reuses techniques familiar from the previous film (slow motion, time-lapse, superposition) to dramatize the effects of the so-called First World on the Third: displacement, pollution, alienation. But he spends as much time beautifully depicting what various cultures have lost--cooperative living, a sense of joy in labor, and religious values--as he does confronting viewers with trains, airliners, coal cars, and loneliness. What had been a more or less peaceful, slow-moving, spiritually fulfilling rural existence for these "silent" people (all we hear is music and sound effects) becomes a crowded, suffocating, accelerating industrial urban hell, from Peru to Pakistan. Reggio frames Powaqqatsi with a telling image: the Serra Pelada gold mines, where thousands of men, their clothes and skin imbued with the earth they're moving, carry wet bags up steep slopes in a Sisyphean effort to provide wealth for their employers. While Glass juxtaposes his strangely joyful music, which includes the voices of South American children, a number of these men carry one of their exhausted comrades out of the pit, his head back and arms outstretched--one more sacrifice to Caesar. Nevertheless, Reggio, a former member of the Christian Brothers, seems to maintain hope for renewal. --Robert Burns Neveldine