Water and Power | Chicago Reader

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This rarely screened 1989 masterpiece by Pat O'Neill is a moving meditation on industrialization, focusing on the dystopic desert created by Los Angeles's vast water consumption. O'Neill conceived the film partly as an answer to Godfrey Reggio's mind-numbing Koyaanisqatsi (1983), a hypnotic inventory of touristy landscapes showing a world out of balance. In contrast O'Neill creates images full of internal contradictions, using optical printing to collage different locales and suggest the inevitable conflict of industry and nature. One slow dissolve between the Owens Valley desert and Los Angeles at night suggests a direct cause and effect: the city flourished only by despoiling the land. Using time lapse to make weather changes visible, O'Neill renders people as fleeting shadows whose power to alter the landscape fails to mitigate the fragility and shortness of human life on a geologic scale. 57 min.

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