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This great work of art could only be a movie. It is about the only true
film I've ever seen. If you watch this outside a good movie theatre
with a large screen it looses its magic. It's impossible to imagine
this as a book, a theatre piece or in any other form than movie. I find
the music listened on its own boring and repetitive, I don't really
like Phil Glass. It's impossible to make a trailer for this - there's
no single highlight scenes with a meaning on their own. It is a movie
without a spoken word, it's the pure essence of "movie".
For me, this is the one movie I've seen the most times, and the one I'll always want to see again if the opportunity arises.
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.
As soon as you hear that a film like Koyanisqatsi (or any of the
'Qatsi' movies, it's technically a trilogy) is no dialog, no 'story' in
the fictional-character sense, and is driven by a marriage of
landscapes (in the realms of deserts and mountains, and the modern
urban sprawl) matched to Phillip Glass music, you'll know whether this
sounds like something to watch. Some will not want to go anywhere near
it. And yet this is one of those rare films, like many silent-era
motion pictures, and Disney's Fantasia, that can be shown in any
culture, anywhere in the world, and people don't have that element of
communication keeping people apart or at a distance, or in need of
translation. What is shown in Godfrey Reggio/Ron Fricke's Koyaanisqatsi
(aka "Life Out of Balance") can be generally understood, at least if
one follows the progression of one image to another - which, to not be
snobbish, is kind of what filmmaking is essentially about - in giving
the impression of what happens when one moves from the barren-natural
world of mountains and deserted, rocky land, and that built upon by
humans in cities.
And what is there in cities but technology; we need energy to survive, and cities have to provide energy, and, for myself this is one of the main thrusts of the film, people in cities feed off of that energy. Reggio and cinematographer/writer/Fricke (the latter would go on to make films in a similar, visually-aural-driven range with Baraka and Samsara) are all about charting how things are breaking down, and yet constantly moving. They accomplish much of this visually by showing things in slow motion and fast motion; what you see sometimes today on YouTube or Vimeo of cameras being tested at the high-frame rates and the low F-stops - for camera people, think of getting a camera to 3 frames per second, and conversely at 3,000 frames per second, or something extreme like that - and you get the idea of the visual ambition here.
It took years to make this film, and yet it was all driven by what is essentially in the documentary form - showing the world as it is. A documentary will be 'scripted' after the film has been sought out and shot. But the experiment here, what sets this film apart so much from other films in the world, documentary or otherwise, is how the filmmakers have to give any messages through the flow of visuals - and the music. Interestingly, Phillip Glass scored the film in twelve sections, and then the director heard this music and re-cut the film to fit the music. So it's like one has to fit with the other, and it goes without saying this is music as intense as you'll hear in a movie. It will sometimes go to a slow crawl, with the organ playing smoothly, and then other times, as the montages ramp up and people move about in the masses and through places and in cars and on the streets, the music is not so much setting the mood of the players as keeping in exact lock-step with what's on the screen. It's a rush.
At first, I didn't know about the technological-focused scope of the film, and it opens with the shots of the mountains and deserted plains and so on, and I thought this would be it for the film - not bad in the slightest, but... is that it? But the transition into the sections on the cities, with it first seeing the urban decay and poverty in cities (I think it's New York, it's hard to mistake it at that period of the time in the late 70's and early 80's as anything else). Then, buildings come crashing down in demolition, which continues the notion, I think, of building things up only to have to crumble them down again when they're no longer good. And then, in the main chunks (and certainly what people will probably remember most from Koyaanisqatsi), the many, many people walking, driving, going through transit, playing video games (seeing Ms Pac-Man in fast-speed is a highlight), and also how things get moved along in factories like hot-dogs and jeans.
The great thing about the film, if one meets it all halfway, is that it doesn't really hold your hand about anything. One person may take this as being a condemnation of how modern society operates in cities - and this is 35 years ago, one wonders how Reggio and Fricke see this all today, with people now not even looking forward as they walk or move but at their phones and laptops - or, on the other hand, a person may take this as an ode-to-joy, a symphony of technological breakthroughs and how people co-exist with one another (aside from the building collapses, there's no real violence depicted... well, aside from the MEGA violence that comes with nuclear blasts, which are I assume stock footage in part). There's no one interpretation with a film like this, or others like it like Baraka.
