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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first heard of this movie when I was a teenager, and saw it so long ago I barely remembered it--as I recall it was viewed as an arthouse film that was either cerebrally fascinating or so weird people couldn't know what to make of it. I saw it again recently and was able to appreciate it as an adult, but also see behind the facade.
For it's time this movie was a major achievement, a multi-year project that combined fast/stop/slow motion film with a deeply moving synthesizer soundtrack. (How often do you hear those anymore?) The music remains still the best part of the film, but in most other aspects it either fails or is horribly dated.
Like "2001" the meaning to the movie is not given, and left to the viewer to draw out. The movie consisted (to me) of three sections; A first primarily of nature footage showing rocks and wilderness. There's surprisingly little in the way of wildlife, just desert areas, probably an homage to the Hopi indians the title comes from. The second is archival/industrial/military footage of equipment and explosions and cities. The last is some pretty cool footage of stop and slow action scenes of traffic, crowds of people, and so on. It begins with a rocket taking off and ends with the same rocket exploding. (And no, it's not the Challenger, it's either a Delta III or a Centaur.)
The images that had been fantastic twenty years ago seem tame today, especially after endless movies using film techniques far ahead of what this movie employed, and digital effects that didn't exist when filming started. As it is only a few scenes remain truly startling, several seem to have been done by amateur photographers--and considering how much is archival footage they probably were.
What are we to make of this? The general consensus is an environmental theme, that we have created a technological and ordered world that will eventually destroy us--and being done in the Cold War pictures of atomic weapons figure prominently. What is surprising is what's left out, we don't have the images you would expect of pollution or man's inhumanity to his own kind, or even the opposite of love or happiness. (But lots of people staring uncomfortably at the camera.)
We get a very elemental view of existence, that civilization itself is a life out of balance and our own technology is taking us over. (In one of the film's best sequences a grid like city merges into a Landsat image and then into a electron microscope shot of a computer chip, and they really do look the same.)
What the film does not provide is an answer--just what is a life in harmony, how do we find or restore balance?
Unfortunately I don't think even the film makers know, and we're left to wonder.
One of the best films of all time. The medium is used in a unique way to produce a true work of art composed of images and music. Go and see it if you have the opportunity, it will change the way you view film and may well change your life, too.
Ground-breaking in every way, this non-narrative exploration of the
and unnatural world is beautiful, insightful and powerfully moving film is
my nominee for the best film every made.
A wonderful score by Philip Glass dovetails perfectly with the stunning photography presented here. This film will stay with you forever.
This film is a great test for a prospective mate. If they don't like this film, drop them immediately! They have no taste nor intelligence, and never will.
An unbelievably perfect film in every sense of the word.
...the best film I've seen. I've seen it ten times or more in the last six months and have found each watching incredibly moving. Even though most of the 'characters' appear on screen for only a few seconds, each seems to tell his own story. Visually, Koyaanisqatsi is simultaneously simple and stunning, comparing with Greenaway's best in terms of impact. Glass' soundtrack is well-observed, sympathetic and carefully observed throughout.
Much has been said by others about this film, so I will make this a short
commentary on something I think few people meditate on after watching this
very different piece of work. The critique of technology, man-made things
vs. nature, the cynical view of civilization - all this is much discussed
while people reflect on the impact this combination of images and music
(created by director Godfrey Reggio, cinematographer Ron Fricke, and
composer Philip Glass) had on them. What struck me the most about this
film, however, is that in many ways it can be viewed as a celebration of the
power of cinema to influence perspective. I saw this film in a Fine Arts
Cultural Studies course at university, and I'm often very tired during that
class. As a result, I slept through the first half of Koyaanisqatsi after
seeing some of the beginning. Me sleeping through a movie is not an
indicator that it's a bad film since I've dozed for the first halves of a
number of movies I respect (it has to do with lack of sleep). After waking
up, I paid attention to the rest of this very hypnotic film and found myself
thinking about everything from theology to politics to
The main sequence I'd like to refer to is when we are looking at the city, sped up, slowed down, from high up, in the streets, the malls, etc. This film gives us an omniscient perspective on mankind and we find ourselves looking at people, structures, and locales in a very different light. As time is sped up, we find ourselves concentrating on patterns (cars, moving humans), which relates to the patterns in the music. Having us identify with the music is very important to the critical aspect of the film. The music sometimes has a wondrous feel, and we feel awe looking at the corresponding image (which is always so good it would be powerful on its own anyway). Other times, the music is ominous, and something so natural as people walking down the street, shown slowed down, arms itself with emotional impact totally different from what we would feel just being there, walking down the street ourselves. The three people I mentioned earlier truly did an amazing job with this movie, and depressing or not, it's a great way to remind yourself what an amazing artistic tool humanity has in film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Koyaanisqati deserves much more positive appreciation these days. It is
a very powerful and salient work of cinema.
