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Directed by Godfrey Reggio
Produced by Godfrey Reggio
Written by Ron Fricke
Michael Hoenig
Godfrey Reggio
Alton Walpole
Music by Philip Glass
Cinematography Ron Fricke
Editing by Ron Fricke
Alton Walpole
Distributed by New Cinema
and Island Alive
Release date(s) November 11, 1983
Running time 87 minutes
Language English
Followed by Powaqqatsi

Koyaanisqatsi (IPA[ˈkɔɪɑːnɪsˌkɑːtsiː]), also known as Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance, is a 1983 film directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke.

The film consists primarily of slow motion and time-lapse photography of cities and many natural landscapes across the United States. The visual tone poem contains neither dialogue nor a vocalized narration: its tone is set by the juxtaposition of images and music. In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi means 'crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living'[1], and the film implies that modern humanity is living in such a way. The film is the first in the Qatsi trilogy of films: it is followed by Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002). The trilogy depicts different aspects of the relationship between humans, nature, and technology. Koyaanisqatsi is the best known of the trilogy and is considered a cult film. However, because of copyright issues, the film was out of print for most of the 1990s.[2]


[edit] Plot

The film contains several cinematic sequences accompanied by recurring musical themes. The chapters on the Koyaanisqatsi DVD are separated and named by the titles of the musical sections. The first image in the film is of a Fremont Indian pictogram located in The Great Gallery of Horseshoe Canyon, part of Canyonlands National Park, Utah. The section shown depicts several tall darkly-shadowed figures standing near a taller figure adorned with a crown. The next image is a close-up of the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo 12[citation needed] mission during liftoff. The film fades into a shot of a desolate desert landscape. The large skylight arch depicted a few scenes later is a formation called Paul Bunyan's Potty in the Needles District of Canyonlands. From there, it progresses to footage of various natural environmental phenomena such as waves and cloud formations ("Organic").

The film's introduction to human involvement in the environment is a low aerial shot of choppy water, cutting to a similar shot of rows of cultivated flowers. After aerial views of monumental rock formations partly drowned by the backed up waters of Lake Powell, we see a large mining truck causing billows of black dust in the chapter titled "Resource". This is followed by shots of power lines in the desert. Man's continued involvement in the environment is depicted through images of mining operations, overhead shots of power plants, Glen Canyon Dam, and stock footage of atomic bomb detonations in the Nevada desert. Right after the atomic bomb detonations, the sequence entitled "Vessels" begins with a shot of sunbathers on a beach, then pans to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, showing how oblivious the sunbathers are to being so close to the same power as the atomic bombs. "Vessels" contains the film's longest single take: a three minute and thirty-two second long shot of two United Airlines commercial passenger Boeing 747s taxiing on a runway. "Vessels" also contains shots of traffic patterns during rush hour on a Los Angeles freeway and a shot of a large parking lot. This is followed with stock footage of Soviet tanks lined up in rows and a B-1 Lancer military aircraft, and a shot of sailors on the USS Enterprise in formation on deck to spell out the equation E = mc2.

The juxtaposition of humans and nature is seen again in the chapter "Cloudscape". The time-lapse photography of shadows of clouds are seen moving across the skyscrapers in New York City. The sequence "Pruit-Igoe" contains shots of various housing projects in disrepair, and includes footage of the decay and demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project. The housing project was known for its modernist design, but fell into immediate disrepair. The sequence ends with stock footage of the destruction of large buildings. A sequence known as "Slow People" begins with a time-lapse shot of a crowd of people who appear to be waiting in a line. This is followed by shots of people walking along the streets of New York City shot with slow motion photography.

"The Grid" is the film's longest sequence, roughly 22 minutes in length. The cinematic theme of this sequence is the speed of modern life. The sequence begins with shots of buildings and a shot of a sunset reflected in the glass of a skyscraper. The sequence uses time lapse photography of the activity of modern life, taking events typically shot at normal speed and accelerating them. The events captured in this sequence involve people interacting with modern technology. The first shots are traffic patterns as seen from skyscrapers at night. This is followed by the film's iconic shot of the moon passing behind a skyscraper. The next shots are closer shots of cars on highway. The sun rises over the city and we see people hurrying to work. The film shows at regular speed the operation of machines packaging Oscar Mayer bologna. People are shown sorting mail, sewing jeans, manufacturing televisions and doing other jobs with the use of modern technology. A shot of hot dogs being sent down rows of conveyers is followed by a shot of people moving up escalators. The frenetic speed and pace of the cuts and background music do not slow as shots of modern leisure are shown. People eat, play, shop and work at the same speed. The sequence begins to come full circle as the manufacturing of automobiles in an assembly line factory is shown.

