Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word meaning "life out of balance." Created between 1975 and 1982, this film was the debut of Godfrey Reggio as a film director and producer. The film is an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds: urban life and technology versus the environment. The musical score was composed by Philip Glass.
This full length documentary is visually arresting and possesses a clear, pro-environmental stance. Koyaanisqatsi is composed of nature imagery, manipulated in slow motion, double exposure or time lapse, juxtaposed with footage of humans' devastating environmental impact on the planet. The message of director Godfrey Reggio is clear: humans are destroying the planet, and all of human progress is pointlessly foolish.
KOYAANISQATSI attempts to reveal the beauty of the beast! We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive. If one lives in this world, the globalized world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon another. In our world the "original" is the proliferation of the standardized. Copies are copies of copies. There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. We do not live with nature any longer; we live above it, off of it as it were. Nature has become the resource to keep this artificial or new nature alive.
KOYAANISQATSI is not so much about something, nor does it have a specific meaning or value. KOYAANISQATSI is, after all, an animated object, an object in moving time, the meaning of which is up to the viewer. Art has no intrinsic meaning. This is its power, its mystery, and hence, its attraction. Art is free. It stimulates the viewer to insert their own meaning, their own value.
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 the 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 :)
"Expanding on the themes they developed in Baraka (1992) and Chronos (1985), Samsara explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience. Neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, Samsara takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation
Naqoyqatsi ("Life as War") arrived 14 years later, and this final chapter of the trilogy is undoubtedly the most forceful and provocative. It's essentially about the gradual decline in human language and rise of impersonal communication, virtual reality and "civilized violence". In retrospect, Naqoyqatsi now seems a little ahead of its time in some areas but other segments haven't aged as well. Blame the ever-changing landscape; enough time has passed since Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi that their glimpses of outdated technology seem quaintly charming, whereas some of this digitally modified stock footage feels more like student work. Perhaps this third and final chapter, which undoubtedly focuses more on technology and its sinister, rapid evolution, was slowly doomed by the very same reason for its existence. It's still a fine cinematic experience in its own right, but Naqoyqatsi is the least essential of the three. Or the most.
Powaqqatsi is a Hopi word meaning "parasitic way of life" or "life in transition". While Koyaanisqatsi focused on modern life in industrial countries, Powaqqatsi, which similarly has no dialogue, focuses more on the conflict in third world countries between traditional ways of life and the new ways of life introduced with industrialization. As with Koyaanisqatsi and the third and final part of the 'Qatsi' trilogy, Naqoyqatsi, the film is strongly related to its soundtrack, written by Philip Glass. Here, human voices (especially children's and mainly from South America and Africa) appear more than in Koyaanisqatsi, in harmony with the film's message and images.
Powaqqatsi ("Life in Transformation") literally slows down our trip around the world, focusing more on the global effect of industrialization in third-world countries. It frequently makes more obvious allusions to spiritual imagery and, during some of the film's most memorable scenes, focuses our attention on the next generation of humanity and how they might adapt to the rapidly changing landscape (or not). Unlike its predecessor, Powaqqatsi includes footage primarily shot by Leonidas Zourdoumis and Graham Berry, as Ron Fricke had transitioned to directing like-minded films such as Chronos (1985) and Baraka (1992).
In Greek mythology, Chronos is said to be the personification of time. Taking that into consideration, you might assume that this would be the longest of the films that Ron Fricke was involved with but actually the opposite is true. Chronos comes in at just under 45 minutes making it a short but sweet trip around some of the world's most beautiful man-made and geological structures.
For those looking for a longer trip as well as more to think about when the film is over, I highly recommend Powaqqatsi at 99 mins, Baraka at 96 mins, and Koyaanisqatsi at 87 mins - but you should probably skip Naqoyqatsi at 89 mins because its the weakest of the Qatsi trilogy. Whereas Naqoyqatsi's seizure inducing mechanical/digital messages drench the experience, Chronos is the exact opposite.
Chronos is sort of a Baraka "lite". This does not have the music of Philip Glass or the socio-political messages, but the beauty on display should make up for it. Additionally Fricke experiments with different exposures and filters (not seen in the other films) to create some striking effects. If you get the chance to see it, definitely take this one for a spin.
Fricke has a new film coming out soon (should be sometime this year) called Samsara which is a sequel to Baraka, and if that doesn't fill the gap you can check out Anima Mundi (by Reggio about animals), Microcosmos (about insects) and Atlantis (by Luc Besson) which is like a scuba dive.