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This is a critics' favorite which usually means it's vastly overrated.
That's the case here, too. That doesn't mean it's not worth seeing - it
is worth a look - but it's probably not worth owning.
The film is a non-narrative piece showing the comparison of peaceful, tranquil scenes from mountains and other earthly sites and then comparing them to the huge concrete buildings man has built in cities along with the busy lifestyle of modern-day human beings.
Scenes of mass transportation and crowded streets are shown in fast-forward time, audible sounds done the same. It emphasizes the rush-rush- rush of everything in modern-day life.
That "out of balance" message was interesting to watch but grows tiresome quickly. The filmmakers point could have been made in half the time, not an hour-and-a-half of the same message with many scenes drawn out way too long.
This movie is surely the best achievement of the time lapse technology. First movie of the Qatsi trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi is a beautiful and prophetic movie. Some segments are beautifuls (the trip in the Monument Valley), uglies (the factories beside the beach, the tractor destroying the fields, the destruction of Pruitt Igoe...) and propheticals (the time lapse shots of the city). This movie is one of my favorite picture of all time. Another important point of the movie : the music. The soundtrack composed by Philip Glass is one of the best OST never written (The Grid and Prophecies are awesome). Briefly, this film is a must watch. Some people will find it boring, some people will find it awesome. I'm the 2nd kind of people.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have seen some good feature length documentary films that have featured in the book of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and a few good experimental films are included as well, so I was intrigued by this combination of the two genres, from director Godfrey Reggio and executive producer Francis Ford Coppola. The title is a Hopi Indian term for "life out of balance", the film has no dialogue whatsoever, including no voice-over narration, it is simply a visual concert of moving images, including many slowed down and sped up, with music to accompany the footage. The film does not have a traditionally structured plot, but the scenario is definite starting from what essentially the origins of Earth in the large scale deserted and beautiful landscapes moving into the world of industry and civilisation. We see various images throughout that tell the story of the world we live in, including the sight of cloud formations, ocean waves, a rocket being blasted into space, a quarry work site, factories and station, cityscapes and lights going on and off, sunrises and sunsets, people walking through their environments, traffic moving on all types of road, people working, machines producing various goods, convenience environments, leisure environments, and many more man-made elements in everyday life. The key message of the film is ultimately that life is out of balance, full of craziness, in turmoil, in some ways disintegrating and however you look at it there is always something that comes along to change the way to go on living, for good or for bad. The music by composer Phillip Glass is absolutely magnificent, sometimes deliberately repetitive to give the sense of routine in life, and the chanting of the title "Koyaanisqatsi" is intoxicating, the film using juxtaposing natural wonders with sometimes bleak man-made industry is cleverly done, it may ache your eyes slightly with footage speeding and slowing throughout, but overall it is a highly watchable and engaging experimental documentary. Good!
Koyaanisqatsi contains and unreels some of the most breathtaking images
ever committed to celluloid. Translated from the Hopi language, the
title means 'life out of balance' and attempts - and very successfully
- shows all of man's manifestations, usually in startling close-up but
also often sped-up, juxtaposed against our own-made surroundings.
Since Dziga Vertov's 1928 Russian experimental film "Man with a Movie Camera", a few pioneering directors have attempted to show familiar, and not so familiar surroundings in a new and refreshing way. But none so much as the collaboration here between Godfrey Reggio and contemporary composer Philip Glass.
The images are always hypnotic, some unearthly beautiful and when it slowed to its climax, I was so disappointed it had finished. The comparisons between printed circuit boards to conveyor belt manufacturing to highly urbanised street scenes are magical and compulsive. Watch on the biggest screen you can and play the sound through a separate hi-fi or home cinema system.
Glass' music follows and resonates with these streams of visuals - one is the other. With executive producers Francis Ford Copolla and George Lucas, both mega directors of their day, this project had some heavyweight backing.
Koyaanisqatsi was followed by the not-quite-as-compulsive Powaqqatsi which has a different take on human activity.
