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 Post subject: Tom Lowe: Awaken (2018)
PostPosted: Thu Aug 05, 2021 5:33 am 
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TOM LOWE: AWAKEN (2018)

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CHINESE FESTIVAL IMAGE (LUNAR NEW YEAR DRAGON) FROM TOM LOWE'S AWAKEN

The latest offshoot of Reggio's 'Koyaanisqatsi' to be reissued in a form ideal for home large-screen 4K viewing

Awaken, which debuted on demand April 9, 2021, is a meditative, decorative, abstract film after the pattern of Godfrey Reggio's 1982 Koyaanisqatsi (YouTube). This is the latest in a long line of offshoots whose original Reggio ancestor was presented by Francis Ford Coppola and released in the US in 1983 with a score by Philip Glass.

The word "koyaanisqatsi" is given in the Hopi Indian dictionary as meaning "life out of balance" or "life of moral corruption and turmoil." The film was a seemingly endless flowing montage of cityscapes and images of nature or people, the film run at different speeds, speeded up or in slo-mo. The repetitive, hypnotic (or annoying) music of Philip Glass was accompanied by no narration or storyline.

Koyaanisqatsi, which we learned how to say, became a temporary cult phenomenon. It filled the big old Castro movie palace in San Francisco for a week, for example - as I learn from Jeffrey M. Anderson's April 8 "Cinema Toast" column in the San Francisco Examiner . Anderson provides a gentle argument in favor of this genre's latest iteration, by Tom Lowe.

Koyaanisqatsi led to 1988 and 2002 sequels by Reggio, and his dp Ron Fricke also turned director with two similarly formatted films, Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011). Reggio himself was back with Visitors (2013), a semi-abstract black-and-white exploration of human faces with another Glass score. The passing-along continues, as it is Visitors' cinematographer Lowe who has made Awaken. Lowe has worked with Terrence Malick as well as Reggio on projects, and both men executive produced on Lowe's new film.

Recent technology enables films to appear clearer and brighter and hence perhaps more beautiful. Thus Awaken, using drones and a variety of fancy lenses, was shot in 4K resolution which some home TV viewers now have and can be an improvement in clarity over HD resolution. "4K" stands for the approximately four thousand pixels horizontally of the images in this format. (More information can be found about Lowe's process ad the film's content from an article/review in The Film Stage by Gordon Raup.)

There has always been doubt about the profundity of these films, and Awaken has not been met with universal acclaim. Jordan Hoffman, a New York-based writer who often reviews films for the Guardian, has sharply critiqued Awaken on Decider, describing it as chiefly of value if you want to "test drive that new 40-inch flatscreen." Despite its 4K and fancy lenses and drone and time-lapse shots and its attempt to be "about everything, man," its "tidal wave of imagery and music," Hoffman says, Lowe's film provides only "a glimmer of meaning" - not aided by the director's"scribbling out" a few lines "of bad poetry for Liv Tyler to read in voice over." (Liv Tyler's whispered tone would seem to be a mannerism borrowed from executive coproducer Malick.)

Hoffman rates the film below even what he calls "also-rans" like Baraka and Samsara and far short of the Reggio original - which indeed even Reggio couldn't match in his sequels. Hoffman singles out a couple of moments he likes - the Lunar New Year dragon in slow motion; "some dude dressed as the Grim Reaper somewhere in a Spanish-speaking land" - but his concluding advice on the film is "Skip it."

Hoffman grants that Awaken uses well new technologies like drone-cameras and high speed image capture with automated lenses. These are things Reggio didn't have access to. But Reggio didn't need them. Great cinema is rarely dependent on the specific details of visual or sound technology - though it relies, obviously, on basic tools and choices like black and white vs. color, film vs. digital, various aspect ratios, sound design and score. Reggio produced something, relatively speaking, extraordinary, if by simpler means (and not that simple; it was 1982, not 1932).

Lowe sometimes seems to have misconstrued Reggio, using slo-mo so excessively it's like being on Xanax. He exhibits retro, escapist tastes - Nordic dairy maids, semi-nude Pacific fishermen, cute, healthy, or healthily aged peasants and native types (flipping back and forth among hemispheres to find them) - all making one remember how much of our world is poor, crowded, and violent. He likes exotic items like trees mushroom-shaped trees, cactus trees, or trees growing out of water, a swimming elephant filmed from below, small smiling kids emerging from happy tepees, fisherman atop poles along the shore, a camel being watered at the edge of the sea. Juxtapositions can seem comical: a young ballet dancer repeatedly posed leaping in the woods against the light is preceded and followed by an old gent looking up, carrying a milk pail. In about the last twenty minutes Lowe gets to cityscapes and urban people, and then the film speeds up a bit. Too late.

Reggio, with his "life out of joint" theme, focuses on urban life from the start, and on speed. His choices of imagery are original. He creates remarkable effects of strangeness just from running film of a crowd entering a subway, and many other things, in reverse. Without drones, he shows dramatic, angular images of cities from high above. And he has Philip Glass, who, however annoyingly repetitive sometimes, weaves hypnotic effects. Lowe's score by Joseph Trapanese does not. Koyaanisqatsi is an apocalyptic look at urban life, David Lynch on acid. Forty years on, it's more mind-blowing than ever. They should have broken the mold. And in a way, maybe they did.

If we may judge by his brief IMDb autobiography, Godfrey Reggio has had a rather amazing life. It seems like it would be nice now for him, or someone, to stop post-crafting the striking images trickily shot round the world and instead make a documentary about that life.

Awaken, 74 mins., debuted Nov. 22, 2018 at the Tallinn Black Nights Festival (Estonia). Released in the US Apr. 9m 2021, it comes out in a new collector's edition 4K UHD Blu-Ray format at the end of July 2021 along with a theatrical event-tour by Circle Collective starting Aug. 3, 2021 in Los Angeles and unrolling nationwide in fall and winter.

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