It's not often that multiplexes play host to a non-narrative, feature-length experimental film that indicts the totality of Western society as we know it. That's not good for digesting popcorn. But in 1983, the first installment of Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi (taken from a Hopi word meaning "Life out of Balance"), astonished not just film geeks but also those more accustomed to Indiana Jones and ET. Featuring music by Philip Glass that guides the action on-screen, doing the work of a traditional story, Reggio's film is like an extended music video, but far more ambitious--and a lot more impressive.
Now, following 1988's Powaqatsi ("Life in Transformation"), a sometimes cloyingly humanistic disappointment compared to its predecessor, comes the trilogy's final chapter, Naqoyqatsi. Like its predecessors, the film is a collage made from thousands of images seeking nothing less than revolution from its audience.
Naqoyqatsi is loosely translated as "War as a Way of Life," and its concern is how technology has perilously emerged as, in Reggio's description, a kind of new sun around which we revolve. Gone are Koyaanisqatsi's breathtaking vistas in favor of colder studio-created imagery (which Glass nicely balances with warmer music). Troops march in a reverse-negative image, giving way to animated renderings of religious symbols like the Star of David and the Fertile Crescent, and computer-code ones and zeroes. Later there is a kaleidoscope of flashing lottery games, prescription pills, bar codes and corporate logos. And then a string of celebrities (or sometimes wax-museum facsimiles), ranging from Hitler to Madonna, bin Laden to the Beatles, parades across the screen.
Whereas Koyaanisqatsi felt like a fresh perspective on the patterns in the world, Naqoyqatsi's effect is lessened by the familiarity of its images despite the effects of editing and music. Naqoyqatsi is not the astonishing film that the first of the trilogy was. At the same time, it is still a reminder of just how rare non-narrative feature films truly are. Reggio's spectacular and always unpredictable fusion of images is constantly moving and changing at just the right pace, seamlessly emboldened by Glass. If visual beauty is not as palpable here as in Koyaanisqatsi, it's ultimately more resourceful. Reggio knows that what we see and hear tells the story by itself. And yes, a story is definitely told here, even if there's not a typical narrative arc to hold your hand along the way.
Not Rated Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., 223-4515. 7 and 9 pm Friday - Thursday, Oct. 25-31. Additional shows 10:45 pm Friday - Sarurday; 12:45, 2:45, 4:45 pm Saturday - Sunday.