A mesmerizing stream of photography, sans-narration, set to an unforgettable score. Breathtakingly composed, it's like a guided tour of a master photog's personal portfolio, with lingering still shots mingling beautifully with their moving brethren. High-shutter landscape panoramas, silencing animated time-lapses and fast paced long-exposure peeks at civilization effectively capture the wonderful beauty we take for granted every day. A fantastically matched, epic-scale soundtrack by Philip Glass bumps it up yet another level, providing backbone and structure where it's most desperately needed. Midway through the picture, I was surprised to realize that I was thinking more during this sequence of mildly-related compositions than I ever had during a more traditional film. It's a stunner, something I can throw on at any time, in the middle of any chapter, and enjoy without hesitation. Pure beauty that's even more impressive considering its age, it's worth adding to any HD library.
Two words come to mind after watching Koyaanisqatsi; Hypnotic and Horrifying. Shots of normal people simply walking down the street were altered into a raw and eerie moment due to the slow motion. There are scenes and certain shots that will probably vanish from my memory (including a haunting shot of a pilot in front of his jet, slowly and methodically zooming in). Before watching the film I knew what I was getting in to, which may have helped, but I thought that 90 minutes may be too long but he film went by quicker than I thought it would've. I easily recommend this film and even if you don't end up liking it, it won't be wasted time. Koyaanisqatsi is the Fantasia of the modern world...a haunting world.
Godfrey Reggio's film uses only images and music to portray it's
meaning. There is no dialogue, and no narrator occupies the films
space. The juxtaposition of music and image create a message, which is
a quite obvious environmental one. We are shown the natural world, and
also the products of civilisation, the man-made world of industry.
Philip Glass's rapturous score uses signifiers to exacerbate the
meaning, and the opinion of the film maker. The sequences of natural
spaces are imagined musically with delicate symphonies, passages of
beauty. The unnatural world has bellicose strokes, dramatic and dark;
We are shown natural landscapes of America, its mountainous places littered with cavernous hallways cut through its heart. Aerial shots glide over pastures, deep valleys, mountain ranges. Cities shot in time- lapse, rise from the water, cities cutting into the sky, reflecting the moving clouds, but denying it's reality by distorting it, making it constructed. Cities at night, streams of light slither through the roads cutting into the buildings, towering. This is where the message of the film falters. I saw the similarities with the streaming lights of motor vehicles through a night time city, are much like the aerial shots that manoeuvre over the valleys sculpted by the movement of water, long since dried up. We are therefore seeing in nature its own self destruction.
The city also becomes derelict, "left-for-dead". Once natural landscapes raped by construction, abandoned, useless, left for decay. People occupy only a short time in the film. We see crowds clogging the streets, hundreds of anonymous faces, public buildings see the scuffling of existential nothingness. Fire and nuclear explosions signal man's devoted exploration of destruction.
The film is undeniably beautiful. Even the man-made edifices, that we are supposed to find repugnant in the context of the film, are often gorgeous. In one shot (the longest single shot in the film) we begin to see on the horizon a Boeing 747 moving slowly towards the camera, the plane ripples in the heat distortion emanating from the hot tarmac.
The title is taken from the Hopi language, and is translated as meaning "life out of balance". So the meaning of the film is quite clear. Mans destruction of nature. As stated before, the meaning is dissipated by the beauty of each opposing image. But aside from this it is nice to watch. And the music alone is wonderful. It could be seen to be a history of violence on nature.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This poignant and magnificent documentary is one of the most
fascinating and beautiful film ever made: Unlike many documentaries
that came before this, "Koyaanisqatsi" doesn't use any kind of dialogue
or narration to express the point of view of the director: Instead of
that, we are only show several scenes from nature and every day life,
with the excellent music of Phillip Glass as backdrop for all the
beauty, horror and strangeness presented in this movie.
