I’d never heard of Franco Piavoli’s 1982 Blue Planet (not to be confused with the David Attenborough-narrated Discovery Channel series) until I saw an ad last week for a 25th Anniversary re-release with a pull quote from Andrei Tarkovsky: “[A] poem, concert, journey into the universe, nature, life . . . truly a different vision.” That, and a rave from Michael Tully, was all I needed to get me to the Pioneer Theater for the last day of its sparsely attended run (so sparsely attended thanks to a pan in The New York Times that a rep for the film—bless him—stood up afterwards and quizzed the eight people in the audience—one by one—as to how they’d heard of the film.)
At its most banal Blue Planet is a pretty bog-standard nature documentary with close-ups of murderous spiders and copulating snails and a fairly obvious season-to-season and day-to-night progression. Though Godfrey Reggio is a big fan, it is neither as original nor as bombastic as Koyaanisqatsi. But at its best it has some stunning passages: a sequence of light dancing on water reminiscent of Ralph Steiner’s H20; an Olmi-esque tableaux of an Italian farmhouse at dusk; an abstract sequence of motorbike lights flashing through a dark forest; a field pulsing in the wind à la Tarkovsky (and, yes, there is wind in the trees, of course); and a shot of caterpillars inching up invisible skeins (so that it looked as if they’re climbing the scratches on the celluloid).
Turns out Il Pianeta Azzurro was never released in the States, but played for a year in a theater in Rome in ’82. I found out about it too late to catch a Piavoli retrospective (he’s made five films) at Anthology the week before. Too bad.