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This should have been ideal for me. I am always on the lookout for
transcendent vision, and second to the real journey is only the
cinematic ritual. Herzog does it for me, Tarkovsky and his rituals
about time inside time. And I firmly believe it has done quite a bit of
harm to think the universe is telling some sort of story, it has misled
us to devise arcs and expect story-answers, so I welcome any attempt
that aspires to push against the boundaries of thought and narrative.
That is always the essential ritual, only the tool that allows the
dancer to submerge himself beyond thought and description, to where he
can be one with dance that means itself.
I will not deny the man the powerful dance of his images, or the dedicated craft, but the ending reveals him to be shallow in the reach and depth of his meditation (if you were on the fence before). And it matters that this narrows the world by so much, because a lot of people are coming to it for a worldview and willing to open up.
His "life out of balance"(Koyaanisqatsi) is "a state of life that calls for another way of living".
It is just small view to contrast natural 'purity' with the evils and violence of man-made technology.
Worse, it is every bit as idealized and un-natural as seeking out panoramas of skies for their extraordinariness. You can suspect that the filmmakers had to sift through a lot of unexciting shots of nature until they could settle on images that were nature as they wanted it to be, more 'natural' than others.
And passing that as spiritual vision narrows the world, because it forces harmony where actual nature has turbulence built into it, stochastic chaos, and that forces a story of something originally pure and stable -paradise- that we are separate from and uprooting, and this sort of religious thinking only further separates us from the natural world. It also ignores fundamental dynamics of the real thing.
For one, "life out of balance" is the natural way, it is why everything exists in the first place; planets are in position, because universal space exploded in that first minute of creation. I wonder if he was blind to it in his own images of swirling clouds and sand-particles.
Moreover, we are indeed, doing a lot of destructively rapid , short-sighted terraforming of our own next to nature's, and a lot of our contraptions break, but wouldn't it be much more agreeable to counterpoint that with some of the many wonderful advances we have made on the backs of failure? Being able to separate now poisonous from edible and medicinal plants, means people died in the discovery, brave and curious explorers.
And this guy is just not a very curious explorer to me. He has traveled far and captured amazing things on tape. But, it seems as if all has to fit into that one image, instead of one image splintering to reveal a multitude of reflections.
His craft reveals as much; it strives for controlled perfection, omniscience, monumental depiction, clean boundaries, in every bit the same way as Riefenstahl fought in her films to choreograph the world into her own image of idealized sensuality - confused for spiritual.
It's no wonder Coppola was so smitten by this he put his name and money on it, a similarly over-zealous man enthralled (at one point) by 'mystical' nature.
Both, by their overly zealous approach to freeze transcendence, reveal in a roundabout way the limitations of the human model criticized here: we are at odds with this being an imperfect , chaotic world, so when the film ends with footage of burning space rocket debris cascading from the skies, the notion is not acceptance of the inevitable end of things, but a cautionary lament: if only we lived another way, things wouldn't blow up in our face. And there is simply no such way to live, not without skiing on imbalance, which is why life is exciting in the first place.
And we all have to live with the fact every single day. The energy world has to daily spend a large amount simply to make-up for turbulent energy loss, because that is nature's way.
And isn't it just weird but so revealing at the same time, that human-attempted control over the elements is criticized, by filmmakers who used some of the best film technology had to offer, in order to manipulate the elements and even time itself to enhance impressions of natural purity?
I first went to see this film almost by accident. Some friends were
going, & it happened that Philip Glass was due to be in the cinema for
an after-screening interview. I wasn't a huge fan of Philip Glass, I'd
never heard of Koyaanisqatsi or Godfrey Reggio: but what the hell, I
went along, expecting some sort of nicely-filmed but vaguely-boring
An hour & a half later, I was - and I'm having to try very hard to find adjectives here - in fact I'm failing. It was The-Thing-That-You-Can't-Even-Tell-Someone-What-It-Is. Completely transfixed, transported, for 90 minutes of my life.
This film has no dialogue. It has no actors, apart from everyone & everything that Ron Fricke's camera touches. It has no plot, apart from just the simple, complex, unfolding story of the world.
The truth is, of all the films that people feel have really made an impact on their lives - and you only need to read through this lengthy thread to see how many of those people there are - this is one of the hardest to communicate to someone who hasn't actually seen it. You can compare it, perhaps, to things they might have seen - but there aren't that many to compare to. It has a kind of poetry on a whole different level from, for example, Man with a Movie Camera. The only things that spring to mind for me are Orphee or Last Year at Marienbad, but these are completely different kinds of movie, and even people who don't like them might be totally taken apart by Koyaanisqatsi.
Sure you could - rightly - use phrases like "breathtaking cinematography" or "unforgettable images". You could praise the music (which really opened my ears to Philip Glass). You could point out, as many have done, how the film made you look again at the world, & at your own place in it. Or you could try to relay its "environmental" message - and there are people, especially those who take any implied criticism of our species' waste and cruelty as a kind of personal insult, who will not like that message.