At first, I thought this movie was somewhat tedious and weird, but now I could appreciate more the unique, fascinating nature of this movie, where no words are needed to express how great, and yet, how terrible is the reality of this planet. Also, unlike the narcissistic trash made by Terence Malick this movie has a real point (And also, It is not endless and tedious as the movies made by Malick) "Koyaanisqatsi" is a great documentary, and it was the beginning of an incredible trilogy.
The scariest thing about this film is that it was filmed 30 years ago.
Things have gotten much worse in many of the areas about which
legendary filmmaker Godfrey Reggio was concerned at that time. The film
is a series of time lapse and extended shots of scenes of industrial
overuse, of nature, of worn-out people, and of the industrial processes
which make much of western society turn, among other things. To my way
of thinking, the film is a critique of the forces which have led us to
rely on many of the processes which we see in the picture and which
leave people shown in the movie in the rush that they are in. I found
it a piercing critique of our modern way of life.
The shots of people are invariably of them hurrying en masse somewhere. There are some very (at least to me) moving shots of abandoned apartment buildings. The shots of Monument Valley in Utah are also very beautiful. The music by the legendary Phillip Glass is amazing. The combination of the time-lapse photography and Glass' score is moving. Because there is no speaking at all throughout the movie, it's hard to imagine the film without Glass' score. I saw this on my Mac, which is 14" wide and it was impressive. Seeing it on the big-screen would be mindblowing, I'm sure.
I really can't recommend this film highly enough.
"Koyaanisqatsi" is the first installment of a trilogy about life versus
progress and associated things directed by the great Godfrey Reggio,
without using words, dialogs and with no plot. This a documentary
filled with beautiful images, sometimes impressively strange but very
real, synchronized with the marvelous music composed by Philip Glass.
Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian term that means "life out of balance" and what we see in this film is thousands of images of the world as we know it and throughout them we are invited to take a meditation about their meaning. In the first 15 minutes all we see is the real nature, trees, oceans, deserts, everything untouched by the human being, at peace, quiet. When bombs start to explode throwing away lots of dirt of a mine and a haunting truck appears that peaceful world seemed to change. And then technology appears, many good and bad things start to happen leaving our life less hard sometimes but totally out of balance, stressed, unfulfilled, empty, desperate. And all of that is captured by the director who uses slow motion images, fast images that resembles a video clip (Grace Jones and The Strokes used images from this film to include in their works), all presented beautifully and in great symmetry with Philip Glass's music.
I'll leave these thoughts and opinions with you but whatever the view you'll have on this film is valid. The best thing you can do is just sit back, watch, enjoy and think about it. Reggio trained to be a monk and spent 14 years in complete silence and praying and when he finally left this condition he was able to make this wonderful film and its sequels, therefore, here's a man who understands that films don't necessary needs dialogs and a plot to show a message, and he's krafty enough to give that to audiences (of course, not if you consider the same audiences that enjoy slapstick comedies or action films, they'll probably hate this movie).
And we must consider that besides Kubrick's experience in some chapters of "2001: A Space Odyssey" this is a pioneering experience back in the 1980's, telling something beyond narrative, almost wordless (the only voices you'll hear comes from the choir singing in Glass's musics and the word "Koyaanisqatsi" also presented in the music). It is very hypnotizing and incredible. And despite being made in 1982 (actually more longer considering that the project begun in 1977) it's not a dated film and it's very plausible for any generation.
For those who enjoy new filmmaking experiences this is a must see and watch the sequels "Powaqqatsi" (1988) and "Naqoyqatsi" (2002) (which I also reviewed). I believe that Reggio and Glass should re-team for a fourth installment due to a common and recurring theme of our days that is well discussed: the global warming effects in our society caused by the evolution of societies and the technology. The director could go back to the same places he filmed in "Koyaanisqatsi" and other places too and show how things got worse and we as audience could make an comparison between society and different times, to have a new perspective on things and to proof (again) that evolution also comes to destroy mankind while we're still getting on our positive way, taking one step ahead and walking back another ten steps.
At the end of the film there's the Hopi prophecy and one of the things it is said there is this: "If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster. Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky. A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans." How close are we of this scenario? 10/10
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