Koyaanisqatsi

1983, American Zoetrope et al

Godfrey Reggio and Ron Fricke rocked the world in 1983 with their stunning vision of our planet, Koyaanisqatsi. As an example of what's called "pure cinema," it has no actors, no dialog and no plot; but it does have a very powerful message, as summed up by the title, which is the Hopi word for "unbalanced life." The groundbreaking imagery—which has since become a staple effect in film and television—is simultaneously breathtaking and, given the film's overarching subtext, disturbing (at least to those receptive to the message). There haven't been many films, before or since, to carry such forceful potency without a spoken word.

       

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Powaqqatsi

1988, Golan-Globus

The second part of Godfrey Reggio's "Qatsi" trilogy bears many of the same qualities and messages of the first, except that it's more narrowly-focused on the impact of Westernization on third-world countries, and is more intimate with the peoples it examines. Consequently, it doesn't have quite the same awe-inspiring effect of the first, and may in fact be a bit more disturbing.

       

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Naqoyqatsi

2002, Qatsi Productions

By now the "Qatsi" style has lost its freshness and impact, and the last in the trilogy feels more like a promotional piece touting American technology than an artistic statement. We've become so inured to our own shortcomings that Naqoyqatsi simply washes over us like so much visual noise—which is alarming: we may recognize ourselves in the mirror, yet remain unmoved.

   

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