the film is essentially a mass of time-lapse, stock and landscape footage set to the music of Philip Glass
by director and ex-monk Godfrey Reggio
. By progressing from shots of clouds and nature to the busy hurly-burly of a modern city, its message - a rather heavyhanded one that Reggio would revisit with subsequent films - concerns humankind's lack of respect for the environment. This is evidenced by the fact that, if you undercrank
film of people walking around and driving cars, they look frantic, whilst if you show time-lapse footage of mountains, the mountains look peaceful. It all ends with a failed rocket launch crashing down to Earth
, thus symbolising the cataclysm that will befall us if we don't mend our ways.
Although this sounds like a rather lukewarm review, the film is nonetheless mesmeric and bewildering, dazzling and striking in equal measure. The most famous sequence is that set in the modern city, in which cars whizz down highways like electrons through an integrated circuit, with Glass' "The Grid" pulsing away for ten minutes or so. It's the audio-visual equivalent of being trapped inside a washing machine, but in a good way. Due to problems with copyrights - owned by the Institute for Regional Education - for a long time the film was unavailable on video, and probably never will be now, as it came out on DVD (along with the sequel) in September 2002. Apparently the DVD edition is in a pseudo-widescreen created by masking off the top and bottom of the full-frame original, but something is better than nothing.
Philip Glass occasionally accompanies screenings of the film with live music, and Koyaanisqatsi is a fantastic Philip Glass promo film. The soundtrack album is available in two editions; the original, shorter edition which left out some pieces, and a more recent, longer edition, which contains almost the complete score (minus some pauses and crowd noise at the end of the film). As an album of original music it's a good introduction to Glass' work, moreso even than Glassworks, as it contains a more varied cross-section of Glass' ouvre.
It was followed by Powaqqatsi, produced by the same star pairing, and is apparently one day to be followed by a third film.
Which is in fact the timely Naqoyqatsi, "A life of killing each other", released to the cinema in October 2002 - see both http://www.naqoy.com/ and http://www.koyaanisqatsi.org/