After being absolutely enchanted by Philip Glass’s minimalist music for several years now, and while in the processes of shooting my own experimental documentary, I finally decided to sit down and watch Koyaanisqatsi. Many people have not heard of this film, but those who have seem to be very interested in it. It is an experimental documentary about life, civilization, the environment, and the apocalypse. It’s a broad subject, I know, but it is one that is handled in a very clever and unique way. There are no spoken words, no talking heads, no “characters,” or script. It is simply music and images.
Before you say “wouldn’t that be boring?,” let me stress that this was one of the most incredible films I have ever seen. It takes a full step outside of typical hollywood films and presents an extraordinarily haunting view of humanity, in all of its admirably fallacious glory. The viewer is treated to images that makes all of humanity seem simultaneously alien and more familiar than ever. So would it be boring to some audiences? To put it bluntly: yes. There are some people who will not enjoy this film. It is, after all, probably the most unique film you will ever see (even if you have seen relatively similar films such as The Man With The Movie Camera, or Baraka). In fact, Koyaanisqatsi has been compared on many occasions to Baraka. Some say they are pretty much the same movie. This is a silly notion however, (even though they both go about portraying their subjects in much the same way). Koyaanisqatsi is able to fabricate a rough narrative from the ancient Hopi prophesies on the end of the world, and weave this into the imagery as a sort of warning. Baraka on the other hand, focuses on exploring and showcasing a variety of cultures, locations, and religions to the audience. It has nothing to do with the notion of “life out of balance.” In fact, it deals a lot with a sort of “life in balance,” even at times exploiting this as spectacle. I will, eventually, post a Flashback Review for Baraka as well, so be on the lookout for that if you want more information about it.
Koyaanisqatsi can be fairly labeled as a monumental feat of camerawork, subject matter, and orchestration. It features some of the most mind-bending images ever to be captured on film, ranging anywhere from time-lapse, to undercranking, to overcranking, to flying cameras. Not much more can be said about the camerawork, except that the cinematographer, Ron Fricke, knows his craft and knows exactly where and when to place the camera in order to capture the most interesting version of an otherwise normal scene.
The music must be commented on as well, seeing as the film was cut once, given to Philip Glass to be scored, then cut again in order to better match the score. The music is haunting, but most importantly, it draws you completely into the piece. This is mostly because every note is so fitting for the images that are being displayed. Philip Glass is, in my opinion, one of the greatest musicians and composers of all time. His music is some of the most thought provoking and atmospheric ever written. It seems to be a perfect match.
Even if you know you’re going to be bored out of your mind, everyone must watch Koyaanisqatsi. It is simply a masterpiece in the realm of filmmaking. So next time you sit down in front of your TV, ready to pop in the latest romantic-comedy, stop and think for a moment. Do you really want to watch another love story in which two people fall for each other, despite various shenanigans along the way? Or do you want to watch one of the most artistic, innovating, engaging, stimulating, thought provoking, atmospheric, beautiful, and inspiring films ever made?
(All ratings are out of five, with halves)
Art Direction: *****
Overall “Film as Entertainment” Rating: *** 1/2
Overall “Film as Art” Rating: *****