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Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out of Balance Reviews

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Super Reviewer

March 21, 2013
So, Koyanisqaatsi. Boring junk to some, an involving masterpiece to others, and God knows what other adjective-noun combinations are out there. Most of these descriptions are fairly subjective, but it would definitely be wrong to regard Koyanisqaatsi as anti-cinema. It is anything but. Cinema, in its purest form, is a marriage of sound and visuals; everything else is just decoration. Dialogue? Storyline? Koyanisqaatsi harks back to an age when cinema was simply a filmed record of a situation. Was it not the Lumiere brothers who are generally regarded as the first pioneers of cinema? And is it not the case that their films comprised of nothing more than situations like a couple feeding their baby, workers leaving a factory, or the (in)famous Train Leaving A Station, which went down in folklore as causing people to flee the auditorium in panic thinking they were about to be hit by a train as it approached them on-screen? Koyanisqaatsi is cinema returning to its roots, to the days when the possibilities for film as an art form were wide open, free of commercial constraints and fickle audiences too narrow in scope to accept anything other than what they view as the given norm.

In a way it's fairly irrelevant what Koyanasqaatsi meant to me on a personal level, though I might get to that later. What's important is what Koyanasqaatsi represents. It's an interesting attempt (and a successful one in my view) to illustrate how a narrative can be created simply by editing together seemingly loosely related scenes and images. It reminds me of another cinematic milestone, the Kuleshov experiment, in which two separate images where edited together to create a third meaning, and which helped establish what is now known as Russian montage (and speaking of the Russian montage tradition, anyone who has seen Vertov's The Man With The Movie Camera will no doubt find traces of it in Koyanisqaatsi and vice versa). Koyanisqaatsi takes it one step further, perhaps even to its logical conclusion, using editing to create a new meaning for the entire narrative as a whole. It works on a gut level and sparks an emotional response, in a way it demands a response, be it boredom, amazement... it really depends on the person. As such it's an example of cinema at its most subjective.

Coming back to the influence Man With A Movie Camera no doubt had on this film, I think what Godfrey Reggio has done here is take this specific style of film-making and turn it into what I, personally, view as a cinematic statement on humanity -- and our technology's relationship with the environment around us. It's a pessimistic film, filled with Cold War anxiety (though it hasn't lost any of its relevance), and in retrospect, I also found it reminiscent of an age when America still had a strong avant garde movement in the shape of people like Reggio or Laurie Anderson (and in a way it's an interesting coincidence that 1983 also gave birth to another experimental documentary, Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, which is equally rich in scope and tackles the same philosophical issues, albeit from a slightly different angle).

I really wonder if the western world could produce a film like this today, in an age where cinema audiences are more fickle than ever, demanding a cut every three seconds and some sort of "surprise twist" at the end, with hardly a niche left for the Godrey Reggio's of this world. But in a way I suppose it doesn't really matter. Koyanisqaatsi, to me at least, is one of the richest cinematic experiences anyone could possibly hope to have. You won't see many films like it.

Super Reviewer

March 9, 2012
This just might be the greatest non-narrative film of all time. It might not have a plot, and the script was probably more like an outline of the various sequences, but there's definitely a story here.

Composed entirely of various footage of both natural and human environments set to the brilliant and haunting music of Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi (it's Hopi for "life out of balance", this is a look at our world, the juxtapositions between man and nature, and the fact that man is winning, and nature isn't. That's the story, and the film itself, right there.

It somehow manages to be both straightforward and simple, yet have so much going on. And it's all done without dialogue (save for some postscript at the end). That is an amazing feat right there, and I feel like a better person for finally sitting down and giving this celebrated art house gem a watch.

Sure, Herzog did some stuff like this before 1983, but this film really set a standard for artsy, somewhat pretentious experimental pieces that could be appreciated by the masses as well as the elite. The cinematogrphy by Ron Fricke is, brilliant and pretty innovative (especially for the time), and this is one of the best experiecnes I've gone through in a while.

That's also the best way to treat this film. It's an experience more than anything, and I could easily see this playing in an art galelry or something. I really dug what all involved did here, but the film does seem to run out of steam here and there, and for very brief moments ,this truly felt like a gimmick. That didn't last too long though thankfully. It's weird, since even though I thought this ran out of steam (depsite being just under 90 minutes), I'd love to know how much footage was cut out, and I'd like to see it as well.