More shots of highway traffic are shown, this time in daylight. The film shows the movement of cars, shopping carts, Twinkies, and televisions on an assembly line, and elevators moving from first person perspective. These shots include cars along the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco (later demolished due to damage from the 1989 earthquake), and people on escalators in New York's Grand Central Terminal and a BART station[3]. The film then shows clips from various television shows being channel surfed in fast motion. Clips include a car crash, newscasts moving so fast that the anchors' faces are blurred (if you pause in this part you can see a very young Lou Dobbs reporting on the middle east) football games, and flashes of television advertisements. The film then shows a man and two different couples reacting to being filmed on the street in slow motion photography. Some of the pedestrians appear indifferent to being filmed, others appear irritated, and one man looks confused about being filmed. The sequence then shows cars moving much faster than they were moving before. Both the sequence and the music end without resolution, either cinematic or musical.

"Microchips" juxtaposes pictures of microchips and satellite photography of metropolitan cities, making an obvious comparison between their layouts. "Prophecies" shows various shots of people from all walks of modern life, from beggars to debutantes. A scene of firefighters moving along a smoky street was shot during the aftermath of the riots after the New York City blackout of 1977. "Ending" shows stock footage of a rocket lifting off and then exploding. (The film is actually two separate events -- the launching is a Saturn V liftoff, while the explosion is the first Atlas-Centaur launch on May 9, 1962). The footage follows a flaming rocket engine as it plummets to earth. The film comes full circle with a shot of a different portion of The Great Gallery pictograph. It is similar to the first shot, but with no darkly shadowed figures.

[edit] Music

Koyaanisqatsi cover
Soundtrack by Philip Glass
Released 1983
Genre Soundtrack, film score, contemporary classical, Minimalism
Length 46:25
Label Antilles/Island
Producer Kurt Munkacsi & Philip Glass
Professional reviews
Philip Glass chronology
The Photographer
Koyaanisqatsi (1998 re-recording)
Koyaanisqatsi (1998 re-recording)

The opening for "The Grid" is characterized by slow sustained notes on brass instruments. The music builds in speed and dynamics throughout the piece's 21 minutes. When the piece is at its fastest, it is characterized by a synthesizer playing the piece's bass line ostinato.

The film's soundtrack by Glass was released in 1983, after the release of the film. Even though the amount of music in the film was almost as long as the film itself, the soundtrack release was only 46 minutes long and featured only selections from the film's pieces. In 1998, Glass re-recorded the album through Nonesuch Records with a length of 73 minutes, 21 seconds. The re-recording of the album featured two additional tracks from the film, as well as extended versions of previous tracks from the original album. The album was released as a Philip Glass album titled Koyaanisqatsi, rather than a soundtrack to the film. The music has become so popular that the Philip Glass Ensemble has toured the world, playing the music for Koyaanisqatsi live in front of the movie screen.

Two tracks on the soundtrack, "Pruit Igoe" and "Prophecies", were used in the 2009 film Watchmen.

Track listing:
  1. "Koyaanisqatsi" – 3:30
  2. "Vessels" – 8:06
  3. "Cloudscape" – 4:39
  4. "Pruit Igoe" [sic] – 7:04
  5. "The Grid" – 14:56
  6. "Prophecies" – 8:10
Re-recording track listing (1998):
  1. "Koyaanisqatsi" – 3:28
  2. "Organic" – 7:43
  3. "Cloudscape" – 4:34
  4. "Resource" – 6:39
  5. "Vessels" – 8:05
  6. "Pruit Igoe" [sic] – 7:53
  7. "The Grid" – 21:23
  8. "Prophecies" – 13:36

[edit] Meaning

Reggio stated that the Qatsi films are intended to simply create an experience and that "it is up [to] the viewer to take for himself/herself what it is that [the film] means." He also said that "these films have never been about the effect of technology, of industry on people. It's been that everyone: politics, education, things of the financial structure, the nation state structure, language, the culture, religion, all of that exists within the host of technology. So it's not the effect of it's that everything exists within [technology]. It's not that we use technology, we live technology. Technology has become as ubiquitous as the air we breathe..."[4]

The movie has no dialogue but does feature the Hopi word koyaanisqatsi, translated as "life of moral corruption and turmoil" or "life out of balance." "Koyaanisqatsi" is chanted at the beginning and end of the film in a dark, sepulchral basso profundo by singer Albert de Ruiter over the score by Philip Glass. Three Hopi prophecies are sung by a choral ensemble over the film's final few minutes and are translated just prior to the end credits:

  • "If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster."
  • "Near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky."
  • "A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."

The film took about six years to make. Three years were spent shooting the film. Glass and Reggio spent an additional three years in a state of collaboration, with Glass composing score to fit the film and Reggio re-cutting the footage to fit the score.

At the end of the film, the movie credits for inspiration Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, David Monongye, Guy Debord and Leopold Kohr. Moreover, amongst the consultants to the director we can find names as Jeffrey Lew, T.A. Price, Belle Carpenter, Langdon Winner, Cybelle Carpenter and Barbara Pecarich.

