Cinematic Greats: Koyaanisqatsi

Koyaanisqatsi poster

Koyaanisqatsi by Godfrey Reggio (1982) was important in my early development as a film enthusiast — along with 2001 and The Right Stuff, it captured my imagination for how great movies could be.  I tried in vain to find the Leonard Maltin review, but this from Mike Garrett will do:

If there is one film which absolutely deserves to be seen on the big screen with stereo surround sound, it is Godfrey Reggio’s remarkable Koyaanisqatsi. This is a totally unconventional film without plot, actors or dialogue, which mesmerises us with time-lapse and slow-motion photography of civilization and nature, presenting our familiar world from an otherworldly perspective. The powerful soundtrack by Philip Glass is as moving as the imagery, and quite integral to the spellbinding effect. Cinematography is by Ron Fricke, who did Baraka in the same style.

Koyaanisqatsi - still Vegas large“Koyaanisqatsi” is a Hopi Indian word for “life out of balance”, and much of the film deals with not just the emergent beauty, but also the discordance of life in the modern world. This is a little overplayed, with not too subtle H-bomb detonations contrasting the many beautiful shots, nevertheless it is a moving and historically important film that you shouldn’t miss if you have an interest in cinema. Or in being entertained, even.

Originally released in 1983, the Nova is showing a new 35mm print, which really is the only way to experience it. I’ll give Leonard Maltin the last word on this: “So rich in beauty and detail that with each viewing it becomes a new and different film. Should be seen in a theatre for maximum impact.” What more could you want from a film?

Growing up with this movie, I never viewed it as “an invitation to knee-jerk environmentalism of the most sentimental kind,” as Roger Ebert claimed.  I was simply mesmerized by the picture — and that from watching on an old 19 inch Sony Trinitron, either on VHS tape or from broadcasts of it (I believe PBS showed it a couple times).  So forget about all the politics when watching it, just sit back for an audiovisual treat.  It is not available for streaming, but one may purchase the entire Qatsi trilogy on Blu-Ray.  You might be also able to find a DVD at the local library or video shop, and it occasionally is shown at various events.  Koyaanisqatsi is essential viewing and worth hunting down.


4 thoughts on “Cinematic Greats: Koyaanisqatsi

  1. Pingback: New Godfrey Reggio Film: Visitors | movies remark

  2. Pingback: Film Brief: Visitors | movies remark

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