“it’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.” —Godfrey Reggio
If there was ever a movie that needed to be re-released on Blu-ray, it’s Koyaanisqatsi. Fortunately,
the good folks at The Criterion Collection have obliged, releasing Koyaanisquatsi along with it’s two sequals, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi, as the “quatsi” trilogy. No other film has had such a mind blowing impact on me. I first saw it in my 20s, and even watching it alone in my tiny efficiency apartment on VHS on a 19″ non-calibrated television screen, the experience was visceral.
As a non-narrative film, Koyaanisquatsi isn’t for everybody. You can’t talk about the story because there is no story. You can’t talk about the acting because there are no actors. Or dialogue. In fact there is very little of what one normally associates with a movie at all. What there is, however, is a spellbinding marriage of film and music created by Ron Fricke, Phillip Glass, and Godfrey Reggio, one that ranges from the vast expanse of the Canyonlands National Park in Utah to the geography of individual faces. What does it all mean? I don’t know, but it’s certainly an interesting question. On the obvious end, it’s environmentalist bent is alluded to in the film’s title, a Hopi Indian word which translates to “life out of balance” and “a state of life that calls for another way of living.” The tone of the film is cautionary. Scenes of labyrinthine production alternate with scenes of mindless consumption (one can’t help but cheer when the wall of TVs explodes), and the extended close-up of the falling rocket engine at the end clearly denotes hubris. It’s so much more than that though. For starters, it’s a wild ride.
The time-lapse photography is used to great effect to control pacing and build tension, especially in the urban scenes, and the aerial photography provides a dizzying sense of omniscience. What really makes the film, though, are the juxtapositions and parallels. Images of earth are followed with images of fire, wind, and water. Images of nature unadorned and barren are contrasted with vast, intricate urban landscapes that pulse with a life of their own. Time-lapsed scenes fade into slow motion, and images of clouds and waves blend so well one hardly notices the transition from one to the other. Endless lines of hot dogs and Twinkies at the manufacturing plants are echoed in insect-like images of people scurrying up escalators and onto awaiting trains. It’s not all impersonal though, as the film pauses at times to capture up close the vast range of humanity, from tired workers struggling to make it through another late shift, to homeless people struggling to make it through the day, to hipsters flaunting their Elvis side burns.
The film has nearly endless replay value as one can focus on different individual details on repeat viewings, an experience now further enhanced by the additional detail afforded the blu-ray copy. The experience of watching it reminds me of something out of the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and I highly, highly recommend it. One of my all-time favorites.