(1982, dir. Godfrey Reggio)
Here’s a movie I’ve been desperately avoiding for years. Sure, it keeps popping up on “all-time best movie” lists. But green beans pop up on “healthy food” lists, too. Doesn’t mean I want to eat them. Ever.
Koyaanisqatsi is an 85-minute experimental film, featuring no characters, no dialogue, and no conventional plot. What it does feature is beautiful photography (in both slow-motion and time-lapse) and a truly stunning score by minimalist composer Philip Glass.
There’s some truly memorable imagery. For the first half of the film, director Godfrey Reggio and cinematographer Ron Fricke lovingly capture some of earth’s most dazzling natural features, lingering on the images while Glass’s score drones dramatically. Midway through, the film shifts abruptly to industrial imagery—cities filled with listless people, machines, pollution, destruction, gaudy electric lights, and grease puddles—while the score grows increasingly frantic and shrill.
The subtitle of Koyaanisqatsi is Life Out of Balance. As an environmental memo, it’s laudable, but the film simply overstays its welcome. Striking as his images are, Reggio repeats them too often, never surprising us or revealing anything new after the initial point has been made. It’s interesting to see modern society reduced to an abstract visual, but it’s not that interesting.
Hard to recommend this one. The film requires your undivided attention, but then treats it carelessly. At 30 minutes, Koyaanisqatsi would be a stunning experience. At 85 minutes, I’m afraid it’s a bit of a chore.