Koyaanisqatsi, a masterpiece-documentary about the world we live in

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There is a handful of documentary masters who have ventured in the past in builgind great works, ambitious in content and form, trying to communicate their concern about the modern world: a world that has mutated rapidly, a world that is part of all of us, that created us and that is in our own hands. Creators of documentaries where the image is the absolute protagonist, where we can see with our eyes the immense slowness of the nature, transposed in the screen.

Godfrey Reggio, American director and documentary filmmaker, has created a new filming style, revealed in his Qatsi trilogy formed by three very peculiar experimental documentaries. The most important and famous of these is the first, Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance, released on 1982, where breathtaking images of the planet Earth appear, one after the other, accompanied by the minimalist music of Philip Glass. The journey arrives up to the drama of the Human Advent, the world we know today, and the documentary makes you despise and have mercy of it. The full movie is on Youtube.

The peculiarity of the three works is that they have no dialogue or narration: the images, the photography (edited by Ron Flicke in the first film), are slowed down or sped up, merging with a soundtrackic that constitutes the real lead of the story, from the most natural state of things to industrialism, consumerism and overpopulation. Reggio is the creator of this new documentary style in which we understand the eternal times of nature and how we, as civilization, jump into it, breaking a balance that existed ages before us. The other films in the trilogy are Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation (1988) and Naqoyqatsi: Life as war (2002). The director chose as a link between the movies the word “Qatsi”, which in the language of the Hopi (indigenous Amerindian population living in the southwest of the United States of America) means life.

Philip Glass, who can be defined as a pioneer of minimalist music, participates in the composition of the soundtracks of all three documentaries. His style is composed of repetitions and small melodies, where he used organs, strings, synthesizers, winds and violins in constructions of dramatic and disturbing sounds. In order to merge his music in Koyaanisqatsi, he decided to divide the documentary into six movements, that can be found in his playlist on Spotify. Inside it you can find Prophecies, a little masterpiece that creates an osmosis between instruments and choirs, not far from what Hans Zimmer did in Interstellar. In this way, he manages to orchestrate hypnotic and slow motives at the most opportune moment (for example when we observe wastelands or never-ending deserts), but also pressing, fast and insanely dynamic moments (matching for example the metropolis and the human life).

A poetic work where we inevitably recognize the desperate cry of our planet, where we can find new reasons to preserve what remains of the nature and create a new empathy between us and the world. A balance that can last forever in mutual respect.

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