The Quarantine Stream: 'Koyaanisqatsi' May Help Satisfy Your Sense of Wanderlust

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Koyaanisqatsi

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video

The Pitch: Can a feature-length collection of timelapse footage add up to more than the sum of its parts? (Spoilers: Yes.)

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: If you’re still cooped up in your home due to COVID-19, you’re not alone. Despite what your Instagram feed tells you, there are still some of us who are doing all we can to stop the spread, keep everyone alive, and lighten the stress and workload for all the essential workers out there. But with that sacrifice comes a sense of stir-craziness and the increased desire to see the world – or, really, any place aside from where we spend every single day. Enter Koyaanisqatsi, the 1982 documentary which had a provocative tagline: “Until Now, You’ve Never Really Seen The World You Live In.”

There is no dialogue in Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 film, and as a result, it feels immersive in ways that traditional films sometimes can’t achieve (if you’re giving the film your full attention, that is). The final product feels more like an experience than a film: the harshest reaction to this movie might be that it looks like little more than a glorified screensaver. But even though it’s essentially just one long montage, it’s clear that Reggio has something on his mind: specifically, the intersection and sometimes violent collision between nature and technology. It begins with shots of desolate Utah deserts, where there is not a soul in sight and the landscape feels almost alien, and eventually transitions into capturing fragments of city life, putting the world’s bustling societies in stark contrast with the serenity of nature.

The global scope of the footage will likely help scratch that wanderlust itch that, if you’re like me, has been intensifying over the past few months. But even though it will whisk you away to far-flung corners of the world, Reggio’s perspective may leave you feeling slightly dispirited about the way humanity has treated this planet (and of course, that’s only gotten worse since this was made in the early ’80s).

Philip Glass’s incredible and haunting score helps create a hypnotic effect, and feels like a direct precursor to the synth-heavy music that has experienced a boom in popularity since the score for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive brought that type of music to the mainstream nearly a decade ago. But the biggest star of this film is Ron Fricke, the cinematographer whose artful framing and incredible photography is so strong that a huge percentage of what you see in this movie would not be out of place if it were printed out and hung on a gallery wall in a museum.

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