Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out Of Balance

Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out Of Balance

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
MGM Home Entertainment

Release date: January 13th, 2003
Certificate (UK): U
Running time: 85 minutes

Year of production: 1982

Director: Godfrey Reggio
Composer: Philip Glass

I first saw Koyaanisqatsi in the unlikeliest of places. It was a Saturday night and I was out with friends who decided to head off to a club after a few hours of drinking.

I offered to join them on this occasion instead of going home on my own as I usually did. We ended up in Slimelight in London, an alternative club that plays darkwave, EBM, goth rock, industrial, and noise.

Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out Of Balance

It wasn’t my first time there but I could hardly say I was a regular. I only went 3 times in the brief period between September 2001 and October 2001. It was an extreme environment, an assault on the senses really and you had to be in the mood for self destruction to get anything out of it. At the time I was in the mood for neither destruction nor company and as I wandered the club’s many levels I eventually found myself in its basement.

I’d never been down that far before and the atmosphere there was much more appealing. Although I could still hear the thumping noise from the floors above and smell the club’s assortment of odours ranging from the smoke machine and poppers to beer and vomit, this makeshift screening room would be where I’d spend the next hours after trying to clean the mud off my clothes…they didn’t call it Slimelight for nothing.

Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out Of Balance

There was chanting against the sound of church organs and pipes and slowly the image of what looked like an ancient wall painting dissolved to show a rocket lifting off in slow motion. Scenes of deserts, rocks, cliffs, mountains, quarries, canyons and deep valleys followed. As the sun moves from east to west, the only changes perceivable are the shadows cast.

Clouds danced and raced across the Earth, but this ballet of movement is broken with the arrival of man and machinery. Pipe lines, power grids, oil fields, and the detonation of an atomic bomb with its black smoke rising into the clear blue sky marks the departure from nature to culture. Skyscrapers, planes, military tanks, fighter jets and our elite’s favourite pastime – war – gives way to the sprawling metropolis of New York City. It fades to show inner city slums, abandoned buildings and the industrious but soulless apartment blocks that look more like state prisons.

Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out Of Balance

Time-lapse photography is used to capture the hustle and bustle of daily civilian life, watching it this way gives rise to a sense of hopelessness and despair with the realisation of what we would really do if we reclaimed our freedom. Faced with such an existentialist crisis as I watched this, it dawned that it was Koyaanisqatsi, the film I had heard so much about but was never sure if I could sit through it with its non-narrative structure.

Yet, it didn’t strike me as a non-narrative film. It was more like a poem; its meaning is what you give it. Sitting there in that cold basement, feeling out of balance with everything that was going on there, in my own life and the world at large, Koyaanisqatsi, to me, represented a world that is so many things, but in the end, we’re responsible for.

I left Slimelight in the early hours of Sunday morning and I’ve never been back since. As I rode the number 30 bus home, the sunrise was beginning to peek through. I remember staring at it as it became brighter and brighter and thinking about the balance of things, ultimately feeling hopeful it could be put right. It was October 7th, 2001. Within the next 12 hours the war in Afghanistan would begin.

About Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.