Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
Life out of balance is the translation proposed by the film from the title of the first chapter of the Qatsi trilogy.The shooting of the images began in 1975 and from time to time and with the new funding from IRE, director Godfrey Reggio and cinematographer Ron Fricke assembled a ton load of film shot all around USA. This poetic visual documentary has only images and the mystical music by composer Philip Glass. The narrative is however very clear and the music juxtaposed to slow motion and time-lapsed (fast forward) photography makes a great deal of the wonders of nature, progress, and the mess made by mankind.
To cite Roger Ebert, the main problem with Koyaanisqatsi is that it relates to one idea and that despite the breathtaking photography and the potential great trip of marijuana this film could offer, there is no evolution in the message and after a while the mind tends to stop thinking about the message and only appreciate the nice scenery. Well, it is quite something I must admit.
In a cinephile’s path there’s like a way to get to some films and how to appreciate them. At first, when a film impresses me I tend to be very proud to have discovered a movie that actually moved me and could actually change my perspective on film canons and make its place in my mental list of greatest films. The case was exactly that with Koyaanisqatsi, I thought it was a masterpiece into the 15 to 20 first minutes, and it does that a lot with many movies. More often than not, the movie can’t hold its pace or originality and third acts are killers. Sometimes they translate into known territories or are forced to arrange everything and make a perfect loop with the beginning of the film. Strong third acts are hard to find in films and to arrange and explain everything doesn’t save the face of a good idea that can’t end well. The link with Koyaanisqatsi is that the ending is not really an ending and a solid last act.
On the other hand, the use of more narrative techniques would have brought a depth and could have helped to elevate the unbelievable editing. Its message would have been even more complex. It is almost as watching pure cinema, one can not take it for too long. Just like drinking pure alcohol, there’s a limit at everything, you can mix it with other things and give it a depth in flavour and make a drink. But like pure cinema it needs a little sugar or meat to hold the bones together. It is indeed a must see as an experience but not a revealing documentary.