Is there a message to 'Koyaanisquatsi'? Try 'nature good -- technology bad'. It's a simplistic film, but very beautiful.
Directors: Godfrey Reggio
Producers: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: Godfrey Reggio
Features: New interview with Director and Composer. Original theatrical trailers for the Qatsi Trilogy.
George Bush - Himself
Ted Koppel - Himself
Tom Selleck - Thomas Sullivan Magnum
'Koyaanisqatsi' features some of the most perfect cinematography imaginable, allied to a hypnotic musical score. And the two aspects work together to produce a mesmeric whole.
The film was made in 1973 by producer/director Godfrey Reggio, who harnessed the wonderful eye of cinematographer Ron Fricke and the gifts of composer Philip Glass. There is no acting -- there is no commentary. Just images of nature and technology, the duality of the human condition.
It is however a film which, though one which must be experienced, may have run quickly towards its 'use-by' date. The film was made in the late 1970s and released in 1983, and occupies a time and space which is very much of that time -- this is a film/music experience for the counter-culture. It's very firmly 'head' music, with all the naive beliefs in the virtue of 'unspoilt' nature that age carried with it. The message is 'Nature good - technology bad'. A very simplistic message indeed.
The film has a brand-new 25-minute documentary with contributions by director and composer, talking about the movie's genesis and their hopes for it. The director, Geoffrey Reggio, claims in that documentary that he did not intend, in his juxtaposition of images of nature and technology, to make any judgements about either. He wanted just to present these amazing images. Any commentary or motive would have to be supplied by the viewer.
But of course, the game is given away by the very title of the film, a Hopi Indian word meaning 'out of balance' or 'a state which must be changed'. And throughout the movie, it is clear that this man, who grew up in a secluded religious monastic male-only community from the age of 14 to 28, could not cope with modern society, saw it as destructive, and had an idyllic view of an unspoilt nature as something we should aspire to.
It's a nice view, a very understandable view, but one which, at the same time, ignores the basic fact that technology is giving more people a better standard of living at the present time than at any other time in the history of humanity. Sure, there are huge tracts of the world, and groupings of humanity, living in abject poverty and despair -- the fault of that is not technology, it is the fault of cruel religion and politics.
But Reggio has a valid viewpoint, and the film presents it most eloquently, with its sweeping vistas, its slow-motion tumbles of waterfalls, its accelerated aggregations of humanity and vehicles, its living coils of traffic lights snaking through accelerated city streets.
The combination of image and music is hypnotic, but it does finally become too repetitive, when it visits the modern city to trace its abstract patterns of humanity and machinery. The film's length of 87 minutes could well have been shortened to an hour with no loss of effect -- although I can see that in theatre presentation, with the Philip Glass Ensemble giving a live performance of the score, the total length would be worthwhile -- I've experienced Philip Glass live half a dozen times and the effect is totally different than on recording or soundtrack.
MGM has done a painstaking job in the presentation of this movie on DVD, with a crisp anamorphic widescreen image with glowing colours, and the new Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is as fine as the image. This DVD is definitely worth renting -- and then you can decide how often you would want to enter the head-space which is 'Koyaanisqatsi'!
ANTHONY CLARKE (firstname.lastname@example.org)