Koyaanisqatsi is director Godfrey Reggio's debut as a film director and producer. Koyaanisqatsi is the first film of the Qatsi trilogy, and was released in 1983. Koyaanisqatsi was the first full-length commercial nonverbal film. Koyaanisqatsi cinematographer and editor Ron Fricke captures 90 minutes of stunning visual images of North America, set to a moving score composed by Philip Glass .
Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word meaning 'life out of balance'. Created between 1975 and 1982, Koyaanisqatsi is an apocalyptic vision of two different worlds - urban life, and technology versus the environment. Koyaanisqatsi is a sort of documentary. There are no actors, there is no plot and there is no script. All of the images in Koyaanisqatsi are of real life. The subject of the images vary greatly. They are presented in such a way to show the contrast between human's and nature. The images provoke a thousand thoughts.
Ron Fricke was the principal cinematographer on Koyaanisqatsi. Ron Fricke later went on to create Baraka, as well as Chronos. Many of the techniques that work so well in Koyaanisqatsi, such as the slow motion, time-lapse, and moving vehicle shots, are found in many later films such as Baraka and Dogora. Some of the scenes seem to be existing footage. The explosions and space rocket launch are unlikely to have been filmed by Ron Fricke or other members of the crew.
The idea of Koyaanisqatsi is to make the viewer compare the things found in nature against those things that humans have created. Koyaanisqatsi is suggesting humans are out of balance with nature. Although Koyaanisqatsi contains no dialogue, the word 'koyaanisqatsi' appears in chants during the film. Koyaanisqatsi took 6 years to make, including three years shooting. Philip Glass and Godfrey Reggio then spent three years composing the musical score and editing the film to fit the new score.
Koyaanisqatsi has always been popular, considering its style. However, lack of commercial demand and complicated rights disputes saw Koyaanisqatsi go out of print. Godfrey Reggio's Institute for Regional Education owns the original film copyright, originally licensed to Island Entertainment, which was sold to Polygram, which was sold to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. The constant change of administration resulted in non-payment of royalties to the film makers. The IRE sold DVD versions of the film to help fund the legal costs. The IRE then reached an agreement with MGM which has allowed us to purchase the enhanced DVD version now. Koyaanisqatsi was re-released on DVD in 2002.
The United States Library of Congress deemed Koyaanisqatsi "culturally significant". Koyaanisqatsi is now preserved in the National Film Registry.
Being the first film of its type Koyaanisqatsi really is ground breaking. Some of its work goes back 30 years. In interviews Reggio explains that the whole idea about Koyaanisqatsi is that you interpret it yourself, but he thinks that if we continue to change as we have then one day we will all speak the same language and wear the same clothes. Identity is being lost.
The content of Koyaanisqatsi is very broad. But generally shows the stark contrast between man and nature, and beauty and war. It is always very effective. Ron Fricke's contribution seems essential to make Godfrey Reggio's idea work, especially since the release of Fricke's own films.
The first film of this style, and for many the best, but Koyaanisqatsi will always be a true classic.
Here are some interesting interviews from Godfrey Reggion and Philip Glass. This is taken from the DVD extras.
- Produced & Directed by Godfrey Reggio
- Filmed by Ron Fricke
- Edited by Alton Walpole & Ron Fricke
- Music by Philip Glass
- Music director & additional music: Michael Hoenig
- Original release: 1983
- Running time approx. 87 minutes
- The rocket taking off in the beginning of Koyaanisqatsi is the Saturn 5 rocket, from the Apollo 12 mission.
- In the closing scenes is a modified and unmanned Atlas rocket from the Mercury-program from the early 1960's. Both are stock footage.
- Demolition footage of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex features greatly in the film.
- Koyaanisqatsi was mentioned on the Simpsons, in the episode. Home oversleeps and a fast motion scene plays with music early identical to that in the film.
- Cave paintings
- Desert landscapes
- Cloud formations
- Traffic formations
- Commercial passenger aircraft
- Desolate urban landscapes
- Rocket explosions
- Crashing waves
- Sausage factory
- Rush-hour workers
- Integrated circuits
- Earth movers
- www.koyaanisqatsi.org - The official Koyaanisqatsi web site