Koyaanisqatsi

Last updated by Darren on 04 October 2011

KoyanisB015

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. 

Koyaanisqatsi was then followed by Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi.  Powaqqatsi is similar in style to Koyaanisqatsi, whereas Naqoyqatsi's content is all stock footage, with a very technological edge. 

The United States Library of Congress deemed Koyaanisqatsi "culturally significant".  Koyaanisqatsi is now preserved in the National Film Registry.

Images

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
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Monument Valley, Utah, USA
Monument Valley, Utah, USA
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Canyonlands National Park
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Waimea Canyon, Kahui
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Page Power Plant, AZ
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Fission bomb, Nevada Test Site
Nevada Test Site
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Overview

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.

Koyaanisqatsi Interviews

Here are some interesting interviews from Godfrey Reggion and Philip Glass.  This is taken from the DVD extras.

 

Credits

  • 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

Trivia

  • 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.

Images include

  • Cave paintings
  • Desert landscapes
  • Waves
  • Cloud formations
  • Mines
  • Traffic formations
  • Commercial passenger aircraft
  • Demolition
  • Desolate urban landscapes
  • Rocket explosions
  • Crashing waves
  • Sausage factory
  • Rush-hour workers
  • Escalators
  • Cityscapes
  • Integrated circuits
  • Canyons
  • Fields
  • Earth movers
  • Dams
  • Explosions
  • Aircraft
  • Slums
  • Machinery
  • People

Links

Right after the Pruitt Igoe demolition is some footage of cranes being demolished. They look like the ones that were used at the docks in East London.

This was Ship's Westwood Store on Wilshire Blvd in Westood Calif.
Just before the store was torn down @ 1984. It is the best known
Ship's Coffee Shop. Millions of cars passed by and Millions ate
at the restaurant. This store was also in the Disney 360 America
Show at Disneyland for 30+ years. The 360 cameras were put atop
a fire engine that turns left right in front of Ship's. Thank you for the
the last shot of Ship's Westwood. 40+ years go by so fast !!!!
Mr. Ship's

Take a look at this album cover:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/k-tellinandroncotoo/62586402/

It was released in 1979, 4 years before Koyaanisqatsi. I know the photographic technique is widely used. But the title "Circuit Breaker" in combination with the image made me think of this film. K-tel sold records in both NA and Europe at the time. Maybe the artist for the cover chose the record's title. If anyone has any info regarding any of this (what artist made the cover ect.) let me know at bean_chouder@yahoo.com

I too would love to see Koyaanisqatsi and the following films given the same loving treatment that Baraka has received. However, I believe there must be some sort of rights problem stopping release for the moment.

Does anyone know how to contact Reggio and ask what's going on and whether we can expect anything soon?

I think a Blu Ray release of Koyaanisqatsi might be in the works. Amazon.com have already reserved an ASIN number for it.

You can try contacting Reggio through the IRE
http://www.koyaanisqatsi.com/

Hola me encanta el trabajo que estan haciendo y me encantaria poder participar.

The earlier VHS and Laserdisc releases of Koyaanisqatsi were presented in full-frame/pan & scan which suits the archival footage comprising much of the film. The DVD release is presented in widescreen which does not restore lateral image areas but instead crops the frame top and bottom, obscuring some of the image.

Prior to the agreement with MGM, Reggio's Institute for Regional Education solicited donations for the legal effort to regain the film rights, and gave to donors a limited number of DVDs with the fullscreen format of the film. They pop up on ebay now and then, though you can expect to pay a lot for one.

My compliments to the creator of this homage.
I'm not sure if I'm a purist or not. This movie & Philip Glass's amazing score introduced me to both Godfrey Reggio & Philip Glass, something I have NEVER regretted, & which has enriched my life enormously.
The entire Qatsi Trilogy is amazing. I recommend it to all.
Once again, thanks for putting this together.

The QUATSI trilogy are films that scream to be re-mastered and re-released on Blu-Ray disc in 1080p video with uncompressed soundtracks.

I would pay $100+ for a box set of these three films on Blu-Ray.

I emailed IRE to see if there are any plans to do so. If anyone knows of anything about such a BD release, post it here, thanks!

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