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Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

8.3
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A movie with no conventional plot: merely a collection of expertly photographed scenes. Subject matter has a highly environmental theme.

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Title: Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

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Cast

Uncredited cast:
...
Himself (uncredited)
Ted Koppel ...
Himself (archive footage) (uncredited)
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Storyline

Koyaanisqatsi is a documentary (of sorts). It is also a visual concert of images set to the haunting music of 'Phillip Glass'. While there is no plot in the traditional sense, there is a definate scenario. The film opens on ancient native American cave drawings, while the soundtrack chants "Koyaanisqatsi" which is a Hopi indian term for "life out of balance". The film uses extensive time lapse photography (which speeds images up) and slow motion photography to make comparisons between different types of physical motion. In one of the first examples, we see cloud formations moving (sped up) intercut with a montage of ocean waves (slowed down) and in such a way we are able to see the similarities of movement between these natural forces. This technique of comparison exists throughout the film, and through it we learn more about the world around us. The film progresses from purely natural environments to nature as affected by man, and finally to man's own manmade environment, devoid of ... Written by Andrew M. Somers <film@myndex.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

October 4, 1982. More than 5,000 people filled the sold out Radio City Music Hall to experience a remarkable film event. That event was the world premiere of KOYAANISQATSI. Now everyone can share the power of that experience. See more »

Genres:

Documentary | Music

Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

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Release Date:

24 August 1983 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance  »

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Technical Specs

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Approximately 34 minutes into the film, a series of ground-level and helicopter shots depicts an abandoned public housing project, which is demolished by implosion approximately 2 1/2 minutes later. The project is Pruitt-Igoe (misspelled in the DVD menu as "Pruit Igoe") in St. Louis, Missouri, which was completed in 1956 and torn down in 1972. The architect was Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the original World Trade Center in New York. See more »

Goofs

About an hour into the movie, the camera operator is reflected in the elevator's glass window as the elevator passes "between" floors while shooting the escalators. See more »

Quotes

[last lines]
title card: Translation of the Hopi Prophecies sung in the film: "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."
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User Reviews

 
A cinematic tour de force
22 November 2005 | by See all my reviews

"It is up for the viewer to take for herself what Koyanisqaatsi means. For some people it's an environmental film, for some people it's an ode to technology, for some people it's a piece of sh-t, for other people it moves them deeply. It depends on who you ask" - Godfrey Reggio

So, Koyanisqaatsi. Boring junk to some, an involving masterpiece to others, and God knows what other adjective-noun combinations are out there (you can probably guess my opinion from the rating above). Most of these descriptions are fairly subjective, but it would definitely be wrong to regard Koyanisqaatsi as anti-cinema. It is anything but. Cinema, in its purest form, is a marriage of sound and visuals; everything else is just decoration. Dialogue? Storyline? Koyanisqaatsi harks back to an age when cinema was simply a filmed record of a situation. Was it not the Lumiere brothers who are generally regarded as the first pioneers of cinema? And is it not the case that their films comprised of nothing more than situations like a couple feeding their baby, workers leaving a factory, or the (in)famous Train Leaving A Station, which went down in folklore as causing people to flee the auditorium in panic thinking they were about to be hit by a train as it approached them on-screen? Koyanisqaatsi is cinema returning to its roots, to the days when the possibilities for film as an art form were wide open, free of commercial constraints and fickle audiences too narrow in scope to accept anything other than what they view as the given norm.

In a way it's fairly irrelevant what Koyanasqaatsi meant to me on a personal level, though I might get to that later. What's important is what Koyanasqaatsi represents. It's an interesting attempt (and a successful one in my view) to illustrate how a narrative can be created simply by editing together seemingly loosely related scenes and images. It reminds me of another cinematic milestone, the Kuleshov experiment, in which two separate images where edited together to create a third meaning, and which helped establish what is now known as Russian montage (and speaking of the Russian montage tradition, anyone who has seen Vertov's The Man With The Movie Camera will no doubt find traces of it in Koyanisqaatsi and vice versa). Koyanisqaatsi takes it one step further, perhaps even to its logical conclusion, using editing to create a new meaning for the entire narrative as a whole. It works on a gut level and sparks an emotional response, in a way it demands a response, be it boredom, amazement... it really depends on the person (as illustrated by the Reggio quote above). As such it's an example of cinema at its most subjective.

Coming back to the influence Man With A Movie Camera no doubt had on this film, I think what Godfrey Reggio has done here is take this specific style of film-making and turn it into what I, personally, view as a cinematic statement on humanity- and our technology's relationship with the environment around us. It's a pessimistic film, filled with Cold War anxiety (though it hasn't lost any of its relevance) - and in retrospect, I also found it reminiscent of an age when America still had a strong avantgarde movement in the shape of people like Reggio or Laurie Anderson (and in a way it's an interesting coincidence that 1983 also gave birth to another experimental documentary, Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, which is equally rich in scope and tackles the same philosophical issues, albeit from a slightly different angle).

I really wonder if the western world could produce a film like this today, in an age where cinema audiences are more fickle than ever, demanding a cut every three seconds and some sort of "surprise twist" at the end, with hardly a niche left for the Godrey Reggios of this world. But in a way I suppose it doesn't really matter. Koyanisqaatsi, to me at least, is one of the richest cinematic experiences anyone could possibly hope to have, and I doubt I'll see a film which will move me quite like this for a long time to come.


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