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Koyaanisqatsi (1983)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

It feels strange to be discussing Koyaanisqatsi using words since the film communicates its message purely with images and sound, utilising no spoken dialogue at all. Although the concept sounds both unusual and difficult to grasp it is carried off in gripping fashion with a mix of both slowed-down and speeded-up footage covering the natural and artificial world.

At the beginning the camera lingers on ancient Hopi Indian cave-paintings of human figures, perhaps symbolising the forgotten embers of the human race. Soon we are racing over landscapes, peering into waterfalls and tumbling with the clouds in a homage to the Earth. Effortlessly illustrating the vistas untainted by Man the film subtly moves on to the modern-day shrines to humanity - cities. It is here that the full impact of the story becomes apparent and yet there is a distance from people as individuals. Even when we are focused on one person there is no feeling for their history, instead they appear as representatives for the whole.

This feeling of watching an ant colony is intensified with the superb photography of typical production lines. Here the machines are master and the workers scurry around, forever at the mercy of the conveyor belt. On a larger scale the teeming freeways are analogous to the blood vessels of our own bodies - cities as a symbiotic life-form. But, this is no life. Humans, like trained primates, are shown to be in the rat-race like never before with no hope of redemption. Indeed, the images of fire and destruction seem to foretell an apocalyptic future unless we choose to return to our roots - like the Hopi Indians perhaps?

If you have read this far then perhaps you'll have the attention span required for this film! As a whole the images presented take on a truly hypnotic tone (particularly in the city sequences) which meshes smoothly with the classical- ethnic soundtrack (scored by Phillip Glass). The only drawback is the slightly withdrawn tone which permeates the film - almost as if this was an alien travel documentary on the Earth! In summary, Koyaanisqatsi is well worth catching but try to see it on the big screen.


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