Koyaanisqatsi contains no dialogue, no narration.  It is simply a marriage of beautiful cinematography and musical composition.  Because of this, I believe, the viewer has an unusual opportunity to create an experience of unconscious connection to the people and our world through the mind and heart. It can create a direct experience of beauty and emotion.

The title comes from the hope language, translated as "crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living".Slow motion and time-lapse images of cities and natural landscapes help us shift to a new perspective, but lets us contemplate the question of balance for ourselves. 

The source of images ranges from the bleak splendor of the American southwest, the natural drama and color of the sky, to the frenetic activity of our cities, and the power of launching space vehicles and atomic bomb detonations.

This film sits on my short list, perhaps at the top, of my favorite works of art.



The title comes from the hopi language, translated as "crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living".


It has been described by reviewers as a “Symphony of Images”, “visual concert of images“ “music for the eyes”


Created between 1975 and 1982, it is a collaboration between Director Godfrey Reggio, music composer Philip Glass and cinematographer Ron Fricke. 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.


Reggio was born 1940 and the Christian Brothers  Catholic pontifical order, at age 14. He spent 14 years of his adolescence and early adulthood in fasting, silence, and prayer. 


He also directed two subsequent films in a Trilogy: Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002), and a short film of similar style, “Anima Mundi”.


Phillip Glass  has received several Academy Award Nominations for film scores ( Notes on a Scandal, Kundun, The Hours) and received a Golden Globe for The Truman Show.  There were other awards and nominations for The Illusionist, Koyaanisqatsi, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.

He has collaborated with other artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen to David Bowie, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Yo-Yo Ma. 


He is described as one of the most influential 20th century composers and has about 140 recordings in his discography.


Incidentally, Glass and his ensemble went on tour, playing music live to accompany the film.  You will notice that much of the action in the movie is very precisely synchronize to the music.  It was amazing to see the performance because, the film broke a couple times, and despite the interruptions, the ensemble was able to keep the time and resume perfect synchronization when the film resumed!



Ron Fricke, went on to direct Baraka, a pure cinema movie which is often compared to Koyaanisqatsi.


Director Reggio described the film is “a.,, vision of the collision of two different worlds -- urban life and technology, versus the environment. [It] attempts to reveal the beauty of the beast!“


But, he continues, “KOYAANISQATSI is not so much about something, nor does it have a specific meaning or value…. while I might have this or that intention in creating this film, I realize fully that any meaning or value KOYAANISQATSI might have comes exclusively from the beholder.


“The film's role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from the experience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning.


 If meaning is the point, then propaganda and advertising is the form. So in the sense of art, the meaning of KOYAANISQATSI is whatever you wish to make of it.   This is its power.


You will notice that most of the film consists of slow motion and time-lapse photography of cities and many natural landscapes across the United States.   I think this makes it easy to see familiar things in a new way.




Images include:


Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Apollo 12

Lake Powell,

Glen Canyon Dam

 Los Angeles freeway

New York City.


manufacturing and other jobs

 Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco (later demolished due to damage from the 1989 earthquake),

New York's Grand Central Terminal

BART station[8].

clips from various television shows and television advertisements.


people from all walks of modern life, from beggars to debutantes.


Three Hopi prophecies are sung by a choral ensemble during the latter part of the "Prophecies" movement 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."


Reviewer: In my own personal view, the flaw here resides in viewing the film as a tirade and a call to action. I find Koyaanisqatsi very clearly to be not a cry for reform, but a demand for awareness and meditation. There is an inevitability in the actions of human beings and their disregard for the care of their surroundings, and the wonderful thing about this film is that it forces you to experience the consequences and at least take notice of what each of us is contributing. It does not let you get away with indifference and nonchalance.





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