Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi was my first real foray into the world of experimental film, and it left an impression on me. I had a hard time explaining to others why I liked the film so much, or why it was even a good film to begin with; I just knew that it was, in addition to being incredibly influential and affecting. The film is not new in its style; The Man with the Movie Camera was a definite influence, as was the montage sequence of Battleship Potemkin. Indeed, one can say that all Koyaanisqatsi does has been done before in various ways. What makes it fresh and new is the poetry behind the film, the way the film evokes feelings and themes and ideas, as well as the fact that the film sticks with its presentation style through almost 90 minutes of screentime, and doesn’t drag for a second of it.
Koyaanisqatsi redefined the way the montage presented information in a film. The wondrous kaleidoscope the film is presented in varies in tempo and mood, but never in poetic symbolism. This is truly an ageless, peerless, seamless film, one that intentionally belies common constructive thinking to opt instead for wordless metaphor and juxtaposition. The film is presented through a series of images, some static but most with some sort of motion, be it shadow or camera or the objects on screen. It uses a myriad of cinematic techniques, including time-lapse photography and alternate camera speeds, to compose a narrative about “life out of balance”, to use the film’s own subtitle. The world, the film argues, has grown out of symmetry with its natural surroundings, and the culture that humanity has sprouted has taken over the world in inharmonious ways compared to nature, and this is something that needs careful correction in order to reestablish equilibrium with the planet and all its glory. Along with the glorious cinematography and imagery comes an absolutely fantastic score by Philip Glass; the film would not have worked at all without the score, or even had the score been anything less than what it ends up being, and it deserves special mention.
This is where the “however” comes in. I know that some or most of a regular viewing audience will not take to this as I took to it. It can be very slow, though to me it was merely methodical and deliberately paced; for me, it wasn’t slow, but to some it will be. The lack of anything really happening plot-wise will deter a great number of people as well, but to that I say that this is simply not supposed to be your average everyday film, in any way. It has a mission, a goal, and a gameplan to carry out its goal, and it succeeds massively. This is an uncommon time where my own personal feelings towards a film will tip the ratings scale towards one end rather than have a “general audience” rating; a general audience will probably find this an 8, or if they’re really indignant, a 7, but the film impacted me too greatly for me to give it anything less than what I chose to. If that requires an apology on my part, then I apologize, but I certainly won’t take it back.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10