One simply can't describe this kind of film as "lacking dialog or plot". There are other ways to tell a story, rather than carrying a narrative with actors and dialog. 'Koyannisqati' was a project that was never designed with these elements. What it really is, can only be described by the rather snooty-sounding phrase "visual tone-poem". But this is very moot, once you're actually watching the movie and feel its highly-compelling power.
Another common mis-assumption about the 'Koyannisqati' soundtrack is that it is one long, un-variegated music composition from start to finish. In fact, Phillip Glass composed several unique and distinct pieces of music for this film. The phases of the movie and the music weave and play off one another in a way which is completely mesmerizing and novel.
At its core, Koyannisqati has a very fascinating technique behind it--the frame rate of the footage shot gradually, steadily increases from turgidly slow to frenzied hi-speed and as crashing climax. It's the cinema equivalent to the Beatles "A Day in the Life". I know of no other movie which attempted this previously; and to date I know of no other film which carried it off so successfully.
So much for methodology. What is the purpose of the film? I think it is this: in 'Koyannisqati', you are shown your own culture as captured along a unique, downward visual transect--a dissection happening at an oblique angle, rather than a storyline; and what the camera observes forces you to re-adjust your own observations of what the world is really going through at this point in history. I will go so far as to state that no other work of cinema sums up modern culture as adroitly.
Point blank: Koyaanisqati is at first, a bewildering--but finally a profoundly moving and memorable cinema experience. It breaks all the rules and completely achieves its ends. The sensitive and mature viewer will be thoroughly rewarded by giving this unusual work a chance--hopefully on the biggest widest home theater possible.
It's a movie I personally am proud to own--and a soundtrack I frequently listen to.
Quite simply put, this is the best film ever made. The swings of
emotion one feels while watching Koyaanisqatsi are gargantuan. More
than anything, by the end of the movie you feel like you have a better
understanding of who we are, where we are and how we came to be here.
Learning where we are going is the scary part. The sights and sounds
portrayed in this film can fill your heart, and it can shatter your
This comparison made by some of the other users to 2001:A Space Odyssey. They're comparing the most genius pieces of film and sound up against a slow scripted piece of fiction. WE made Koyaanisqatsi Great! Us Humans. Comparing 2001 to Koyaanisqatsi is like putting Pee-Wee next to Brando, or Cheech next to Daniel-Day. Not to say Kubrick didn't have other great works(Dr.Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket).
Koyaanisqatsi is more than a movie, it's evolution.
It will evolve your mind.
I agree with most reviewers that "Koyaanisqatsi" offers mesmerizing and
powerful images. All of them portray different aspects of life.
However, is there an absolute message in "Koyaanisqatsi"? If so, what
is it? In "Essence of Life", director Godfrey Reggio says that
"Koyaanisqatsi" opens up the world for the audience. It invites them to
experience the film instead of feeding them a message. I have to agree
with him. This film is so open that our interpretations are very much
based on our beliefs and experience.
"Koyaanisqatsi" put me into a snooze at one point (hence the deduction) but I do not think that the film is bad. It makes me aware of urbanization's strengths and potential problems. If we always live in a fast and self-centred lifestyle, in what ways do we damage the world? What are human beings in the midst of the urbanized and technology advanced world? I interpret "Koyaanisqatsi" as an alert to us. We are in danger of becoming robots, machines, and slaves for technology (parallel to "The Matrix"). Technology builds up our lives in many beneficial ways. What are the effects of our lives if technology rules our daily living?
"Koyaanisqatsi" was produced in 1982. North Americans know much less about other parts of the world than today. The score draws me into the film. A person reiterates "Koyaanisqatsi" in the background early in the film. It sounds as if the world is crying in pain, or even dying. Consequently, I give it a high score.
I saw this movie roughly three weeks ago. At first glimpse, it seemed to be a pretentious, "save the rain forest/humanity is evil" movie that there have been so many of. Buy, as theme after theme rolled by, and score after score chimed through, I found myself moved and...well, awed by the powerful emotions stirred up. The thing I like about this movie was how it could be interpreted in many different ways. A warning, an ode to technology, or simply a beautiful mixture of image and sound. The only big problem I could find was that it was a tad long. It could have conveyed its meaning in a smaller area. I am not saying that any part of it was less important than any other part. I think all parts had meaning, but it extended beyond the average attention span. Still, a moving piece of film.
This is not just a movie I would recommend, I would ask and beg people
to see it. I've only seen two films in my life that I sometimes wish
there were a totalitarian law that all citizens must watch. This is
one, the other is The Deer Hunter.
They are not necessarily films you will take entertainment out of, they are simply films you need to see at least once in your lifetime. They are very important.
It doesn't have the same effect on the small screen that it did for me when I saw it in the theatre, but now that it's out on DVD at least it's in a good widescreen format accessible to most people of Western Civilization (though it might be 51%, not sure on the exact figures of people who own DVD players in computers or otherwise). Its production in laserdisc was far too brief, and the cropped VHS version leaves a lot to be desired.
Please see this film. Please.
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