Taking a graceful, meditative, enlightening 90-minute masterpiece of visual cinema and compressing it to a mere five minutes might seem like some sort of vandalism. And replacing the majestic Philip Glass score is undoubtedly an assault. But Wyatt Hodgson’s Balance Out of Life dares to butcher of one of my favourite films, Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi, and ends up being a worthwhile experiment. The slowly unfurling sweeps of “narrative” now rush urgently into one another; the serenity of the Grand Canyon and the depressing dereliction of the notorious Pruitt–Igoe housing project in St Louis now serve as more obvious counterpoints; sequences on urbanisation and industrialisation and militarisation and consumerism more obviously self-contained.
Of course, introducing obviousness to Koyaanisqatsi rather undermines the magic of the film, but it succeeds in affording us an interesting new perspective on the film. My best takeaway from this version? As far as I could tell, we only see one smile in the whole film, a fleeting glimpse of a woman passing the camera at 4.21. Everyone else is suffering the effects of a life out of balance.