But none of these things would come close to capturing what makes this film so special. Like trying to explain "red" to someone who's never seen colours. You have to experience it. If possible in a cinema, sitting right down at the front, completely immersed in the screen and its images.
I know I'll never forget the first time I saw it. You might not either.
I cannot claim to fully understand, or attempt to explain, all of the underlying "messages" this film might have about our world, but I was nonetheless moved and enraptured with having seen KOYAANISQATSI. From a purely visceral, aural, emotional, and possibly even physical standpoint this film creates a full plethora of sensations that affected me to the very core of my being. The cinematography and editing are absolutely superb, and the driving soundtrack by minimalist composer Philip Glass is unquestionable brilliance. Despite the thousands of images, movements and sequences the viewer is taken through during the film's 87 minute duration, so many will remain locked in your mind's eye when the credits have long faded away. It does take an incredibly open mind (in other words, it's "artsy-fartsy"), but it truly is a great cinematic accomplishment and a wonderfully moving experience. You don't have to "get it", just WATCH it! 9/10. Utterly MESMERIZING!
Koyaanisqatsi is a unique and thought-provoking film. It came out at
about the same time as "My Dinner With Andre", another unique and
thought-provoking film which used conversation as virtually the sole
method of communicating. Whereas "My Dinner With Andre" consisted
entirely of a conversation between two actors, and resulted in the
formation of numerous local discussion groups by devotees,
Koyaanisqatsi passed relatively unnoticed, perhaps because it used the
opposite technique of relying only on images and music, with no
dialogue whatsoever. I found both films fascinating.
The first half of Koyaanisqatsi is of a world full of beauty. The most memorable images for me are time-lapse photography of clouds and their shadows moving across the canyon-country landscapes of the desert southwest. Anyone who has spent hours gazing into a fire or watching waves at the beach will find the photography mesmerizing - one of few film experiences that convey natural beauty almost as well as the reality itself.
The second half of the film is an intentionally jarring contrast, starting with a depiction of mechanized destruction of the same beauty for human purposes, i.e. mining coal to produce electricity. The message soon becomes overwhelmingly plain: We are screwing the place up, and are immensely poorer for it. The sourpuss face of frustration and disgust on a woman vainly trying over and over again to light her cigarette with an empty lighter summed it up for me, although other viewers of any sensibility will find plenty of disturbing images from the second half of the film to identify with.
As my friends and I left the theater (sadly, this is one of those films that loses some of its impact on the small screen) one remarked "It's been done. They've made the movie I wanted to make". Some of the commentators here have basically said that, while Koyaanisqatsi is undoubtedly a very good film, they didn't like the message; one referred to people who would enjoy the movie as misanthropes.
While its opposite film, "My Dinner With Andre" was full of discussions about the unarguably wonderful meta-physical potential of sentient beings such as ourselves, and while I enjoyed it a great deal, the contrast between the two seemed to point out that we as a species really are rather full of ourselves at times. Whether one is inclined to agree, or just wishes to see a glimpse of another point of view, one cannot go wrong seeing Koyaanisqatsi. Like the Angel of Death silently pointing out to Ebaneezer Scrooge the error of his ways, this film's message IS unmistakable, and needs no words.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I make a practice of bending hard into a filmmaker's world. Nothing has ever been too pretentious for me. I find something good in even the most poorly conceived projects. I'm inclined to pure art. I play my Kronos Quartet CDs over and over.
That said, this film breaks my patience. Sure, it has quite a few massively beautiful images. But they are of the type you find on inspirational posters. There's no presence. All the life is drained out of this and what we end up with is Brian Eno for the eyes. Space music to watch. Soft, soft softly.
Now I suppose you can create some romantic anti-myth about the purity of nature among all these synthesizers and helicopter shots. I suppose you can create a myth about a mystical tribe of Indians who were attuned to nature before `technology' (read: ideas and art) came along. In those splendid days all was in balance. Soft, soft.
I think I understand what this tries, and its superficially is what bothers me. If you are serious about spiritual vision, and ready to leave this coffee table movie, try `The Falls' which exploits no aboriginals, has a far deeper minimalist composer (Nyman) worries about technology and nature in a way that sticks, and uses the camera to give rather than take life. Quite long and meditative.
`Man With a Movie Camera' is even less accessible narratively but far, far more cinematically poetic than this.
Trivia: I think I know the Air Force pilot dwelled upon about midway through. He's actually a gentle, quite spiritual man who would never wear his inner peace on his sleeve like Reggio does in the DVD extras.
Ted's evaluation: 2 of 4 -- Has some interesting elements.
This movie, if we can call it a movie, I would sooner call it a work of art, is like watching a moving painting with sound. Every screen shot floods the senses with colours, movement and sound that make you see the world in a different light. A definite wake up call regarding the way we live our lives but also a celebration of the planet and the people in it. The visual techniques used (the speeding or slowing of the image, the close-ups, the pans) all add impact to what the film maker wants to show us. In a time where movies and video are mostly used as profit makers, this film takes the medium to a new level to bring to us a unique and insightful 90 minutes. Absolutely beautiful!
