Koyaanisqatsi: life out of balance

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On Sunday, my friend Maria and I went to a screening and panel discussion of Koyaanisqatsi at indie theater Facets. Koyaanisqatsi (subtitled “life out of balance), a sequence of images set to a score by Philip Glass, is described as such:

An art-house circuit sensation, this feature-length documentary is visually arresting and possesses a clear, pro-environmental political agenda. Without a story, dialogue, or characters, Koyaanisqatsi (1983) is composed of nature imagery, manipulated in slow motion, double exposure or time lapse, juxtaposed with footage of humans’ devastating environmental impact on the planet. The message of director Godfrey Reggio is clear: humans are destroying the planet, and all of human progress is pointlessly foolish.

Sounded wonderful in a beautifully depressing way – sign me up! For a better understanding of the film, watch the short trailer below:

For me the film displays an overwhelming grimness and hopelessness for the human species. City life is portrayed as absolutely Kafkaesque, with a focus on endless streams of cars and people being sucked into and spit out of public transportation like so many hotdogs on an assembly line. By the end, I felt ready to flee Chicago for a quiet country cabin in the middle of nowhere.

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However, this feeling of oppression lifted as soon as I stepped outside and started riding my bicycle home. Nothing seems so grim while bicycling down tree-lined streets in the sunshine and fresh winter air. I really think I would not have lasted in the big city this long (6 years and counting!) without my bicycle, because being stuck on a crowded subway train or in car traffic every single day is oppressive. Bicycling allows me to break away from all that.

(Here is what I wore on my bike, before piling on the winter layers.)

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You can watch all 1 hour and 26 minutes of the film for free on Hulu. Warning: if you watch, be sure to have some kittens, puppies, or bicycles nearby afterward to cheer you up.

Has anyone else seen Koyaanisqatsi? What did you think?

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14 thoughts on “Koyaanisqatsi: life out of balance

  1. Kurt says:

    I saw it in 1999 or 2000. There was a Godfrey Reggio film festival sponsored by Hollins University here in Roanoke. The film is stunning, captivating, and absolutely wonderful. It is where we are.

    • Dottie says:

      “It is where we are.” Yes, and shown in a way I’ve never seen before. Seeing the world I’ve lived in for over 30 years from such a different perspective throws me off balance a bit. That’s one reason the film is so powerful.

  2. Fred Smith says:

    It’s really hard to make bikes look Kafkaesque, here’s a video I just got sent from the Netherlands showing a very impressive bike-jam at the end: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2gP62a6Bvs#t=32

    Fun fact, apparently desire lines/short cuts are called ‘Elephant Paths’ in Dutch :-)

    • Dottie says:

      True! I would love to understand what the voice over in the video is saying. I noticed that “mountain bike” was thrown in there – interesting that they use the English word.

  3. Gordon Inkeles says:

    Loved your response to that depressing film: biking. For the record, Godfrey Reggio isn’t Hopi or even Indian. Nevertheless, he’s appointed himself as a spiritual spokesman for the Hopi tribe. The Aussies would call him a “CULTURE PERV.”

    • Dottie says:

      Culture perv, that’s a good phrase to know. The Hopi issue was addressed during the discussion after the film by one of the panelists, an American Indian scholar.

  4. David P. says:

    I’ve never been able to make it through more than small parts of that film at any one time, but I tend to receive positively scenes like the ones you describe that I’ve seen in the film – to me they are often brimming with life, possibility, movement, pattern, color. But if the bicycle isn’t enough of a corrective for you, try some Mary Oliver. I like ‘Wild Geese.’

    • Dottie says:

      Interesting to hear about your reaction. My friend got positive vibes from the film, too, seeing such scenes as a celebration of how much humans have created. Guess I’m a pessimist. :)

  5. David P. says:

    I’ve never been able to make it through more than small parts of that film at any one time, but I tend to receive positively scenes like the ones you describe that I’ve seen in the film – to me they are often brimming with life, possibility, movement, pattern, color. But if the bicycle isn’t enough of a corrective for you, try some Mary Oliver. I like ‘Wild Geese.’

    • Dottie says:

      Interesting to hear about your reaction. My friend got positive vibes from the film, too, seeing such scenes as a celebration of how much humans have created. Guess I’m a pessimist. :)

  6. LGRAB says:

    I am not sure that there are enough cats or bicycles in the world. But I really liked reading about your reaction!

  7. The New Oregonian says:

    Whatever you do, don’t watch Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi (sp?) all in one week…not enough bicycles or kittens in the world.

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