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on 8 January 2003
Director Godfrey Reggio and Composer Phillip Glass collaborated on a number of "movies without words". This DVD includes "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powaqqatsi". Both have a similar approach. The most legendary of the two is Koyaanisqatsi, and this disk is worth getting, just to have that movie.
Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word, one of its meanings being "Life Out of Balance". This is a little misleading, since principally what Reggio is portraying in this film is the effect of machines and technology on people, and where we fit in to it. I say "what Reggio is portraying", but that is inaccurate. It is really what Reggio _and_ Phillip Glass, the soundtrack composer, are portraying. The soundtrack through this wordless movie is continuous and is as important as the images. If you have never heard Phillip Glass' music before, it is a sort of repetitive classical music called "process" music or "minimalist". It works through repetition, hypnotic effects and dynamic build-up. It can be very very effective.
In fact in this movie the music has an almost drug-like effect. During the slower scenes of the movie, there is slower repetitive music, and I felt myself relaxing into it. But during the very fast scenes in the movie, the music is ridiculously fast, and the effect is very invigorating. I almost felt like punching the air at times!
So what exactly are these scenes? Well they are slow panning, slow-motion, fast motion, and normal motion scenes of nature, technology, people, cities, etc. If you have seen the movie "Baraka" you may know what I'm talking about (Koyaanisqatsi created a genre, of which Baraka has become a part). Using scenes of the desert, of the moon rising, of buildings being demolished, of freeway footage sped-up, and of subway stations at a blur, Reggio documents mans' integration and dependency on technology, and how it affects us. And he does this in brilliant synergy with Phillip Glass' music.
This is no "difficult" or "experimental" movie in the sense you may be thinking. It is captivating and exciting. I had a group of friends round to watch the DVD, some of whom liked art-house movies, and some of whom didn't. They were all impressed by Koyaanisqatsi.
If you want a new, exciting and engrossing experience in movies, then check out this DVD. If you just want to see some great filming, and to hear some fabulous process/minimalist music, then check out this DVD. If you want to feel that you've experienced something extraordinary and deep, and seen the world in a new light, and been given a great buzz from doing all of that, then check out this DVD.
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on 22 February 2006
I watched this film yesterday. I felt like the bottom dropped out of my world, and when it finished my heart was twice the size it had been before. Sharpy and I just sat while the credits rolled, it didn't feel appropriate to move. After everyone had left we walked home in silence.
It was gut wrenchingly beautiful and saddening. For the first 20 minutes I thought it was going to be purely aesthetic...trying to decide whether what you can see is clouds or the sea is a little strange...but when, after 20 minutes of watching footage of some of the bleakest uninhabited landscapes on the planet, you get a closeup of the oil mining industry, it feels like a punch in the stomach.Speeded up shots of spaghetti junctions make the traffic look like red blood cells in the biology videos we used to watch in class. A closeup of an old womans hand with an IV drip and bloodstained tape holding it in place...she reaches out her hand to the nurse changing her IV and the nurse takes her hand for a second. Then you can see, but it's almost imperceptible, the nurses grip loosen as she's about to let go, and every part of you is begging her not to, but you never see. The shot changes before she lets go of the old womans hand. And you know she did, because you could see she was going to, but the tension that was in your body doesn't leave with that knowledge. Sunbathers on a beach overlooked by a factory. Tourists in the factory taking pictures.

It's impossible to describe how a film with no dialogue and essentially no plot, made of a series of pieces of footage put together with a soundtrack comprising mostly an organ and some bass singers can affect someone this much. So watch it.
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on 13 January 2003
Twenty years after it's first release, Koyaanisqatsi is still a unique and ground-breaking combination of video footage.
Until you have seen these films, you cannot begin to appreciate how much the techniques pioneered by Godfrey Reggio in filming these productions have influenced so much televisual imagery over the past two decades.
Arty pretentiousness aside, I think that everyone should be MADE to watch Koyaanisqatsi - not because it is profound, but because it is, just simply, beautiful.
Within these films time-lapse filming (speeding-up the very slow) and slow-motion has been targeted at subject matter with such genius that it is impossible not to view both the natural world, and technically-laden humanity, in a different light.
Cutting to the chase, let's clarify what's on offer here.
The films in the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy are NOT standard Hollywood feature-film productions - these films essentially are breath-taking video footage married very well to a soundtrack of looped music...
The films in the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy are NOT aimed at any age group, culture, or creed - assuming you are open-minded and (initially) patient most people will be glad they have watched them.
The films in the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy ARE essential to anyone who has a home cinema, and occasionally wants to watch something a little different.
No bad language (no dialog at all), no violence and sex (difficult with no cast to speak of), and yet profound and totally watchable.
How many films can this be said of?
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on 12 April 2003
This movie, in some respects, took me on an 'out-of-body' journey around the world that we live in today. Although the movie is close to 20 years old, the ideas that the movie suggest are as equally viable today. Our place in the world, how neglectful we are of our natural surroundings, our immanent route to self-destruction - all of these ideas, for me, where somewhere in this movie.
It is a beautiful movie - one cannot say more. A beautiful symbiosis of vision and sound. Fricke (Cinematographer) and Glass (Composer), with the directorship of Reggio have created a modern masterpiece. With the full extent of Glass's minimalism on audible display, the repetative nature falls perfectly into place with the nature of the visual montage.
You will be hard pressed to find a movie that will pull you in as much as this does. Within 20 mins you will be completed removed from your surroundings and experiencing what seems like another world. Buy it, turn your lights off, tell everyone else to go away, un-plug the phone, and prepare yourself for a mind-opening experience...
