#48 - Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio)

Sound and Vision

So what the hell is “Koyaanisqatsi”? Just like it's the case with “F for Fake” simple classification does not do, but then again that is precisely what makes it so intriguing on a certain level. For me “Koyaanisqatsi” is a very successful cinema experiment and a film that defies every notion of narrative and what we take for granted as a film, or what a film should be. But it is also a film of profound emotion and beauty - if you allow it to be that is.

On a technical level it is not precisely the first film to throw such notions aside and play only with music, image and editing. Dziga Vertov’s “The Man with a Camera” comes to mind as a direct influence. But even that film had some semblance of a plot, actors and screenplay while “Koyaanisquatsi” does not, it just simply goes for the power of music and image and the experience that only cinema can provide. And the images it displays are a sight to behold; it’s got everything from bursting city streets of New York to atom bomb explosions. Images that are often given a new context and perspective through time lapse photography, slow motion and some outstanding scoring and editing.

Still, for me the most fascinating tend to be the images that portray situations that we’re the most familiar with, like the scenes in the subway station for example. It shows our lives from an entirely fresh perspective with the time lapse and the objective, wide camera angle. A mass of people being funneled on to the escalator stairs, and then the film suddenly cuts in to a sausage factory, where packed sausages drive endless conveyor belts. And it’s a bit startling how apt the visual comparison is.

And the film does similar comparisons again and again. Earlier in the film we see clouds rolling over mountains shot in time lapse compared to a river flowing in slow motion, showing us the symmetry of nature. And then later on aerial photos of cities with color filters over them compared to scans of microchips, pointing out the overbearing resemblance. It shows us clearly how far man has distanced himself from his surroundings. This is obviously the main theme of the film, and it is stated as such at the very opening of the film where the title “Koyaanisqatsi” is identified as a word from the Hopi language that translates in to “life out of balance”.

But this is by no means that type of film, the pondering and preaching kind that comes from pretentious and naïve idealism. No, it’s more of a meditation on the progress of life itself that shows how at odds we humans have become with our natural surroundings. It tells the truth and gives no real judgment of its own, even though it does end on a very sobering and emotional note.

Of course this esoteric approach to cinema makes “Koyaanisqatsi” quite a divisive film. I know many people who simply brush it off as pointless, boring and pretentious, and it is a viewpoint that I can understand although I do not agree with it. I am sure that many viewers will find this film quite impenetrable but the ones that actually find enjoyment in “Koyaanisqatsi” will be rewarded with one of the most unique cinematic experiences out there.

A film by:

Godfrey Reggio
Ron Fricke
Phillip Glass

Presented by Francis Ford Coppola

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