Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out of Balance Reviews
Starting with only images & then the haunting & memorable music of Phillip Glass this film starts with the rawest natural landscape of the USA & capturing the beauty of what is still left.
Then with much speed & progression we move to the concrete jungles of LA & NYC & then we truly are taken to another with speed up footage & a dramatic score. This film is a terrific experience...
And what is there in cities but technology; we need energy to survive, and cities have to provide energy, and, for myself this is one of the main thrusts of the film, people in cities feed off of that energy. Reggio and cinematographer/writer/Fricke (the latter would go on to make films in a similar, visually-aural-driven range with Baraka and Samsara) are all about charting how things are breaking down, and yet constantly moving. They accomplish much of this visually by showing things in slow motion and fast motion; what you see sometimes today on YouTube or Vimeo of cameras being tested at the high-frame rates and the low F-stops - for camera people, think of getting a camera to 3 frames per second, and conversely at 3,000 frames per second, or something extreme like that - and you get the idea of the visual ambition here.
It took years to make this film, and yet it was all driven by what is essentially in the documentary form - showing the world as it is. A documentary will be 'scripted' after the film has been sought out and shot. But the experiment here, what sets this film apart so much from other films in the world, documentary or otherwise, is how the filmmakers have to give any messages through the flow of visuals - and the music. Interestingly, Phillip Glass scored the film in twelve sections, and then the director heard this music and re-cut the film to fit the music. So it's like one has to fit with the other, and it goes without saying this is music as intense as you'll hear in a movie. It will sometimes go to a slow crawl, with the organ playing smoothly, and then other times, as the montages ramp up and people move about in the masses and through places and in cars and on the streets, the music is not so much setting the mood of the players as keeping in exact lock-step with what's on the screen. It's a rush.
At first, I didn't know about the technological-focused scope of the film, and it opens with the shots of the mountains and deserted plains and so on, and I thought this would be it for the film - not bad in the slightest, but... is that it? But the transition into the sections on the cities, with it first seeing the urban decay and poverty in cities (I think it's New York, it's hard to mistake it at that period of the time in the late 70's and early 80's as anything else). Then, buildings come crashing down in demolition, which continues the notion, I think, of building things up only to have to crumble them down again when they're no longer good. And then, in the main chunks (and certainly what people will probably remember most from Koyaanisqatsi), the many, many people walking, driving, going through transit, playing video games (seeing Ms Pac-Man in fast-speed is a highlight), and also how things get moved along in factories like hot-dogs and jeans.
The great thing about the film, if one meets it all halfway, is that it doesn't really hold your hand about anything. One person may take this as being a condemnation of how modern society operates in cities - and this is 35 years ago, one wonders how Reggio and Fricke see this all today, with people now not even looking forward as they walk or move but at their phones and laptops - or, on the other hand, a person may take this as an ode-to-joy, a symphony of technological breakthroughs and how people co-exist with one another (aside from the building collapses, there's no real violence depicted... well, aside from the MEGA violence that comes with nuclear blasts, which are I assume stock footage in part). There's no one interpretation with a film like this, or others like it like Baraka.
For myself, I think it's a grand provocation of the human spirit and what we're capable of, about if we are taking things for granted. There's all this technology, and it's so easy to get around in cars and (in America, relatively) easy to navigate around from place to place. Yet there is in parts great poverty in areas people may not care always to look, especially when skylines go up high and people are successful. And the film ends on an aching, poetic note of a part of a rocket (or is it a spaceship) coming down in slow-motion, to that one Glass organ. I hope to return to this again and again.