12 August, 2011

The Qatsi Trilogy: Human Condition on the Big Screen

Production still: 1983 IRE
By Mateusz Jazdzewski

Philip Glass is undoubtedly one of the biggest contemporary names at this year’s Festival. His success comes from his ability to fuse classical music with mass culture. He is far from a pop idol, but film buffs and regular cinema-goers appreciate his work in films like Elena, The Hours or The Illusionist. However, none of these films has brought him as much fame as his collaboration with Godfrey Reggio on Koyaanisqatsi, an intellectual and visually attractive critique of contemporary world order. Having followed the success of the first film he then composed the score for the rest of the trilogy, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi. During screenings of the trilogy, complete with live music from the Philip Glass Ensemble at the Edinburgh International Festival, we will find out if the films still influence the audience to the extent they did on their release.

As a 21-year-old today, I cannot imagine a film having as much impact as Koyaanisqatsi had on young people in 1982. What was so striking about the film that led to it gaining cult status? Perhaps it was the new aesthetics it presented that shocked the audience - Koyaanisqatsi does not have any plot, instead the audience watch seemingly chaotic sequences presenting heaven, coastlines and forests. They are confronted with images of contemporary cities, full of rushing people and modern architecture. The films offer their own disturbing vision of the world, which declines in parallel with technological development.

This idea was further explored in Powaqqatsi. Here, the impact of Western civilisation over Africa and Asia is questioned. Images of people harvesting and carrying food are contrasted with images of poverty and diseases. Naqoyqatsi, the most recent work released in 2002, is the sad conclusion drawn by Reggio and Glass on the fate of our planet. After destroying natural resources and gathering in massive cities, self-destruction seems the only outcome for humanity. The film depicts our admiration for and the media’s obsession with war, technology, the arms race and tragedy.

The films would not have the same visual impact if it was not for Glass’ illustrative and arresting score, and the Qatsi Trilogy still inspires filmmakers today. Festival audiences will benefit from watching the trilogy on the big screen and listening to the score performed live by Glass and his orchestra. Whether the trilogy will make the same impression as it did on its release is hard to measure, these films have put a significant stamp on the history of cinema.

Saturday 13 August, 8.30pm, The Edinburgh Playhouse

Sunday 14 August, 8.30pm, The Edinburgh Playhouse

Monday 15 August, 8.30pm, The Edinburgh Playhouse

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September.
Browse the programme and book online at www.eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

This article has also been published on stv.tv which features reviews, previews and features from this year’s Festival.

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