Powaqqatsi Review

Powaqqatsi – a way of furthering one’s own life by scavenging the lives of those around you.

Following on from Koyaanisqatsi which scrutinised the Northern Hemisphere’s life attitudes and obsessions, Powaqqatsi changes hemisphere and takes us through the everyday lives of people using the earth’s resources to survive… Completely devoid of dialogue, the film is set to an excellent soundtrack composed by Philip Glass – given the prominent nature of his work here, Glass accompanied the crew throughout all the filming locations to better impregnate himself of the local atmosphere and culture and avoid the pitfalls of creating a soundtrack replete of musical clichés. To that extent, he has been quite successful in distilling the influences into a piece of work that is resolutely his own but exhibits the many facets of the locations… If you haven’t seen the likes of Baraka or Koyaanisqatsi, the filming technique is a little difficult to appreciate on first approach – there is some heavy use of slow motion especially in the opening sequences which given the beauty of the images is fully justified but overall the lack of “normal” cohesion will probably put most people off. Still Reggio and Glass have managed to make a film that without being completely abstract, manages to engage with the issues at hand in a elegant and objective fashion whist leaving the image and sound do the talking.

The DVD:

The image:The transfer is colourfully vibrant and gets anamorphic enhancement. There is not much print damage (the odd fleck appears from time to time) and the original aspect ratio of 1.85 is respected here. On the downside I discovered when I was making the screengrabs that the transfer is miscentered (I’ve not edited the grabs so you can judge for yourself) – this means that a small amount of the right side of the image has been clipped off – this didn’t seem noticeable when viewed on a widescreen TV (most TVs clip the sides of the image anyway) but, regardless, this should not have happened… Still it’s a very minor quibble on the grand scale of things as globally the transfer is very good.

The sound:As Noel noted in his review of the R1 version, the 5.1 mix at times makes a mess of the soundtrack – I very much doubt that Glass approved this and sadly the original stero mix is nowhere to be seen (or rather heard!). Surely when these mixes are made there should at least be an inclusion of the original? Bar that gripe, the soundtrack does work pretty effectively throughout the film and the 5.1 mix does redeem itself in some sequences.

The menus:MGM never do much with menus so we get the usual still menus made up from stills from the film – all I can really say is that they work!

The extras:We get the original trailer for Powaqqatsi as well as that of Koyaanisqatsi. The sole real extra is a 20-minute interview with Reggio and Glass about the films – thankfully this extra is excellent and despite the short running time covers a great deal of ground. Glass talks about how his music was used and composed whilst Reggio discusses the message of the film and defends the film for being an apology for institutional poverty but rather a questioning the use of western materialism to quantify quality of life. An excellent, well-edited extra although I would have maybe preferred a commentary track of the two of them and the cinematographer but I assume they probably would rather have the images do the talking…

Conclusions: Powaqqatsi is an excellent demonstration of how non-narrative documentaries can make excellent cinema. Released in a boxset with Koyaanisqatsi, both films come highly recommended and deserve a special place in any cinephile’s collection…

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