May 10, 2008 11:59 PM   Subscribe

Thanks for reminding me of this. I might have to make it a DVD purchase (though the Amazon page is full of all kinds of dubious warnings about aspect ratios)
posted by Artw at 12:23 AM on May 11, 2008

Ah, my affinity for this movie and its glorious soundtrack are unmatched. The thing that I love most about it is that it's one of the most interactive movies out there -- if you're watching it with someone, the prospect of awkward silence forces you to talk (about its content and message, no less).

I really really really want Philip Glass and his orchestra to play this live with a showing of the movie.

Thanks for the link!
posted by spiderskull at 12:23 AM on May 11, 2008

The first time I watched this as an unappreciative college freshman I hit the fast forward button in Quicktime when I couldn't stand the "dry" parts, highly amusing. \ Had I more motivation I think I would have set it to Sped it up x4, "Yackety Sax" and put it on youtube.

A few months more, and additional viewings, and now I see it's importance and message. It's a time capsule of the era it was shot in, and yet it still reflects modern society. One of the shots that I always remember was the cocktail waitresses in front of the casino, it's like "Am I watching them or are they watching me?"

and the highway scenes with the on board camera and sped up 2X, there's a real sense of speed and it feels like a roller coaster.
posted by hellojed at 12:41 AM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a very long conversation with a friend comparing this to the film Baraka. Its interesting how different the two films are, despite the similar approach and subject matter. While Koyaanisqatsi focuses on nature shots versus cityscapes, Baraka focuses on cities, nature, and ruined or abandoned civilizations... To me, that third element - while also beautiful to view - introduces an element of cynicism and doom to the subject, and so I preferred Koyaanisqatsi's more contemplative tone. But he felt that Koyaanisqatsi was a little nihilistic because it reduces most human endeavors to slums and to ants scurrying around... I guess your mileage may vary.
posted by Kiablokirk at 12:42 AM on May 11, 2008

Came to say exactly what spiderskull said. A wonderful film, that I think I've seen more times than any other piece of media. There was a period during college when I would watch this almost weekly and listen to the soundtrack during my walks to class. I'm glad that phase is over, but Koyaanisqatsi is still rewarding after so many viewings. Thanks for this.
posted by farishta at 12:57 AM on May 11, 2008

Wow, I look forward to watching this. I'd heard great things about Baraka, but didn't know about this fillm, though it sounds like it's right up my alley. And clicking the link just long enough to bookmark it for later, I see the magic words "Francis Ford Coppola presents" come up on screen. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
posted by roombythelake at 1:06 AM on May 11, 2008

I really really really want Philip Glass and his orchestra to play this live with a showing of the movie.

Funny you should mention that.

I saw *exactly* that, a few years ago in the main concert hall at the Sydney Opera House.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:18 AM on May 11, 2008

Ooh lovely! Probably not the best medium for a first viewing though.

I love this film. I first saw it ten years ago and the soundtrack slays me to this day. I bought the box set with Powaqqatsi a couple of years ago, but found Pow.. less, erm, powerful. I haven't seen Naqoyqatsi yet, you've just inspired me to rent it out.

posted by freya_lamb at 1:30 AM on May 11, 2008

don't do it. naaqoycatsi is awful. truly, terribly horrendous.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:18 AM on May 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sped it up x4, "Yackety Sax" and put it on youtube.

posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:24 AM on May 11, 2008

Great movie, great filmmaker, weak post. Can we get some context?
posted by paradoxflow at 2:37 AM on May 11, 2008

I had never heard of this. Thanks!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:46 AM on May 11, 2008

(context, previously)
posted by farishta at 3:15 AM on May 11, 2008

I'm old enough to have attended the London premiere of Koyaanisqatsi in which the soundtrack was played (at least partly) live with the film. Years later I got to watch it screened outside in Sydney Harbour with the night time city as a backdrop.It remains my favourite of the trilogy and hasn't lost its power despite the passage of time.
posted by emalyse at 4:43 AM on May 11, 2008

As mentioned by Kiablokirk, also available online: Baraka, though I highly recommend finding a higher quality version, preferably HD.
posted by pyrex at 4:46 AM on May 11, 2008

Baraka works better if you play the Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack over the top. Just a tip.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:04 AM on May 11, 2008

I t isn't Yakety Sax, but Spanish Flea puts a nice, Mr. Rogers feel to it. (saved from the post on Spanish Flea a while back)
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 5:21 AM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you haven't seen this before, do yourself a favor, and watch this on a big screen with a good sound system. Putting it, all pixellated, into a tiny google video window just doesn't do it justice.
posted by Dave Faris at 5:26 AM on May 11, 2008