Give this a watch, even if only once. It's a really special and unique film, and I feel like each person needs to have a surreal, ethereal experience like the kind this film provides.
Sophie B

Super Reviewer

February 2, 2011
Visually and metaphorically very good. I especially liked the comparison between the sausages and humans. Very interesting but not something to watch for entertainment. We are destroying this world. Nature vs. humans.
Anthony L

Super Reviewer

November 2, 2010
koyaanisqatsi highlights our subconscious obsession with capitalism and is a propaganda film / koyaanisqatsi is a sinister yet sarcastic comment on the destructive nature of the human race and highlights their constant delusions of self-importance / koyaanisqatsi is a collection of beautifully photographed shots accompanied by a beautifully composed score / koyaanisqatsi is Man With A Movie Camera Circa 1982 *Please delete according to preference*
Jeremy S

Super Reviewer

November 6, 2006
An amazing movie, almost life captured in all its character.
Ross C

Super Reviewer

August 27, 2007
Great post-pub chillout ambient cinema. Haunting music with magical time-lapse photography takes you on a breathtaking cinematic tour of life on Earth. The few scenes of city life that date this movie just add to its charm, as a window of life in the 70s.
Lafe F

Super Reviewer

July 11, 2007
Great hypnotizing Philip Glass music. The visuals in the desert and city are great. I didn't care much for the industry or the spiralling rocket fuselage; maybe that was the point of the movie. It's not fast-paced like MTV - expect to be lulled into a dreamlike state through some slow parts of this.
Robert F

Super Reviewer

April 14, 2009
Koyaanisqatsi is mesmerising. It's an avant-garde work with purpose and substance that also succeeds as entertainment.

Super Reviewer

January 29, 2009
Intellectual, avant-garde, non-narrative visual music. From ancient Hopi rock wall painting, sweeping into imagery and cinematography of indelible panoramic juxtapositions and contrasts producing a magic, emotional, passionate rhythm. Hopi prophecy is echoed throughout Philip Glass's score, which stands on its own as a powerful composition.
Sean L

Super Reviewer

October 5, 2008
Every time I started to get bored, some new shot would blow my mind. The sheer beauty of the film and the visceral thrill I got from watching it was amazing.
Christopher B

Super Reviewer

February 8, 2008
A perfect balance of music and visuals. Awesome and thought provoking.

Super Reviewer

January 31, 2007
Excellent cinematography! Highly recommended for photographers!
June 9, 2007
Nothing like it, truly unique experience. The vastness of what is american and corporate power. take this journey, relax and meditate as you watch the world
January 31, 2013
Finally picked up the Qatsi Trilogy and gave this first film a look, which completely blew me away with the blend of visuals and music. Just an amazing thing to feel the film wash over you, very inspiring as far as the art goes, it made me want to work on new stuff immediately.

Highly recommended.
September 4, 2010
So many words go through your head when you are not told what to think but are shown pictures accompanied by a haunting soundtrack. Then to have words shown only at the end was almost shocking and made you wonder how those words related to all the pictures that you had just seen.

I did not feel that it showed "Life Out of Balance", but that it was a merely a reflection of our lives. I did not get a feeling of hopelessness from seeing this, but rather enjoyed a retrospective look into our lives from the 70's. It was interesting to see how things have changed, and also what hasn't.

This is a groundbreaking film and should be considered an important contribution to the art.
December 17, 2012
Although Koyaanisqatsi may not be everyone's cup of tea, it is a film that everyone should experience at least once. You will note that I said "experience," and not "see," because Koyaanisqatsi is definitely an experience: An almost hypnotizing blend of images (largely timelapsed) and music, Koyaanisqatsi is a contrast of nature verses technology.

The trailer for Koyaanisqatsi states that "Until now, you've never really seen the world you live in." I would add that after viewing this film, you will never get the name of it out of your head.

Koyaanisqatsi is definitely worth buying. (A+)
November 26, 2012
This interesting experimental film is sort of like a documentary, but it has no words describing it's images...instead it has images in time lapse or slow motion showcasing our world...from moments of nature to the industrialized America and even moments of war, with some electronic music played over top of it. As much as I was sort of expecting to be disinterested in this film, there were actually many times where I find myself inexplicably captivated by the images. It is a well made experimental film, and I think it succeeds where other films of this nature do not, probably because it is even simpler than the average experimental film (so many have this feeling of trying to prove they are smarter than you). I wouldn't ever say this is for everybody, but I liked it for what it was.
January 7, 2008
This film should be viewed by all of humanity. The beginning of time, the end of time. Beauty, purity, earth at conception. Will we be here tomorrow? Why were we here yesterday? The clouds show the replay of our actions. The sky cries with sorrow, rages in fury, throws a tantrum like a child, demands our complete attention, begs for us to stop the abuse, lashes out in pain, and shouts at us to help save the very life it hangs above. The waters rage in disgust, overflow with sickness, disappear with neglect, and shout for help. The land quits producing, shifts with discomfort, dries up and wrinkles, angrily retaliates, shouts in pain, complains of poisoning, screams to be heard. The plants hide in fear, die without hope, spread their worry, and disappear through the hand of another. Man ignores all the cries, pleading, shouting, hiding, dying, rebellion, anger, rage, tantrums, complaints and illness. Man keeps taking and taking with no conscience to give back. Man walks the earth as the most intelligent creature, so it is said. In a realistic look man is really the most unintelligent of creatures. The mind is there but they don't use it. The ability to learn from their mistakes is there but that too is wasted.
September 23, 2009
What a brilliant film! Fascinating from start to finish. Just amazing. The cinematography is great, the visual images are unforgettable. A unique and wonderful movie.
August 6, 2009
only for the absolutely amazing shots and score. other than that you can cut the elitism with a butter knife.
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