What’s that? I’m supposed to write a plot synopsis for my opening paragraph? Well I’d love to. I really would. I just can’t seem to find one around here. Nope, I’ve looked everywhere, I’ve got nothing, sorry.
I entered into Koyaanisqatsi knowing nothing about what it was about. It was on the shortlist of “Bad” 1001 movies from Steve and Chip, but it was also semi-recommended by Nick Rehak, who said that once I’d seen this I wouldn’t need to watch any of the other -qatsi movies, of which Godfrey Reggio has directed at least Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi. I shall most certainly heed Nick’s advice and steer clear of those works. The problem with going into a film utterly blind is that sometimes what you’re watching isn’t a film. Sometimes it’s nothing but nature documentary establishing shots and archive footage for news features, set to a musical score. And on these instances it probably would have been beneficial for me to have had some semblance of what I was in store for before hitting play, because I was not in the mood for this horrendous waste of time.
After some initial explosions, possibly a shuttle launch. the first seventeen minutes is nothing but helicopter shots of barren landscapes, sand blowing across desert dunes, hints of life with sparse vegetation and cave-dwelling winged creatures (probably bats) flitting through shafts of light. Then there’s a waterfall, oceans, and a shit-ton of clouds. Lots and lots of clouds. It all looked really pretty, like someone’s holiday video, shot with a decent camera and someone who knows where to point it, and without all the selfies and shots of family members waving and pointing at wildlife that, seconds later, is trying to rip their face off.
At the eighteen minute mark the merest suggestion of a plot is hinted at when we see some explosions again. Yes, it seems the point of this film is to show all this beauty existing in the natural world, and then showing how man has come along and blown the heck out of it. We take this world and we transform it with atomic bombs and factories, skyscrapers and endless car parks, rockets and bridges as far as the eye can see. Aren’t we just terrible? And who is doing this? People. Lots and lots of people. Let’s show some close-ups of some of these hideous creatures. There’s a pilot in front of a plane. Six women in a casino. These people are all making pairs of jeans in a factory. Do they not realise all the beauty out there in the world? And now there’s Pac-Man and Qbert. But what about the clouds? Why aren’t they looking at the clouds?!?!?
I’m not sure if it was the point or not, but I started seeing just as much beauty in some of the man-made imagery as I did in the natural bits, but just of a different type. There’s a well thought-out efficiency to the factory assembly lines. The illuminated streets at night have an almost cubist appeal.
Koyaanisqatsi apparently means “Life in turmoil.” This is probably referring to our world not being in balance with nature, and that our lives are becoming increasingly meaningless with the incessant building and destroying of modernity over what came before. My issue is this: if Reggio has a message he wishes to convey to people, why has he put it in an art film? Most people don’t watch art films, mainly because they’re plot-less drivel like this. If you want to send a message to someone, write it somewhere they’ll read it. But up a billboard by the side of the road, don’t write it on top of a cloud only people above it can see.
Choose Life 2/10