Sunday, November 19, 2006

Koyaanisqatsi ****

The simplest and best thing about Koyaanisqatsi (Hopi dialect for "Chaos" or "Life out of Balance") is that there is not a single word spoken throughout the entire film. The critic Roger Ebert (of "Siskel and Ebert", also only critic to win Pulitzer prize for film criticism) wrote a bizarre review in which he only gave it three stars because of a bunch of opinions he believed Reggio held (like, "it would be better if there wasn't man at all") that he felt were silly. But these are opinions that couldn't possibly be expressed without words. Koyaanisqatsi is much simpler than that - it shows, through a series of images, a world before man, quiet, slow, and beautiful. Then modern times rushes in, an incredibly fast paced, crazy marathon of people that seem never to stop. I have to criticize Ebert again, who complains that if the film is trying to show a bad portrait of mankind, then why are the images of the cities beautiful as well. Reading this, one has to ask "But where, Roger, did you decide this film was trying to show a bad portrait of mankind? You're contradicting yourself." Yes, the destruction of nature is horrifying, but Reggio also allows us to look at some beautiful aspect of the cities too, like the reflection of the sky on the polished windows. There are numerous shots looking down on sprawling city streets at nighttime, sped up incredibly fast so you see cars shooting down the the road, briefly stopping at red lights where other cars fly by them, and start up and fly forward again. I am reminded of the old middle school videos taken from microscopes where you see little organisms shooting around pointlessly. Where, exactly, are they trying to get to? Koyaanisqatsi is not, as Ebert suggests, a film about how mankind is evil, but just simply a warning. The film shows us the past, and the present, and eventually the future, leaving us a warning that if we continue in the direction we are going, getting faster and faster, things must just explode, a Herzog like prediction that if we continue our rampage against nature, then it will destroy us to return to the beginning.

Many of the images involve shots that are sped up or slowed down to show stunning beauty that we wouldn't be able to see with our own eyes. "Through God's eyes" we see the shadows of clouds painting the dusty landscapes, a "waterfall" of clouds that fall down the side of a mountain, a shot mounted on a car as it speeds down a highway, sped up nearly 20X as fast. And impossibly high shot flying over New York City. Numerous shots of buildings being demolished. A nuclear weapon being tested in a southwestern desert. A room of T.V.s exploding in slow motion. Bridges being demolished. Huge, foreboding telephone line towers making cage like cobwebs over the landscape. Even with some of the most beautiful images caught on camera, the film would be nothing without the score of the wonderful Phillip Glass, who here has written perhaps the best soundtrack of all time. The before man sequence is slow, repetitive, and beautiful, the invasion of man is jarringly horrifying, and will likely haunt you. The chorus of man strikes an ironic and satirical look on the city, which also boasts impossibly fast played up and down scales that would become Glass' trademark in later films. As we see the fate of mankind played out in the last shot, a chorus of low voices chants "Koyaanisqatsi!... Koyaanisqatsi!... Koyaanisqatsi!... Koyaanisqatsi!..."

"Life out of Balance!... Life out of Balance!... Life out of Balance!... Life out of Balance!..."

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