I was trying to explain this movie to a group of people and I couldn't get the point across. I guess this is just one of those "you had to be there"s. Non-narrative, kaleidoscopic view of mid-80's America combines scenic and street scenes with sped-up images of everyday life, including vehicle and pedestrian traffic and manufacturing processes. The adjustment in speed lets us see things a little differently and maybe more perceptively. It doesn't sound like much but when it's perfectly wed to a unique musical score it rocks. Reminds me a little of the surfing movie Thicker Than Water in its inspired combination of image and sound. I watched this last night and now I'm watching it again today. Note: I thought that was the Challenger explosion at the end of this until I saw this movie was released 3 years before that. Pretty weird. A big 10 out of 10.
For people that like the world as it is, this movie is an awful waste of time. But, if you took the time to perceive what Reggio tried to say with its great photography, you would like it as much is I am liking it now. Few other movies can play with your feelings using only some images and music. If you can appreciate the profound criticism to our disparate way of living, implicit in this movie, then a strong impulse of trying to make this world a little less crazier will fill your mind. Personally I always look for leaving the movie theater with something new that can be useful in life, and this movie can provide it. A great effort was invested when filming and editing this movie, and we have to appreciate the final product.
There is not very much to say about this film. The bulk of the work that
was done is obviously the filtering of the archive material, because I don't
think there is much original material in Koyaanisqatsi. 'Monsters of grace'
(Philip Glass and Robert Wilson, 1998) had more interesting visual material
(you will not find it on IMDb because it is an opera in 3D). The concept
isn't very intellectual or ground-breaking: once you've got the idea (i.e.
accelerating images of our world and the consequences of human behaviour)
you only need to work it out, which doesn't require much intelligence or
time (or even words in this case). Credit director Godfrey Reggio
(Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi) and cinematographer Ron Fricke (Chronos,
Megalopolis). The sequel Powaqqatsi proves unfortunately that it can be
done with even less (intellectual) work. It's a cinematic opera about
exactly what you see and hear and it doesn't inflict a lot of discussion
afterwards in contrast with e.g. '2001: A Space Odyssey'.
But this all doesn't make it less interesting. Philip Glass (Candyman, The Truman Show) probably did the most fascinating work with the score. I won't explain what Glass' music is like, but I think I will not forget those tunes the rest of my life. Although others might think this is a universal film because it's mesmerizing or whatever, I don't think it's open to many explanations or interpretations. See for yourself. It's simply a nice piece of cinema that can probably stand the test of time and can be seen every ten years or so. But it is not a recommendation for everyone. I can't wait to see Naqoyqatsi: part three of this presumable trilogy. BTW, I still can't figure out what Coppola's got to do with this film.
We are but dust and grime upon the face of the earth...
When this visual opera of the senses was released, somehow I managed to miss it for all these years. Only now, have I been able to get a DVD and feast myself to one of the most mesmerizing documentaries I've seen. Now I can get to see the sequels...
In the twenty-five years since its release, nothing much has fundamentally changed. The only real difference is that the scale of life out of balance has ballooned to the point where humanity has finally realized perhaps too late that we are indeed on the path to self-destruction unless radical steps are taken to change our ways. Some might argue that I'm too pessimistic and point to the Montreal protocol (it set the wheels in motion to stop using CFCs that were causing the depletion of the earth's ozone layer) as proof that we can pull together when danger is imminent.
Perhaps true...but the problem is that many still don't think that life on earth not in the upper atmosphere is truly out of balance. This documentary takes us all back to what it was like all those years ago and, as you will see or have seen on your TV news programs today, it's now all that much worse...
The metaphors abound, beginning with Earth, Air and Water as the three dominant and necessary conditions that permit life on this planet, then relentlessly but gradually, showing how humanity changes the very conditions that support balanced life. Mountains explode, fires consume, people increase and multiply together with the trappings humanity needs to keep consuming: traffic jams, food and automobile production, steel and glass monuments to Mammon surely a parody of Kubrick's images of the monolithic Sentinel in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) freeways that look like arteries with blood coursing through veins, images from space that show glowing cities which morph into electronic circuits for computers we've become the machines we've invented and, of course, the milling millions, moving through life as though they are the walking dead, oblivious to all except the self and self-gratification.
It is at once a pretty picture and a damning one of particular note, the sequenced implosion of the abandoned Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St Louis, designed, ironically, by the architect of the World Trade Center, Minoru Yamasaki.
The music very sensibly doesn't belabour the use of the title; it's chanted only during the opening sequence and during the finale which, in my opinion, is the most stunning tracking shot I've seen yet as the camera follows the detritus from an exploding rocket (a Russian one, I think) plunging back to earth. For the rest of it, just sit back, let the music waft over and through you as you watch your future begin.
This is a film that everybody should see at least once.
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