Unrated. It might be hard to judge a movie that is entirely made of establishing shots, but I think there might be a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it' thing somewhere in here.
DIRECTOR: Godfrey Reggio
I was going to do the whole trilogy at once. I thought, "Boy, this is going to be impossible to write anything about once, let alone three times." But then I didn't watch the sequels in the same sitting and there's a bunch of movies after this. My stupid obsession with my own self-imposed rules will leave me a corpse on the side of a road, filmed by Godfrey Reggio in stop motion.
So apparently, I put this on my Amazon wish list not really knowing what it was. When I worked at Thomas Video, people wouldn't stop renting this movie and I decided that I needed to own such a trilogy if I was going to teach film. I'm really snobbly, but there might be a certain line in the sand here. The movie is completely avant-garde, consisting of impressive shots of nature juxtaposed with less flattering views of civilization in the 1980s. Part of me would really have been into it. If I knew what I was getting into and sat in a full theater, gosh darn it, I could see even preaching this movie. After all, I really dug Antonio Gaudi and that was the same format. But I needed to have laundry for this one. Folding laundry allowed me to get engaged in a movie that I was just bored silly to see. I try hiding my phone when watching movies because I consider it cheating to say that I've seen a movie when I nosedeep in Facebook. Again, my stupid rules and whatnot. Within the first ten minutes of Koyaanisqatsi (written from memory), I was already immersed in clickbait. Yup, that's how bored I was. But bringing laundry into this one, I kinda got into the mood that was being established.
Let's put this out here right now. I don't dig the message that the movie is presenting. As a guy who gets mildly annoyed by eco-preaching, this idea just shut me off. The movie ends (spoiler...if that's possible here) with the definition of "Koyaanisqatsi'. It criticizes man's destruction of his surroundings. But this movie felt super judgey of people. It showed people eating in fast food restaurants and smoking. Yeah, I'm not a fan of smoking, but how do we know that these aren't fantastic people. It was weirdly judgey and we didn't even know what was going on with these folks. I also dislike the idea that the very nature of progress is detrimental to the planet. For all the negativity in the movie, what about all the joys that technology has brought? Also, this movie is almost without an answer. What should be done? Should progress be halted because the director doesn't care about civilization and culture?
As much as the movie is about stunning visuals, which I will grant it, it is almost entirely successful due to the contributions of Philip Glass. I can't say that I'm a fan of Glass, but considering that this more of a mood piece than a narrative of any sort, Glass's choices are very moving in themselves. The intro with the chanting is one of the strongest openings I can think of when it comes to establishing the tone for the film. The images on the cave wall are haunting. Mixing the chants with a violent font allow the viewer to know how the rest of the movie is going to go.
I have two more of these to go. I don't know if I've gotten to the root of the effectiveness of these movies, but I also don't love or hate it enough to really delve deeper. Besides, there will be more. Much more. About three hours more when it comes to the sequels. I just know that the food courts of the '80s sold some dirty, lazy food. Nothing was Doritos crusted!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.