When Hollywood is rightfully accused of frequently turning out the same old stuff (often badly), any film that’s unique, inventive and pioneering should be welcomed. Still, when the result is as simplistic and interminable as “Koyaanisqatsi,” it’s back to the drawing board.
Tub-thumping the pic as a world premiere even though it aired at the recent Telluride fest, the N.Y. Film Fest selected this technically superior but overblown non-narrative image piece as a special event not to unspool not at the usual Lincoln Center sites but at Radio City Music Hall, where presumably its Dolby score by Philip Glass and its lush photography by Ron Fricke would stir the masses.
“Koyaanisqatsi” is at first awe-inspiring with its sweeping aerial wilderness photography. It becomes depressing when the phone lines, factories, and nuke plants spring up. The pic then runs the risk of boring audiences with shot after glossy shot of man’s commercial hack job on the land and his resulting misery.
The viewer is relentlessly bombarded with images reminiscent of the title’s Hopi Indian meaning, “crazy life,” while Philip Glass’ tantalizing but dirgelike score drones on.
A lion’s share of the pic is a cynical display of decadence intending to edify and anger to action, but instead alienating with its one-sidedness. Simple message in Godfrey Reggio’s direction seems to state that Americans are not much more than the cars they assemble and the hot dogs and Twinkies they package.
To be sure, the film’s points on environmental protection and industrial society’s drawbacks should be raised. Yet, the issues might have been more effectively depicted by the very conventions “Koyaanisqatsi” disdains — a plot and characters. Better yet, with many of its shots held too long or repeated too often, it could have easily been a short film.
Barring a massive shift in audience taste and trends, pic has only the slimmest chance of conventional theatrical success and only a slightly better shot in the “event”-type bookings the Music Hall date suggests.