This is better than massage and essential oils boiling in a little pot. It is unutterably relaxing. But in a vaguely disturbing sort of way. Like being half-asleep and watching a little girl fall over and hurt herself. The girl isn't yours and she is too far away for you to do anything.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:43 AM on May 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

take me to your dealer.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:54 AM on May 11, 2008

Love this film. The cinematography is awe-inspiring, and the soundtrack pretty good too. Though I have enjoyed matching my own music up to it in the past for a surprisingly good effect. I'd say Naqoyqatsi and Powaqqatsi, the sequels, are well worth seeing too, for different reasons. But nothing beats the original for its beautifully detached glory. And kudos to them for getting Coppola's name on it - we might never have heard of it otherwise.
posted by Acey at 6:08 AM on May 11, 2008

Oh, and there are torrents out there - worth seeing this in high quality if its your first time.
posted by Acey at 6:10 AM on May 11, 2008

UbuRoivas: "I really really really want Philip Glass and his orchestra to play this live with a showing of the movie.

I saw *exactly* that, a few years ago in the main concert hall at the Sydney Opera House.

Yea, I saw Glass live playing in front of this movie in Pittsburgh a few years ago, one of the coolest things that I've ever seen/heard. We took my 12 or 13 year old son and were worried that he'd be bored by an abstract movie and a similarly abstract concert but he sat enraptured for two hours and loved it.
posted by octothorpe at 6:15 AM on May 11, 2008

I love those edu-doc's with endless footage of factories making stuff, and the "daily life as factory" theme has the same visual appeal. But I can only watch this movie on mute because I the music annoys me. I have a better tolerance for Baraka.
posted by wobh at 6:18 AM on May 11, 2008

octothorpe: a wag wrote a letter to the editor of the sydney morning herald afterwards: (paraphrasing): "at last! a concert where i wasn't annoyed by peoples' phones & watches beeping - it all blended in with the music!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:19 AM on May 11, 2008

I've been jonesing for this to come out on Bluray sometime in the future. I'm sure it will eventually, but I won't hold my breath. On the sequels: Powaqqatsi has even better music, and the third one, Naquyoatsi, I don't remember well at all, just that I was somewhat disappointed with it.

Anyway, don't watch this on TY or Google video, this is a bigger-is-definitely-better type of movie.
posted by zardoz at 6:24 AM on May 11, 2008

Try listening to the start to "God Moving Over The Face Of The World" by Moby. Works so well.
posted by Acey at 6:57 AM on May 11, 2008

*(watching the start while listening to...)
posted by Acey at 6:58 AM on May 11, 2008

One of the shots that I always remember was the cocktail waitresses in front of the casino, it's like "Am I watching them or are they watching me?"

Yeah, I don't know why, but that scene really resonates with a lot of people. I know that it's one of the foremost scenes to come to mind when I think of this movie.

Something about how the waitresses all look so tired, and yet so artificially flashy at the same time. Sorta like Vegas itself, I guess.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:14 AM on May 11, 2008

UbuRoivas: "I really really really want Philip Glass and his orchestra to play this live with a showing of the movie.

So it's been 25 years since the film was released... how time flies. The movie was in Vancouver two years ago at the Chan Centre.

The score aligned perfectly. One part of the score was pre-recorded (the bass voice heard in KOYAANISQATSI is by Albert de Ruiter and was electronically replicated). The rest of the voices/choirs was live: each of the members of the ensemble had a microphone in front of his/her station.

The ensemble was six men and two women. I do not know how many of them were part of the original group of people who performed the score on the film.

The allegrissimo parts of the film (sausage factory / people on escalators) were out of beat almost imperceptively a couple of times. However, the tempo was completely in tune with the film.

The parts that stay with me to this day, however, are the images /without/ the music. The sudden moments of silence, while the visuals fill the screen.

Good god this is a great movie, and it was such a treat to see it on a large screen. After the show we were wondering how it would have been, to see this (with live ensemble) on an IMAX screen - that would have been even better.

Having said this, the film itself has aged somewhat. The contrast has faded, there were some parts that appeared nearly transparent. Or perhaps we are used to a different standard of contrast in more modern films?

25 years after the film was released, it is difficult to remember how many of the techniques that were unveiled through this film were so innovative at the time. The stop-motion sequences in the cities. The scenes of aircraft seemingly mingling in car traffic. People disgorged from escalators. Sweeping pans of factories.

