Holy smokes. TFong, what did you get me into?
Okay. Koyannisqatsi was recommended to me without anything said about it beyond “it’s a movie you’ll either really like or you’ll hate me for recommending it”.
I had no idea what it was about. It soon hit me that this was no mere ‘documentary’. I thought I needed subs so I was going through the file to see if there was subs or I had to get them somehow and lo and behold, there wasn’t any dialogue. I skimmed further and still no one was talking nor narrating. Then I finally gave up and searched this movie up on wikipedia.
I knew I was in for a ‘ride’ when I read this portion of the wiki.
“The film consists primarily of slow motion and time-lapse footage of cities and many natural landscapes across the United States. The visualtone poem contains neither dialogue nor a vocalized narration: its tone is set by the juxtaposition of images and music. Reggio explained the lack of dialogue by stating “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.”
Then it was time to settle in and watch this documentary of pure cinema.
Okay. So it’s a doc that is 1 hour and 26 odd minutes. No narrative, no dialogue and no characters. Right there is the biggest foil/contrast this doc has to any sort of movie/documentary/entertainment I’ve seen. I watched movies such as Holy Motors and Upstream Color where silence and music is used to convey the plot and I still was not prepared whatsoever for what this documentary had in store.
The overall plot I could understand mostly from reading that blurb from the wiki. You can see where the movie starts and comes full circle about how life is. The vastness in the beginning with all those shots of nature and then transition into the human world, the busyness and repetition of our world is clear to see and it contrasts greatly with the nature shots. The dictionary definition of the film’s title also reinforces the themes of the movie.
The wiki has a plot summary but I haven’t read it and I’m not really sure if I want to.
Clearly this movie is not for everybody. It’s really strange when compared to what is in theatres nowadays. This was done in 1982 and its quite a feat really.
I feel like all I can talk about is my impression of this film.
What a grand vision. I do not even know where to begin to think of how a director can film something like this and put it together with such music. It is just great. All those shots capturing such mundane activities but have it stand and represent something is just surreal.
The camera usage is great as well. Many of the shots are ones we don’t normally see in movies and even if we do see them they never linger for that long on that one shot. The best comparison I can make is that there were a lot of shots that would be in an anime film which would be used to represent the busyness of that particular scene. The scenes themselves don’t push the narrative but rather makes the setting that much more realistic and authentic.
The sped up traffic sequences were really cool and much faster than normally used shots of traffic and it matched with the music really well. I will forever remember that one shot of the pop tarts having their innards squeezed into tart and having that scene match the music. I was so captivated that I watched that sequence like 5 times.
I would say that I was a bit lost as to what it was trying to do for the first 50 minutes but once it hit that 50 minute mark and it sped up everything and the music was just so great, the theme was very apparent then.
I feel like this is more of a personal reflection upon life and entertainment rather than ‘actual’ entertainment though I did laugh once when they transitioned from real life traffic to a racing video game.
I think this movie has that immersion where you only feel it is off when you stop the movie. I wonder how it would’ve been watching this in the theatre. I probably would have fallen asleep as I did have portions where I had this running on one screen and I was multi-tasking something else.
Would I recommend this? I definitely would as I believe everyone should get a taste of pure cinema. The self-reflection and appreciation to both cinematography and music and also the lack of what we have taken for granted (narrative/character/dialogue) is a very interesting experiment.