Sunday, 10 October 2010

T3 / Film #1 - KOYAANISQATSI / Synopsis

Hopi translation: crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living. 

The opening shot is of cave paintings, with atmospheric chanting in the background followed almost immediately by fire, conjuring images of the earliest of human settlements.  This is followed by a glimpse of later settlements, a mine, extracting raw minerals from the earth.

Extensive panning shots over a dry red cracked landscape, sand dunes, and mountains are all shown still and timeless, there is no sign of life apart from a scene with bats, a species that has evolves little since prehistoric times.  Other timeless elements clouds, the sun, waterfalls and the sea are all shown through the use of time-lapse photography enhancing the feeling of never ending, never changing landscapes.

Slowly pans over the land show traces of human development, farmed fields, mines, mining blasts, lorries, pipes, pylons all ways in which humans exploit raw natural resources.

"If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster."

We see the first human figures, working in a foundry.  This first shot of humans is directly followed nuclear mushroom clouds the most destructive of human inventions. Hardly an optimistic combination of images.
The music up to this point has been purely instrumental however as there is more evidence of human presence choral music begins as images of a woman sunbathing oblivious in front of a concrete nuclear power plant.  A tamed version of the mushroom clouds. 

We are introduced to the city through a highly reflective, scale less, glass building. A plane lands and comes into focus.

"Near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky."

Transport methods, planes, buses, cars.  Cars in formation in a manufacture’s car park fade onto an image of tanks in the same formation, the different levels of human invention and war imagery and explosions are accompanied by staccato choral music.  


The city is filmed as the dry cracked landscape was however this time human activity is evident.  A montage of abandoned tower blocks follows with choral staccato music, the pan from above mirrors the repetition of the cars and the tanks in formation before. Zooming right in on the broken windows a typical sign of neglect and abandonment.  One by one the blocks imploded, along with a series of brick towers in cities, they look like they melt into the ground.

The highly reflective glass buildings are shown again, mirrors towering above, echoing in an image the sentiments of Juhani Paliasmaa;

“The increasing use of reflective glass in architecture reinforces the dreamlike sense of unreality and alienation.”
The Eyes of the Skin

Suddenly the city is populated; people in fast motion are everywhere, spilling in and out of stations on their morning commute.  We look into the eyes of individuals for the first time and the city becomes more personal.

Night falls with optimistic orchestral accompaniment, the faceless glass buildings now show their interiors and become alive.  The car lights make the roads more active.  The use of very fast motion shots enhances this.

With the dawn comes the morning commute, a choir joins in with the optimistic music, masses of people on the move.  It highlights the triviality of the individual; we really are one in 6.5 billion.  These masses go into their places of work.  Factory production lines are shown, repetition, something which has previously been hinted at becomes an overt theme.  This is also shown through the commute and leisure activities such as computer games, bowling, the cinema, the ‘Mall’, the supermarket.  All are shown as mindless repetitive processes that will not change in hours, days, weeks, months, years...      The city never ends.
Food is made on the production line by people, food is eaten in fast food restaurants by people.  Our most basic needs are satisfied by technology. As the director Godfrey Reggio says “it’s not that we use technology, we live technology”.

A more manual production lines turn into more technological production lines, cars, microchips, money.  It is after we have seen this ‘higher’level of activity that we finally see the city from a human perspective.  It looks much smaller at ground level, and feels less intense.  Repetitive processes such as getting tickets from a machine are shown again but this time it is the individual we see and not the repetition. We see the actions we saw before; the ‘Mall’, the supermarket, the shop, a food processing line, playing a computer game and the TV, everything is seen though the TV, images of war are now framed and look more tame.  All the time triumphant choral music is playing.

The city slides back through the different scales, from the individual, to the street, to an area and finally to the whole city, it becomes a diagram like the back of a woven cloth (fabric of the city?).

And then there’s the uglier side of the city, a woman lighting a cigarette (perhaps a reference to the raw material extraction seen earlier), a drunk man being helped onto a stretcher, a bloodied hand in a hospital, the aftermath of a fire a homeless man counting change shortly followed by the greed of another with a large pink ice cream. 
The uglier sides of the city.

A space rocket takes off (is the earth not enough?).  Part of the rocket falling back towards earth igniting as it passes through the atmosphere.  The screen zooms in to it spinning in slow motion, falling back towards the earth.

"A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."


The final image is that of the cave paintings, they remain unchanged.

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