Tuesday, 13 September 2016
I've Just Seen: Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Director: Godfrey Reggio
It is almost impossible to describe Reggio's documentary in words. Its reliance on images, and specifically moving images, and its absence of traditional narrative make it a rare piece of pure cinema. Motion, movement, kinetic energy - from which the word 'cinema' comes from - is the focus of Ron Fricke's camera, whether it is the sped-up flight of clouds through the air or the swell of humans through a train station.
'Koyaanisqatsi' is a Hopi word for 'life out of balance,' and this acts the only real direction from Reggio as to how we should approach the film. Occasionally while watching, my mind thought about how the previous images related to each other, about how the movement of life in the city compares to nature's pace. Most of the time, however, I was simply transfixed by the scenes of recognisable life sped-up or dwelt upon, rendering them fresh and strange.
Reggio's documentary recalls Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera, another silent experimental exploration of modern life. Where Vertov's film is political and playful in its treatment of 1920s Russia, Koyaanisqatsi is much more meditative, asking us the price of human expansion on the world and our lifes as people.
This is a bewitching film that pulls you in through the ambiguous beauty of its images. I wish I had seen it on an IMAX screen so I could be envoloped by the extreme wide shots. Come expecting anything, except a clear narrative!