Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance (1982)

“If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster. Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky. A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky which could burn the land and boil the oceans.”

‘Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance’, directed by Godfrey Reggio in 1982, is an experimental movie that consists of images of landscapes, farmland, factories, cities, roads, snippets of television programmes and occasionally close-ups of people working, walking and socialising. All this is set to music by Philip Glass, a score that both enhances and dictates the pace of the movie. I thought that I’d find a film with no story or dialogue or actors to be difficult to like and I assumed that the experience would be the equivalent of watching a computer screen-saver for an hour and a half, but instead, to my surprise, I was completely engrossed. The subtext of the corruption of the natural world by humanity is clear: the peace and balance of the landscapes we see in the beginning of the film is subverted by the almost apocalyptic imagery of quarries, factories and cities, the virus-like, accelerated footage of cars and the (at the time even more so) doom-laden shot of a nuclear explosion. The film does have a climax, the speed of the footage increases with the music, and the imagery itself intensifies to the point where all we can see is a television set flashing fragments of programmes at an almost intolerable rate. Another thing that struck me was how the film plays with scale: the opening scenes of a rocky desert give way to close ups of the rock, whilst scenes of cars streaming through road systems is mirrored by shots of patients in hospital, their blood flowing through tubes. It’s this Gaia-like use of fractal imagery that really hammers the environmental message home suggesting that the apocalypse of pollution, over-population and over-production is something that corrupts at all levels.

Would I recommend it? Maybe – I’ve heard mixed opinions so it’s probably not for everyone. For various reasons I’m in an odd mood this evening though so maybe it just caught me.

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