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.
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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?!?!?
KoyaanisqatsiI’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

9 thoughts on “Koyaanisqatsi

    • Music rarely has much of an effect on me, so this was mostly about the images, and I found myself itching for the fast forward for most of this, sorry. Like I said, I was not in the mood for an art film when I was expecting a more traditional narrative. This one’s on me.

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  4. This is one of the most incredible films ever made, on so many levels: cinematography, editing, music, philosophy. But since you cannot get beyond “plot”, you dismiss it. After reading only three of your posts (I gave you a chance after the first mistake) it is apparent that your personal limitations do not qualify you as a film reviewer. It’s one thing to take what is before you and treat it fairly, but quite obviously you have no concept of the joyous possibilities of film outside of a very narrow range of scripted experiences. I can only hope that you are young and will realise there is so much more to life (and film) than that.

    • Yes, I dismissed the film largely because it lacked plot, that is true. In my opinion (and that’s what this site is made up of, my opinions, just as your comment is made of yours, so I’ll kindly ask you not to refer to me disliking a film as a “mistake”) plot is an imperative component of a film. You may differ from this opinion, and that is fine. There are many plot-less “films” out there for you to enjoy, and I encourage you to do so.

      I’ll grant you that the cinematography is good, occasionally great. Editing is not my expertise so I’ll take your word for it. Musically I didn’t much care for what was going on here, but I’m not a music-guy and have never claimed to be one, and it rarely affects me on any conscious level. Philosophically I don’t know where you’re coming from; this being a narrative-free collection of images it seems to me that the philosophy you take out comes from that which you bring with you. Again, this is fine if you like that sort of thing. Personally I appreciate a strong narrative structure and, seeing as this didn’t have one, I therefore don’t recommend others should watch it.

      You really believe the range of scripted experiences cinema can provide is very narrow? That seems offensive to screen writers. I’d say far more can be done with a coherent structure than without. And I’m probably not as young as you’d hope, but I’m aware there is more to life than scripts. There’s also things like amazing, emotionally driven acting performances and astounding visual spectacles and set pieces, none of which this film had. Does not having them make it a bad film? No. Does not having them make it a film I didn’t enjoy? Absolutely.

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