The Transformed Man – UCSB SHOWS GODFREY REGGIO’S ‘QATSI TRILOGY’ AND HIS LATEST FEATURE

Trish Govini photo
Trish Govini photo

For a man who has eschewed dialog for his entire hypnotic filmography, Godfrey Reggio sure loves to talk. In interview, he comes front-loaded with philosophical riffs, turns of phrase, metaphors, and more. Some of it is evidence of years promoting, explaining, and defending his films. Some of it is his joy of living. And, although he hasn’t said so, some may be the flip-side of his youth, where he spent 14 years in silence as he studied to be a monk for the Congregation of Christian Brothers.

Mr. Reggio is best known for his “Qatsi” trilogy, which debuted in 1982. Its first film, “Koyaanisqatsi” (Hopi for “Life out of Balance”) was “the” art-house film of the ’80s, an updated ’60s head-trip that began with gorgeous helicopter shots until descending into beehive-like, time-lapse footage of the modern city, all propelled by Philip Glass’ hypnotic score. The film propelled both Mr. Reggio’s and Mr. Glass’ careers, and while Mr. Glass went on to score many Hollywood films, Mr. Reggio worked on the sequels: “Powaqqatsi” (“Life in Transformation”) from 1988, and “Naqoyqasti” (“Life as War”) from 2002. Not only is UCSB showing the trilogy in full this Saturday at the Arlington, but they’ll be showing Mr. Reggio’s latest, “Visitors.” Shot in 5k digital and in slow-motion black and white, it’s much like his short film from 2002, “Evidence,” which showed at UCSB with live Philip Glass Ensemble backing. The film turns the camera on an audience as it watches a film. Like all of Mr. Reggio’s work, it’s hypnotic, mesmerizing, but without narrative, as much as audiences love to insert a story into his images. (Another thing you learn talking to Mr. Reggio: he dislikes the word “experimental.” “That’s for science,” he says.)

“Goethe says regarding poetry that in the measure that it’s least accessible to your intellect in that measure, it’s most efficacious,” he says. “That’s why ‘Visitors’ is the ‘odd one in.’ Nine out of eight films, that is to say everything plus, are theatrical and literature based … ‘Visitors’ is poetic cinema. It’s a composition of images and transubstantiates images into feelings.”

The slow motion allows viewers to study the small changes of expression on the subjects of “Visitors,” and harks back to similar sequences in all his films. “All of us are on speed, in rush hour, outrunning the future,” he says. “It’s not their seat belts they have to tie for this film, it’s their soul-belt.”

A longtime resident of Santa Fe, Mr. Reggio came to filmmaking with no knowledge of experimental film. Being a monk for 14 years kept him away from pop culture.

“It was an original step,” Mr. Reggio says of making “Koyaanisqatsi.” “It of course was fraught with all kinds of problems at first. But I learned early on that my mistakes were my best teachers. But I came into it tabula rasa. Same thing for Philip (Glass) and the same thing for all my collaborators.”

Mr. Reggio likes to switch up his cinematographers, but he maintains the same core group from composer to producers. He also takes on new blood, and since so many of the crew for “Visitors” were under 30, “I felt like Grandpa Moses,” he says.

For the themes of his Qatsi trilogy, he cites technology, not as a warning or a celebration, but as a new state of living, a transformation of the human race.

“We become the environments we live in,” he says. “And in that sense, we are all becoming technology, as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. It’s beyond the gadgets; it’s recreating the world in our image and likeness. Anything we could have said about the divine in the past could probably be said about technology now.”

Qatsi Trilogy + Visitors
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St.
Cost: $11 General Admission; $15 ‘Visitors;’ $28 Film Series;
Free for students
Information: 893-3535 or artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu

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