For myself, I think it's a grand provocation of the human spirit and what we're capable of, about if we are taking things for granted. There's all this technology, and it's so easy to get around in cars and (in America, relatively) easy to navigate around from place to place. Yet there is in parts great poverty in areas people may not care always to look, especially when skylines go up high and people are successful. And the film ends on an aching, poetic note of a part of a rocket (or is it a spaceship) coming down in slow-motion, to that one Glass organ. I hope to return to this again and again.
Koyaanisqatsi is what you would get if took the filler shots from
numerous documentaries and smashed them together accompanied by some
music. And yeah, that's me being somewhat harsh, but it's not much
better than that, really. There's artistic flair to it and it does
explore certain themes, but it's still more of a mood piece than
Plus I have a problem with the aforementioned themes. The word 'koyaanisqatsi' comes from Hopi language and literally means "chaotic life". Essentially life in turmoil, life out of balance. And while the film makers have said that everyone is free to view the film as they wish, it's pretty clear that their own intentions were to portray the downsides of modern society, of human existence in general. Except I didn't get that from the film. The first part of the film of generic nature landscapes is extremely boring and ordinary. It's only after humans start to show up, and we start to see time lapses of industry and technology, that things get interesting.
And yeah, the movie shows us behaving like ants. Mindless masses passing through gates of steel and pillowing smoke. But, if we are ants, we are ants that will eventually populate the stars. We achieve, we build, we evolve ourselves. To me the whole movie is a message of triumph, of small people coming together to achieve something. And thus, as the intended message starts to become clearer near the end of the film, I was left feeling betrayed and baffled.
Koyaanisqatsi is not for everyone. It's very slow, requires patience to sit through and you kind of have to agree with its message to get the full experience. Personally I didn't care for it, but I've talked with people that absolutely loved it. And even I can appreciate its flair and attempt, to some extent. Check it out if you're looking for something with a lot of edge.
I first saw this movie when it opened in the theaters, I was blown away
by it. The juxtaposition of nature with our human environment and
suggesting gently that ours is out of balance, leaves little doubt. But
this is for people with more than a little ability at self examination.
Without it, the movie makes little sense at all.
Now many years later the images remain, stuck in my memory and while this makes a re-viewing of it less than ideal, the message remains. Sadly our human environment has not gotten better, it is worse. Man's inhumanity towards our fellow man has gone to the point where the examples offered by this film pale in comparison. So as a warning it failed.
This is a visual and musical masterpiece. Superb images put to superb music. It's hypnotic on every level. For me, this is best watched late in the evening and let your senses go on a ride. There's no actors or regular story line. It's a look at life in a way that you don't often stop to think about it. On that level, it is thought provoking. The editing on this movie is excellent. This is the first in a trilogy and in my opinion far better than the other two - but they are worth a watch too. It might be better for you to watch them in reverse order and then you'll appreciate each one getting better than the last! The finale is quite spectacular and gives you a few moments to absorb all that you have just watched. I highly recommend this movie. I loved it - and still do - I bought the DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I watch "Koyaanisqatsi," I don't want to breath. I don't want to blink. I want to see every frame, every change in its footage of clouds and traffic and bustling people. The intended meanings of Godfrey Reggio's film are suggested in its environmental imagery, in its focus on industrial civilization's high speed and large scale, and by the translation of the title: "life out of balance." But meanings, and the fact that the film's use of raw footage is more propagandistic than documentary, are of secondary concern. "Koyaanisqatsi" is a powerful work of art because is a pure sensory experience. Long cuts of sped-up landscapes and cityscapes are set to a Philip Glass score, and the effect is utterly mesmerizing. The first time I saw it, I only noticed at the end that my hands had been gripping the armrests. Comparing a film to a roller coaster is a cliché, and in this case it doesn't do the film justice; I've been on roller coasters that have less effect on my adrenaline than "Koyaanisqatsi."
The movie ends with the definitions of Koyaanisqatsi (from the Hopi
language), n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life out of
balance. 4. life disintegrating. 5. a state of life that calls for
another way of living.
Also the Translation of the Hopi Prophecies sung in the film.
"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."
This is an operatic meditation on the modern life. The Philip Glass music gets very hypnotic. I would prefer less of the urban landscape only because it's gets a little repetitive. However it was probably very compelling back in the day. Some of the more interesting scenes are the pilot standing in front of the fighter plane, the industrial press compressing a block of metal and the falling rocket debris. It is an unique movie experience that compels the viewers to think.
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!
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