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Make Your Own Experimental Film Out of GIFs and Philip Glass

Rico Monkeon’s “Gifaanisqatsi” uses the score from the classic documentary Koyaanisqatsi and random GIFs to generate mesmerizing custom montages.

From Koyaanisatsi (courtesy Criterion Collection)

1982’s Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance is a landmark documentary, a rare experimental work to cross over into mainstream appeal. Directed by Godfrey Reggio and featuring a now-legendary orchestral score by Philip Glass, the film is one extended montage, a collection of scenes from across planet Earth. Everything from shopping malls to rocket launches are used to depict modern life in all its complexity and often-disquieting environmental dislocation. (The title is a Hopi word meaning “unbalanced life.”) The frequent use of slow motion, time-lapse photography, and Glass’s supremely ominous score lend immense gravitas to even the most quotidian moments.

Anyway, what if you did the same thing, but using clips of people getting smacked in the face with water balloons?

As a lark, artist Rico Monkeon has created Gifaanisqatsi, “a random Koyaanisqatsi generator.” Click “Play,” and the tool will grab a selection of GIFs from Giphy’s voluminous library and set them to the soundtrack for the trailer for the film. The generator selects for any clips tagged as being slow motion or time-lapse (it also has a PG-13 filter to hopefully prevent anything explicit from getting in).

The results … work surprisingly well. The idea behind Koyaanisqatsi (as well as 1988’s Powaqqatsi and 2002’s Naqoyqatsi, the other two parts in Reggio’s trilogy) is to create a collage of life itself. This does the same thing, just through a sort of crowdsourcing, as well as some images that may have a bit less, uh, gravitas than anything Reggio would have selected. (In my various plays, I have seen multiple GIFs of fat dogs running in slow motion. I love it.) Sometimes there are clips you wouldn’t believe aren’t already in the documentary. (My favorite is a time-lapse of ants devouring sushi.) The results are at turns humorous and mesmerizing. I can’t stop clicking the button and watching it go. Give it a whirl yourself, and see what strange montage you create.

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