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by Slyder

"A Masterful Exercise on Minimalism"
5 stars

I had never heard of this film before previously in my life, so it came to me as a surprise while reading the description on The Movie Channel as well as in the All Movie Guide how highly regarded this film was. So I decided out of pure curiosity to sit down and watch it. I was expecting some sort of environmentalist documentary in the most traditional sense of the term, but 20 minutes into the film, I realized that this was like no other documentary that I had seen before, and honestly I don’t even think the term “documentary” can be applied to this movie, or any other genre term. In fact, in the aftermath of viewing, I had almost no idea what it was that I saw, only that it was beautiful and horrifying at the same time… and incredible.

First of all, if you thought that a movie comprising of 12 men arguing in a jury room for 95 minutes made for some great filmmaking, then you ain’t seen nothing yet… and after last night neither had I. Personally, I don’t necessarily subscribe to the term “Less is More” although I can make certain exceptions to the fact, but after watching this film, I’d realized that even that term can hide certain depths that aren’t apparent from the onset, and Koyaanisqatsi does exactly that. This 1982 film (right in the year that I was born) directed by former Catholic Priest Godfrey Reggio is comprised only of this: beautiful cinematographic images of nature and civilization, accompanied by an often bombastic and operatic musical score from Phillip Glass. There is not setting, no characters, no plot, and no script. Feeling baffled already? Yep, that’s exactly what I thought; yet despite the lack thereof of these supposedly important cinematic components however, there actually IS a story, a story that is both chilling and ultimately revealing; that is if you really pay close attention and start using your brain cells to full force as you watch this beautiful montage of images and music. It's not a movie, not at least in the classic sense of the term, but rather an experience in the purest sense of the word.

The film starts with an eerie musical tone followed by an equally eerie chant of the movie title, “Koyaanisqatsi.” Now, for those of you that are wondering what the fuck does Koyaanisqatsi means and are too lazy to reach out towards the Internet and find out, it’s a Hopi language word, and it stands for “life in turmoil,” or “life out of balance.” With that in mind, lets analyse the following: We first see an ancient Hopi culture painting, where you can decipher several people standing around and paying reverence to a mysterious black figure in the center. Cut to some really beautiful images of landscapes in the desert and fast-forward images of clouds forming and condensing themselves into the mountains like it were a giant cloudy sea, as well as shots of waves crashing on the beach. Then cut to a nuclear plant, a steel factory with billowing smokestacks, a mirror-image shot of two 747s taxiing on the runway, a beautiful shot of people, cars and planes and the city in the background. Watch the desolated and wasted old buildings, the downtown of the city in both regular time and fast forward time watching people and cars zoom around the streets like if they were blood cells going through the arteries of the giant body of the city from day to twilight, to night, to dawn and back to day again. In fact, once you see that gigantic building with the equally gigantic moon floating towards it and it will suddenly be perfectly clear to you what this film is trying to tell you, and as you watch the warplanes and the tanks and their bombs, you will realize what are the movies fears and concerns.

The movie refuses to pinpoint exactly the locations, and rightfully so because the theme that it addresses is one of general concern, especially in our times. We ARE living in a life out of balance, we do not see the backlashes of technology and what is it that it’s doing to our natural environment that is what keeps us alive. We are so busy living our monotonous lives of waking up, eating, going to work, cramming yourself in the elevators or on the subway trains, work like a fucking horse, come back, eat, sleep and over again the following day that we don’t realize what we are missing and what we are dangerously close to destroy in time without even realizing what we’ve actually had and still have remaining out in the outskirts of the cities we live in. We do not pause and watch the enormous amount of casualties lying beside the information highway and assess the damage and what is it that we’re doing for nature’s behalf, or for the well being of humanity in general. I guess some viewers can find contradictory arguments after the fact after seeing this film, while others will be annoyed by the message being pounded in their heads, but the political environmental agenda of this movie, regardless of the possible holes it may have is still there, and its still present in our lives even to this day. Various scenarios that this film depicts we see them everyday when we go outside or when we watch the news these days about the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, we’ve become such conformists that we’ve finally chosen to simply ignore it, and thanks to the conformism of ourselves, we do not see or refuse to see the apparent problems that we still have even after all these years, even though we’re supposed to be more technologically advanced in the 21st Century. How can we pride ourselves of our cultural and technological advances if we still haven’t done jackshit in order to solve the ever-growing problem of pollution and destruction of natural habitats? What are we doing for ourselves regarding nature? When does technology become too much that ends up destroying the very natural ecosystem that keeps us alive? These are questions that you’re going to have to answer for yourselves not only after you’ve seen this movie, but for the remaining part of your lives, if you have the brains and the balls to do so. As human beings that we are, this issue will always remain a gigantic responsibility for us. And as the Hopi prophecy of the Koyaanisqatsi is revealed in the final frames after the film’s climax, we’ll realize what this responsibility for us will mean in our lives, and in the lives of our siblings and generations to come.

On a side note, while the film uses minimalism to perfection, I have to say that Phillip Glass’s score is probably a bit annoying in some parts since it also becomes a bit monotonous, although one could argue that it is exactly the point of it; despite that, I still think Glass could’ve used a little more originality with his score. The cinematography by Ron Fricke is simply awesome. Also, keep your eyes peeled for presenter and legendary director Francis Ford Coppola in a “cameo” appearance during the elevator scene.

In the end this film is a minimalist masterwork in the purest sense of the word. Amazing that a film with so little on the surface can still be so deep and thought provoking. At any rate, this film despite the possible holes in its story remains as relevant today as it was back 23 years ago when it was first released, and it remains as a cinematic, cultural and environmental signpost as well as a warning for all present, and future generations to come. Highly recommended if you have the brains for it. 5-5

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12696&reviewer=235
originally posted: 08/02/05 13:48:58
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User Comments

7/11/06 ian afford the greatest film nobodys ever heard of ! 5 stars
8/04/05 ron abrams wonderful. just hypnotic. 5 stars
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Directed by
  Godfrey Reggio

Written by
  Ron Fricke
  Michael Hoenig
  Godfrey Reggio
  Alton Walpole


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