In 1982 Godfrey Reggio (with the backing of Francis Ford Coppola) unleashed Koyaanisqatsi on the world, the first of a triptych of non-narrative documentaries which convey their ideas largely through images without explanatory narration or dialogue. The rest of the trilogy was filled out by Powaqqatsi in 1988 and 2002’s Naqoyqatsi, the latter of which is rather widely disliked since it consists not of lovingly assembled, gorgeous imagery shot on location but a mashup of cheap stock footage and really badly dated CGI. Indeed, when Arrow Video put out a recent Blu-Ray edition, they left out Naqoyqatsi entirely – but how do the other films hold up?
Koyaanisqatsi is a movie keen on showing us a bunch of stuff. A set of pictographs from the Great Gallery in Horseshow Canyon, the depicted figures limbs de-emphasised in a way which makes them look almost mummified. Rockets launching into space – or detonating in midair. Commuters shooting out of escalators like sausages issuing forth from a sausage machine. Mining activities, natural landscapes like Monument Valley giving way to industrial and urban landscapes. The Philip Glass soundtrack saws away at our ears as we are confronted with visual after visual and invited to string them together into some form of greater whole. But is there anything there?