Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Koyaanisqatsi is a non-narrative 86 minute film from 1982. As the title rises so does the murmur of the Koyaanisqatsi chant which means "life out of balance." The film begins and ends with human figures painted long ago on cave walls and transitions to pristine southwest landscapes and then to clouds and water. Over time, we begin to be introduced to the contemporary fingerprint of humanity upon the earth, as contrasted with the non-invasive cave paintings. We see beautiful forms and destruction, humanity in general and in the particular, escalators, assembly lines, and the machines of modern production. From the heights above the cities we witness large cycles of life: day to night and back to day and work to home to play to work. many of the shots are just breathtaking other sequences have an ironic tone as we see Twinkies and hotdogs shooting out of processors we see humanity being spit out of escalators. Adding to the stark dichotomy between nature and contemporary human society is the increasing pace. The shots of the southwest are long and slow while a majority of the shots that picture the cityscapes are sped up. As the film leaves creation scenes for human society the speed of editing and the Philip Glass score increase to a frenetic pace.

While the film is powerful, it is perhaps about 30 minutes too long especially for today's viewer.

Some of our most interesting dialogue about the film last night in class was about Godfrey Reggio's artist statement on the Koyaanisqatsi website. He states,

That being said, my intention in-other-words, let me describe the bigger picture. KOYAANISQATSI is not so much about something, nor does it have a specific meaning or value. KOYAANISQATSI is, after all, an animated object, an object in moving time, the meaning of which is up to the viewer. Arthas no intrinsic meaning. This is its power, its mystery, and hence, its attraction. Art is free. It stimulates the viewer to insert their own meaning, their own value. So while I might have this or that intention in creating this film, I realize fully that any meaning or value KOYAANISQATSI might have comes exclusively from the beholder. The film's role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from theexperience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning. If meaning is the point, then propaganda and advertising is the form. So in the sense of art, the meaning of KOYAANISQATSI is whatever you wish to make of it.
This is its power.

We generally agreed that we all have our own interpretive lenses that color our insights into the film, and yet it seems that Reggio has overstated his statement...too grandiose one student suggested. If no communication of intent is made, that it seems like the piece would been stillborn. And contrary to Reggio's statement and apparent fear of becoming propaganda, many feel that he has done exactly that. Reggio has created a thought provoking piece dealing with time and the effects of contemporary human consumption.

The following are a few of the questions we discussed and a few other passages that came to my mind as I watched the film.

1) What is Reggio’s intention or purpose with the film?
2) How does the film’s construction and editing convey his intention?
3) What scenes/juxtapositions stand out to you?
4) How does the musical score aid your interpretations?
5) Would you consider this a modern or post-modern film? How do you know?
6) What is considered as the “good”?
7) What theological questions are raised by the film?
8) Any irony at play?
9) Is the film dated or still relevant to our current situation? How? Why?
10) Would you watch the other 2 films in the Qatsi trilogy?

“The ineffable inhabits the magnificent and the common, the grandiose and the tiny facts of reality alike. Some people sense this quality at distant intervals in extraordinary events; others sense it in the ordinary events, in every fold, in every nook; day after day, hour after hour. To them things are bereft of triteness; to them being does not mate with non-sense. They hear the stillness that crowds the world in spite of our noise, in spite of our greed. Slight and simple as things may be—a piece of paper, a morself of bread, a word, a sigh—they hide and guard a never-ending secret: A glimpse of God? Kinship with the sprit of being? An eternal flash of will?
Part company with preconceived notions, suppress your leaning to reiterate and to know in advance of your seeing, try to see the world for the first time with eyes not dimmed by memory or volition, and you will detect that you and the things that surround you—trees, birds, chairs—are like parallel lines that run close and never meet. Your pretense of being acquainted with the world is quickly abandoned.”
-from Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion – Abraham Heschel

Ecclesiastes 1.1-11
1 The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?

4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. 8 All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"? It has already been, in the ages before us. 11 The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.

Psalm 19.1-6
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

Genesis 1.27-28
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

Romans 8.19-23
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

God's Grandeur
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And, for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
by Gerard Manley Hopkins