Saturday, 24 November 2012

Summary - Koyaanisqati (Life Out of Balance)

Summary - Koyaanisqati (Life Out of Balance): 

Title: Kayaanisqati.
First Release: April 2 1983. 
Material Designation: Film/DVD. 
Director: Godfrey REGGIO. 
Production Details: United States, Institute for Regional Education. 

Themes: Postmodernism, environmentalism, urbanism. 

Summary of Film:

A visual tone poem that contains neither dialogue nor a vocalised narration. It instead consists solely of images (many of which are edited in slow motion and time-lapsed) and music(composed by Philip Grass). 

The film is split into 7 sections: Organic, Vessels, Cloudscape, Clouds & Buildings, Microchip,Ending and Definition & Credits. All consisting of unscripted footage, varying from the streets of New York, slow-motion rocket launches and members of the public who aren't even aware they're being filmed to choppy ocean waters, rows upon rows of cultivated flowers and the desert. But goes on a loop, with the 86 minute film starting and ending with Indian hieroglyphics. 

The only other medium used, music, is characterised by its speed and dynamics. The genre is contemporary, classic and minimalism. A marriage of cinematography and sound. 

Key Points:

•" Koyaanisqati " is defined by the film as "crazy life", "life in turmoil", "life disintegrating", and"a state of life that calls for another way of living". [1]

•Use of three Hopi prophecies, "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." in the ending of the film are sung in the Uto-Aztecan language by a choral ensemble, before being translated just prior to the credits: the only text in the entire film. 

My Response: 

The film is quite frankly bizarre. It posses no discernible dialogue, characters or plot. And without any overview/pretences or even commentary, it seems to rely squarely on the audience. It is equivocal, in the sense that, without the aforementioned devices, the viewer is left to read the film in a different way than they would watching any other mainstream film. 

The "plot" appears to be first "...showing us the natural world untouched by man, and then slowly introducing us to man, his effect on the world, and the world he has created for himself." [2] 

To its bone, the message seems to be "Nature good, man bad", but after watching the film I came under the assumption that it instead illustrates a new world where the boundaries of artificial and organic are becoming blurred. Whilst is can be stipulated that the opening scenes of nature are meant to negatively contrast the monochrome world of cities, could it be said that these are just two different versions of 'beauty'? The shot of the sunset reflecting off the glass building was just as breath taking as those of the rivers and oceans. 

There is a clear juxtaposition between the imagery and melodies featured. The music is looped with only minor nuances. The harmonics increase in rhythmic complexity, becoming almost mechanical at its peak (especially in the road scenes), before retiring to just a series of tribal chants. For me, this strengthened its impact. The final endless image of the May 1962 explosion of the Atlas-Centaur rocket, with its engine plummeting to the ground in slow-motion, is a disturbing correlation with the Hopi tribe's 3rd prophecy. What was most disturbing was the sequence of people living their daily lives. It is sped up dramatically and show people working and playing, but the two actions are similar; an endless cycle of blurs and foots steps. Making us look like mindless automated robots.Furthermore, images of people on escalators goes hand in hand with sausages going through a machine in a factory; we are all processed by society.

I was told to watch this after consulting the English tutor Mr Williamson about postmodernism movement. He informed me of its relations to the hyperreality, a concept where what's real and what is fake are blurred. So Koyannisqati has given me a good insight into the post-modernist viewpoint and after analysing it's symbolism it has also given me an introduction to hyperreality. Considering the scenes of the public, perhaps I will focus on the ordinary lives of people and their relationship with the media. 


IRE, 2005, Definitions, available online at  <> [Accessed 24 November 2012]

The Writings of Karl S. Green, 2001, available online at <> [Accessed 24 November 2012].

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