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on 6 July 2005
I have been a member of the DVD rental club for 6 months and this is the first time I have felt compelled to write a review. What a wonderful film. I hadn't know what to expect, and maybe this helped, but I was completely drawn in by the images and music. Once I was hooked the film then took me on an emotional ride, the music gently taking me by the hand deeper and deeper into the darkenss. The absence of human voices made me feel that the message I was given had come from the heavens. And what a message, it left me stunned.
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on 9 March 2003
The long-awaited release on DVD of two masterpieces of modern cinema. Ground-breaking movie-making of the very highest order. Having owned poor VHS copies for many years I have yearned for this release and have not been disappointed. The "added value" of th DVD special features is a welcome bonus.
My only caveat is that when films rely so heavily, indeed are integrally MUSIC videos, that the transfer to Dolby 5.1 should be perfect. Unfortunately, that is not the case here, unless I have had a batch of faulty discs. Every one of the Powaqqatsi discs I have had has a slight break-up of sound on the rear left channel. For most listeners it would probably be unnoticeable, but for me it spoiled an otherwise impeccable release.
If it is the music which inspires you, then listen to the CD; the film is great if you can live with the sound problem. I try again to get a good copy - my love for these films is so great.
A worthy purchase.
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on 11 July 2005
This is one of the most beautifully crafted films I've seen in a long time.
Every image is rich and vivid in terms of aural and visual aesthetics, as well as conveying a strong underlying message or idea regarding life (qatsi).
The film poses questions regarding the essence of our nature that in a progressing society, has become so infused with the advancement of technology. Has life become that of a series of machinizations, souless, and confined to structure? Godfrey Reggio reminds us that there are parts of the world, aspects of life, which are still untainted by technological development. That society still has the ability to be spiritual and organic. Some images juxtaposing the creations of man and god are so profound and excellently filmed that they become moving in their poignancy.
Phillip Glass' musical score gives Kayaanisqatsi an almost hypnotic quality, ranging in density to fit the sequences of image and moods.
This film is not boring or arbitrary, however the meaning is always going to be purely subjective in regards to the audience. I recommend Koyaanisqatsi because a sign of great filmmaking is being able to create a work that will leave no one indifferent to.
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on 12 January 2003
The title of this film, Koyaanisqatsi, is a word from the Hopi native American language meaning world out of joint or world in chaos. The film uses time-lapse photography to show the inherent madness of modern life, disconnected from nature. People and their technology are depicted in a head-long rush to nowhere, out of touch with their living environment. Although 20 years old, its central message is still highly relevant today. The images are startlingly beautiful and often breath-taking. The soundtrack by Philip Glass, with its waves of repetition and surges of church organ, fits perfectly. The Hopi indians had little technology and even less need for freeways and skyscapers. Watch this film and judge who was/is better off.
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on 5 February 2005
A strange film, this. It would be at home in an art gallery; it would be at home in the chill-out room of a club. There are no actors, there is no speaking, there are no words. Koyaanisqatsi abandons the symbolic order for a consideration of the material world, the dynamic world - and through outstanding photography and a well thought out score, it delivers a very interesting message.
The film is broadly in four parts. The first is devoted to the natural world - aerial photography of desert landscapes, boiling clouds. The second looks at human imposition on this - mining, skyscrapers, bombs. 'There is too much concrete in the world' is what Reggio seems to be saying; this ecological message is later diluted or lost, I thought, leading to an ambiguity that does not sit entirely well with the final frames explaining the title. Third are people, groups of people shot speeded up so as to be not individuals but a seething mass, flowing throughs streets as water does over rock. Here is humanity, caught between the natural world and its own mechanistic constructions - caught in the built environment, but really more organic than that. Faster and faster come the images and the music, Glass's minimalist score repeating over and over - then cut to the reflective concluding sequence.
There are some shocking images in this film - landscapes destroyed, the mechanical horror of the factory - and these all tie in to the final message that there is something wrong with the modern world, with modern life, that we are unnatural and sick. But yet the photography of city lights at night is so incredibly beautiful that I feel this critique to be softened, as how can something evil look so good? I think a lot is meant by the opening and closing image of primitive figurative drawings on a rock wall, but what does this say? Man has been imposing himself on nature since his very beginning? I am not sure. Perhaps that is the beauty of a film without words: more space to find our own meanings.
Watch Koyaanisqatsi if you are a geographer or sociologist or interested in ecology. Watch it if you are a fan of Phillip Glass and his particular type of semi-electronic minimalist classical music. Watch it if you're into avant garde film, or just have a patience for the different (watch it if you're a good Buddhist). I think Koyaanisqatsi is a film that would bore many people - even I, who liked it, found the opening half hour or so pretty slow - who would rather it to be background wallpaper than the focus of attention. There is no story, after all. It is a film to be watched alone, in the calm, a film to relax into. Wait, and it'll absorb you.
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on 28 February 2006
For me Koyaanisqatsi is the music. The images give it meaning and tell a story, but without the music the film wouldn't have half the impact it does. Philip Glass's score is surely one of the most memorable pieces written in the 20th century, and created a whole new genre of music. Amazing what can be achieved with few chords and repetition of simple scales, but despite the obvious repetition, it's also very complicated and subtle when analysed. The timing is continually changing, the layers build up, and earlier sequences are constantly reused, to the point where you wonder if you've been listenning to the same five notes for 80 minutes. An amazing piece of writing by a modern master.
Interesting how many times the music has been used in adverts, and the imagery has been copied endlessly as well. Also worth pointing out the incredible time, effort and dedication it must have took to film all the time-lapse sequences, especially the cloud sections.
One of the most exhilarating and moving films I've seen. The grid is by far the best section and builds up to a breathtaking climax. The end sequence is superb too, from the triumphal launch, through the explosion and ending with the rocket booster plunging endless to earth licked by flames, as if showing the folly of mans ambitions.
You will not regret buying this.
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