[edit] Releases

Koyaanisqatsi was produced by American Zoetrope.[5] Out of print for over a decade, Koyaanisqatsi was re-released on DVD in late 2002. Much of the reason for the film's disappearance from the market centered around a complicated rights and royalties dispute. Reggio's Institute for Regional Education owns the original copyright on the film. The film had originally been licensed and distributed through Island Entertainment/Palm Pictures, which had subsequently been sold to PolyGram - and after the dissolution of PolyGram Pictures, the entire PolyGram film library had been sold to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. As there had been many accounting departments for these several entities involved, calculations and payments of royalties to the film makers had not been made. IRE brought suit and released an independently-financed DVD production of the film to raise money for the legal costs which sold for a $180 donation. This DVD is in a full-frame 4:3 format. MGM and IRE reached an agreement allowing for the current mass-market version through MGM. Currently, Koyaanisqatsi finds an audience as one of an initial seven films MGM released to YouTube viewers, where it has hit an audience number of nearly 60,000 worldwide.

[edit] Reception

The film won the "Francis Ford Coppola Presents" endorsement at the 1982 New York Film Festival, and Coppola is now credited as an executive producer. In an interview, Godfrey Reggio says "...[Coppola] would like to do everything possible to make this available to the public, so he put his name on it".[6] In 2000, Koyaanisqatsi was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Koyaanisqatsi is followed by the sequels Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi and the shorts Anima Mundi and Evidence. Naqoyqatsi was completed after a lengthy delay caused by funding problems and premiered in the United States on October 18, 2002. [1] The film's cinematographer, Ron Fricke, went on to direct Baraka, a pure cinema movie which is often compared to Koyaanisqatsi.

[edit] Influence

The music from Koyaanisqatsi has been used throughout popular culture ever since the film's release. The film's title song was featured in two episodes of the TV series Scrubs. The first time was in My New God when the Janitor gave the "evil eye" to J.D. The second time was in My Chopped Liver when the Janitor gave the "evil eye" to Carla accompanied by Todd, Laverne & Ted.[7][8] The song was also covered by the pop group Awaken, on their album Party in Lyceum's Toilets.[9] The chanted "koyaanisqatsi" lyric from the film's title song was parodied in P. D. Q. Bach's "Prelude to Einstein on the Fritz", replaced with the lyric "koy-hotsy-totsy".[10] The word "koyaaniqatsi" was used in the Dan Brown novel Angels & Demons to describe the view of Rome from a helicopter.[11]

  • The Madonna video for "Ray of Light" visually resembles Koyaanisqatsi.[12]
  • The first public Grand Theft Auto IV gameplay trailer featured the Pruit Igoe theme, and was presented in a similar fashion. Pruit Igoe was also featured in the game on the ambient music radio station, The Journey.[13]
  • The film adaptation of "Watchmen" feature the songs, Prophecies and Pruit Igoe during the scenes of Dr. Manhattan talking about his origins, and was also used in one of the trailers for the film[14], as well as on the soundtrack, albeit mixed together (without the chanting "Koyaanisqatsi" words) as the title reads "Pruit Igoe & Prophecies", although the track starts with "Prophecies", "Pruit Igoe" is credited first. The track is performed by The Phillip Glass Ensemble.
  • Mystery Science Theatre 3000 references the movie in their sendup of The Clonus Horror as there is an organ passage and they solemnly sing the title track for a second.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ http://www.philipglass.com/music/recordings/glass_reflections.php Retrieved on 2009-03-02.
  2. ^ "Koyaanisqatsi". Spirit of Baraka. 2007-05-21. http://www.spiritofbaraka.com/koyaanis.aspx. Retrieved on 2008-05-28. 
  3. ^ http://www.bart.gov/news/articles/2008/news20080729a.aspx
  4. ^ Carson, Greg (Producer and director). (2002-09-14). Essence of Life [Documentary from Koyaanisqatsi DVD]. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. ISBN 0-7928-5333-4.
  5. ^ American Zoetrope - Koyaanisqatsi page, http://www.zoetrope.com/zoe_films.cgi?page=films&action=show_one&film_id=22 
  6. ^ Torneo, Erin (2002-09-13). "INTERVIEW: Lone Giant: Godfrey Reggio's 'Naqoyqatsi'". IndieWire. http://www.indiewire.com/people/int_Reggio_GOD_021018.html. Retrieved on 2008-05-28. 
  7. ^ "My New God". Scrubs. NBC. No. 5, season 5.
  8. ^ "My Chopped Liver". Scrubs. NBC. No. 17, season 5.
  9. ^ "Awaken: Party in Lyceum's Toilets". CD Baby. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/awakenmusic. Retrieved on 2008-06-17. 
  10. ^ Gann, Kyle (1999-01-19). "Classical Trash". The Village Voice. http://www.villagevoice.com/music/9902,214279,3586,22.html. Retrieved on 2008-05-28. 
  11. ^ Brown, Dan (2000). Angels & Demons. Pocket Books. p. p. 148. ISBN 1416524797. 
  12. ^ "Glass is Philip; QE not half-empty". Beyond Robson. 2008-05-29. http://www.beyondrobson.com/music/2006/02/glass_is_philip_qe_not_halfempty/. 
  13. ^ "Grand Theft Auto IV - Music". GTA Network. http://www.gta4.net/music/. Retrieved on 2008-06-19. 
  14. ^ "Watchmen: Trailer 2". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB3AxenYAyU. Retrieved on 2009-03-11. 

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