UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sublime cinema : experiential excess and embodied spectatorship in Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy Bagatavicius, Adam


Certain aesthetic experiences resonate so profoundly that they can trigger extreme psychophysiological and emotional responses in the spectator. In this thesis I will explore how Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Powaqqatsi (1988), and Naqoyqatsi (2002) exemplify that the stylistic excess of non-verbal cinema can produce a sublime degree of experiential response by way of embodied spectatorship. I will use the observable elements of special effects, cinematography, and music in each film to locate sublime responses as palpable points of affective rupture where audiovisual stimuli results in psychophysiological emotional responses (visual hapticity, synesthesia, kinesthesia). The broader goal of defining “sublime cinema” is to a) reify how this mode of filmmaking relates to aspects of the Digital Age we are all a part of, and b) work towards an analytical methodology that might be applied to other experimental films in order to gauge at which point audiovisual content becomes fully embodied experience. First I will sketch out the genealogy of Reggio’s filmmaking style, reevaluate Kristin Thompson’s conceptualization of excess in relation to non-narrative cinema, integrate Vivian Sobchack’s research on embodied spectatorship, and unpack the sublime in order to define it cinematically. Second, I will focus on how special effects and cinematographic techniques (slow motion, time lapse, digital manipulation, and camera movement) activate the sublime aspect of an image. Third, I will hone in on the sonic aspect of sublime cinema, and how Philip Glass’ scores propel the image with the aid of biomusicological phenomena (rhythmic entrainment and chills). Lastly, I will discuss how Reggio’s most recent film Visitors (2013) expands on the architecture of sublime cinema by focusing on the reciprocated gaze of its filmed subjects.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada