Contemporary Wordless Cinema

You may have seen from a recent post on imagemaking that I have become interested in visual creative work. This generally involves hyper-short-form moving image, mixed live, generally to music. I’ve been filming, editing, compiling and generally curating text, moving image and still image. My intention to explore “sound and silence” has been eclipsed (momentarily perhaps) by the realm of light and vision. And ironically when I can no longer read without glasses. Typical.

In the space of a week, a raft of films have exploded into my vision. These include the so-called “qatsi” trilogy – Koyaanisqatsi (1983), Powaqqatsi (1988) and Nagoyqatsi (2002) by Godfrey Reggio (with Music by Phillip Glass), Baraka by Ron Fricke (1992) (with music by Michael Sterns and Aussie Darkwave duo Dead Can Dance), Microcosmos and Winged Journey.

If there must be a word for this genre, I have yet to encounter it. Lush, compelling, compassionate cinematography set to music, without actors, plot, and no spoken dialog. Is it Impressionist, Natural History, Urban Landscape, Ecological or Technological critique? “Purely Cinematic”? C’mon Cinema buffs, fill in the gaps.

The most compelling for me are Baraka (Hebrew/Sufi concept of Blessing) and Koyaanisqatsi (Hopi for “Life out of balance”). For me they represent the coming together of various things
– Highly expert cinematography such as has been seen in the documentary work of naturalist David Attenborough.
– Global grassroots narratives such as Jamie Catto’s One Giant Leap (1999).
– A strong sense of emerging “wisdom culture” and return to the sacred.

Godfrey Reggio is one of the most compelling visionaries I have encountered. His grasp of contemporary life and the role of technology is profound, perhaps due in part to his spending his formative years in a monastic order. He sees the shift from nature to technology as the host of life. He has attempted to take that which we take for granted into the foreground, and remove the usual acting, characterization and plot from the movie.

Ron Fricke is a visual genius of note. Where Koyaanisqatsi deals with the USA, his Baraka is global, shot in 24 countries. His use of time lapse, first seen in Koyaanisqatsi, is mature and makes us privy to a view of the world that is both breathtaking and highly disturbing.

For more details, see
Spirit of baraka
Godfrey Reggio on wiki
Baraka on wiki
1 Giant Leap


  1. ruZl said


    i’m so thankful that i got to watch the above movies for the first time, with you. the visuals are at once transcendental, earthy, celebratory, disturbing and much more besides.

    seeing is believing peeplez so check them out & savour.


  2. I heard about Koyaanisqatsi earlier this year – where would I be able to get copies of these films?

  3. nic paton said

    I got mine via But its much better if I just lend them to you.

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