Steve G 🟨🟥’s review published on Letterboxd:
That was the most fun I've had watching hot dogs in motion since I first saw this gif.
I have stated before that I find documentaries hard to review but I've only just realised that's not the case. I actually have no problem with reviewing them at all - I just find them hard to rate. A while back I was quite happy to concede that if I saw a non-documentary biopic that was historically and factually inaccurate but still extremely entertaining that it would get an enthusiastic review.
At the same time, if I saw something that was factually spot on but a boring piece of crap, I have more trouble giving that a negative review because I almost feel as though I should reward that film for at least getting its facts straight. But in the interests of trying to make life easier for myself when it comes to writing and elucidating my opinions, I decided to apply the same 'rules'. It's only now that I realise I should apply the same rules to documentaries as well.
But then along comes something like Koyaanisqatsi and the whole process is booted squarely in the arse. By its very nature, the film and TV documentary is flawed and I would argue there have been very few such films ever made that truly and honestly have been able to portray the events or subjects they are covering. You HAVE to omit details, for instance, if you are making a documentary about the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics because you can't very well have a two week long documentary. True documentary, in many ways, is an extremely rare commodity. These are flaws that we accept and understand, and quite rightly so.
Even so, maybe Koyaanisqatsi is one such example of that very rare commodity. With no voiceovers and seemingly no notable agenda behind it, Godfrey Reggio's film is, to me (as the director openly invited his audience to interpret the events in his film in any way they wished) a film about movement. The subtitle of this film - Life Out Of Balance - is a very good description of the context of the images within the film and a very interest musing on the nature of movement and how we and other objects are constantly thrown out of balance by the inevitable interaction we have with other objects and situations.
I really like Reggio's reasoning for not including any dialogue or narration in his film that he explains in the short documentary about Koyaanisqatsi called Essence Of Life:-
"It's not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It is 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."
On the one hand that musing could be seen as quite damning of the world we live in and our inability to be able to come up with the language to go with the images that we don't just see in this film but that we see in every day life, and indeed the experiences that we are party to every day as well. Reggio did not even want to name his film (or its two subsequent sequels) because he did not believe he could attribute a title that would aptly sum what he was presenting. Perhaps Aphex Twin had the right idea when coming up with names for his tracks - just make some stuff up.
Then again, in this case maybe it is a blessing. What exactly could a voiceover have done for Koyaanisqatsi anyway? Although I can easily hear in my mind Morgan Freeman solemnly informing us, "And there we have the Pruitt–Igoe Project....being blown to kingdom come...." it would not really have added anything. In a way, I would like to think it brings me back to my musing about how easily true documentary is denied us and made to deviate from its intentions by being injected with the necessary or the unnecessary.
I think it would be very easy and actually understandable to approach Koyaanisqatsi, take one look at it, and think that it could be one of the most pointless films you have ever seen. In a different and less contemplative mood, I might actually have thought that way. If the film does not lead you to such a conclusion, it is one of the few films that I have ever seen that is much less importantly a case of what it is about and far more importantly about how it challenges your thoughts and feelings on whatever or however it makes you feel.
Quite honestly, I have enjoyed exploring my post-viewing thoughts on Koyaanisqatsi more than I actually enjoyed the film itself. I think I just watched something incredibly important.