Yowza, Yowza, Yowza!


Beth had wanted me to write something about the Qatsi trilogy of films, which we watched a while ago, but I honestly couldn’t think of much to say about them. I guess I’ll address them somewhat, though, while also including hopefully more substantial thoughts on some other movies I’ve seen recently. The names of the three films, Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi, are Hopi for, roughly, “Life Out of Balance,” “Life in Transformation,” and “Life as War.” Beth had put these on our Netflix queue some time ago out of interest in Philip Glass, who provided the soundtracks. I’ve heard it suggested that, like the Teletubbies, these films are best watched while high, and neither of us has ever gotten into recreational drug use. Each one is a collection of clips purporting to explore a certain theme. Koyaanisqatsi is about the destructive effect of humanity on the environment, Powaqqatsi about the industrialization of poor countries, and Naqoyqatsi about technology leading to violence as civilization. At least, that’s what they’re supposed to be about, and knowing that I can see how most of the clips used fit the themes. If I hadn’t know that ahead of time, though, I don’t think I would have gotten any of that out of them. Even as it is, they’re more just loosely related to the ideas than they really demonstrate any grand messages. The main thing I remember is the chanting of the first title.

While not really relevant to the trilogy, I’m giving a SPOILER WARNING for the next two films, even though they’re both pretty old.

The Day the Earth Stood Still – In this 1951 science fiction movie, a human-looking alien named Klaatu shows up on Earth in a flying saucer, and tells humanity that, if they continue killing each other, his robot Gort will destroy all of them. It’s kind of weird that he’s promoting peace by threatening even greater violence, but the general theme of human hostility is sadly apt. Klaatu is killed by the Army after a non-violent demonstration of his power, but Gort is able to revive him long enough for him to deliver a final ultimatum to Earth: either stop being violent and join interstellar society, or just stay on your own planet. He explains that, if anyone in his society tries to make war, their whole planet will be wiped out by robots. I think it’s pretty clear that this wouldn’t work for humans, many of whom tend to be a combination of utterly selfish and likely to do anything they’re warned not to. There are obvious parallels to the story of Jesus, but I don’t know whether they’re intentional. I mean, E.T. can be compared to Christ, but it was created by a Jewish guy who wasn’t thinking along those lines at all. In the metaphor, I suppose that, in this metaphor, Gort would be the vengeful aspect of God. Jesus preached peace, but also a coming apocalypse. This movie also introduces the legendary phrse “Klaatu barada nikto,” which is never explicitly translated, but apparently lets Gort know that Klaatu has died, but he still shouldn’t kill all humans. They’re the magic words Bruce Campbell keeps getting wrong in Army of Darkness; and Klaatu and Barada are minor characters who work in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi, with Nikto being the name of Klaatu’s species.


They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Beth has a desire to watch really disturbing movies, and this one has come up on many lists of such. I knew it was about a dance marathon, but I wasn’t entirely sure how that would be so disturbing (more like just plain exhausting) or how the title relates. It all makes sense in the end, though. Set during the Depression, it largely focuses on the characters Robert and Gloria, but there are other participants whose stories are addressed as well. It’s gradually revealed that the guy running the marathon is really crooked, destroying contestants’ things to create drama, not telling anybody when someone dies on the dance floor and another goes crazy witnessing it, and planning to weasel out of actually providing the prize money to the winners. So, yeah, it’s pretty messed up. And if you don’t mind me spoiling the ending, the title comes into play because Robert compares his eventual killing of Gloria at her request to his father killing a horse in his childhood, which was shown at the beginning of the film. So, yeah, it’s pretty messed up, and based largely on things that actually happened at Depression-era dance marathons (although not necessarily all at the same one). A major goal of the promoters was to allow audiences to see people suffer even worse than they were. What’s weird is that the movie led to a revival of such marathons, even though it was about how horrible they were. The more recent ones, however, were often done for charity and didn’t last anywhere near as long.

This entry was posted in Christianity, Great Depression, History, Language, Music, Religion, Star Wars, VoVat Goes to the Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Yowza, Yowza, Yowza!

  1. rocketdave says:

    The Jesus symbolism in The Day the Earth Stood Still was totally deliberate. I mean, the alias Klaatu assumes is Mr. Carpenter. They did have to dial back a little on the similarities between the character and Jesus, though. The Breen office forced the studio to change the script so that Klattu’s resurrection was started to be only temporary instead of permenant and they also inserted a line about how complete mastery over life and death is reserved strictly for “the almighty spirit.”

    I’ve read “Farewell to the Master,” the short story the movie is based on, though it might be more accurate to say that the movie is loosely inspired by the story. I guess the basic premise was intriguing enough for someone to buy the rights, but the plot of the story probably wasn’t enough to sustain a feature film, so they made a lot of alterations/additions. For example, the message about humanity needing to shape up or be destroyed is completely absent from “Farewell to the Master.” Actually, from the moment Klaatu is shot upon exiting the ship, the movie’s plot is pretty much completely different, except for the bit where he’s “resurrected” later on, though the way this is accomplished is also different.

    Even though it’s undoubtedly one of the more prestigious science fiction films of the fifties, The Day the Earth Stood Still is not my favorite. Of course, I agree with the anti-war sentiment, but maybe I find it a little too preachy and heavy-handed.

    • Nathan says:

      Oh, yeah, Mr. Carpenter. We noticed that while watching the movie, but I had forgotten about it when writing the review. So are the religious themes not as prominent in “Farewell to the Master”?

      • rocketdave says:

        There aren’t really any religious themes at all in “Farewell to the Master,” except maybe for the fact that instead of being shot by a soldier after disembarking from the ship, Klaatu is assassinated by a deranged man who believes he’s the devil. The rest of the tale unfolds more like a mystery story. Enough time has passed since Klaatu’s death that a museum has been built up around the ship and the supposedly inert robot – who is called Gnut instead of Gort. But from noticing slight discrepancies in pictures, a photojournalist realizes that Gnut has been moving around at night. He eventually discovers that the robot is secretly experimenting with a way to create a living identical copy of Klaatu extrapolated from a recording of his voice from the museum’s exhibit, only the recording is imperfect, so his copy only lives a short while. But the journalist gets his hands on the original apparatus Klaatu’s voice was recorded on, which should ensure that Gnut will be able to figure out how to create a copy that won’t die. It’s kind of a charmingly preposterous sci-fi idea from a time before cloning was even a concept. Before Gnut takes off in the ship, the journalist wants to make sure the robot will tell his master how sorry humanity is for what happened, but Gnut, who already knows this, replies, “You misunderstand. I am the master.”

  2. Along the lines of the Qatsi trilogy, be sure to check out Baraka. Shot in 70 mm, and scanned in 8k, I think it’s even more effective than its predecessors, and then there’s the more recent Samsara, which I also own, but haven’t had time to see yet (save for the trailer). Baraka I’ve seen several times and puts to great use the song “Host of the Seraphim,” by Dead Can Dance.

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