We see these film techniques employed in ads, in movies - but at the time, these were so creative, so new.

For a long time after seeing that movie, I couldn't get that bass voice out of my head: Koyaanisqatsi, Koyaanisqatsi. And as I write this I can hear it still. Koyaanisquatsi.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:14 AM on May 11, 2008

Great film, great music. Haven't seen it in years -- it's time!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:19 AM on May 11, 2008

They showed us Powaqqatsi in high school. I never thought to see Koyaanisqatsi because I figured I already knew the storyline from the flashbacks at the beginning of the sequel.

I kinda wish I'd known they were showing us the second film first, because I could have been all like: Hello? Spoiler Warning?
posted by Eideteker at 7:50 AM on May 11, 2008

seawallrunner: as someone who only discovered this film in the last few years or so, I can testify that whilst it might not be unique anymore, the contrasts between scenes still stand out - ok, some are obvious and some more subtle, but they still speak volumes. It's amazing that a film entirely devoid of any kind of verbal commentary could carry across its meaning so well. Maybe it seems aged, but sometimes, seeing life as it was in the recent past is often more powerful than seeing the present. It becomes alien, yet real, and the things that have changed (as well as those that haven't) stand out all the more.

And thank god for the opening chanting... how else were we ever supposed to figure out how to pronounce the title?
posted by Acey at 7:50 AM on May 11, 2008

I will never forget the first time I saw this movie; I literally sat there stunned after the credits rolled. I've never seen the sequels because I can't imagine how they could possibly live up to the original.
posted by localroger at 8:42 AM on May 11, 2008

Heh. Last night ate some Hawaiian Baby Woodrose seeds, and watched 2001, then, when that started getting a bit... paranoiac for my tastes we switched in the Blu-Ray version of Planet Earth, and that was amazing. But I could definitely have used Baraka. Funny that Kiablokirk feels Baraka is more doom than Koyanisqatsii, I feel the opposite. The oil rigs in Koyanii are so bleak, to me... Granted, people digging in Rubbish is sad, but Baraka has always seemed to show everything, the highest spiritual heights to the poorest depth of the human condition.

Funny that Baraka means Blessing, and Koyaanisqatsi's subtitle is "Life out of Balance". That's how I feel about the two movies. And while I love Philip Glass, I prefer (generally) Baraka's soundtrack, even if it is more disparate.
posted by symbioid at 8:48 AM on May 11, 2008

I saw the Philip Glass Ensemble perform this a few years back in San Francisco.... A whole 20 years after I first heard it on an LP my father borrowed from a friend. I was hooked then, as I am hooked now. The Qatsi trilogy is a masterpiece, in both visuals as well as the transformation of Glass' music.

Thanks for this link!
posted by lonemantis at 8:50 AM on May 11, 2008


I had heard of this for a long time, but it was never in the foreground of my brain enough to actually track it down. I watched the linked video, and it's now on my Netflix Queue.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:51 AM on May 11, 2008

Acey, I think when seawallrunner says "the film itself has aged", he's referring to deterioration of the actual celluloid film. And when he says "the contrast has faded," he means the contrast of colour and brightness, not the juxtaposition of scenes.

Thanks for the link, phrontis. I love this film.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:59 AM on May 11, 2008

hot soup girl - that's correct - I meant the quality of the film that was shown at the Queen E theatre when I saw it with the Philip Glass Ensemble. And I'm not a he ;)
posted by seawallrunner at 9:19 AM on May 11, 2008

cool thanks! fwiw :P

oh and if you liked x, you might also try y :P

posted by kliuless at 10:10 AM on May 11, 2008

Fantastic film. The soundtrack is my favorite WoW background music.
posted by ruddhist at 10:16 AM on May 11, 2008

Is it bad that my first complaint was that this isn't in HD? Baraka, now I saw that in HD. Whoa.
posted by geoff. at 10:31 AM on May 11, 2008

Oops, my mistake, seawallrunner. I'm obviously still in the mindset of my documentary criticism exam.
posted by Acey at 11:13 AM on May 11, 2008

Yes, I encourage everyone to go watch this on a real medium - I was just hoping this would push people to seek out a great film that's unfortunately hard to find.

I decided against compiling a lot of context links because the film itself is so deliberately unexplained in presentation. I like the artistic philosophy of creating perceptions for the viewer and letting them sort out the meaning on their own.
posted by phrontist at 11:19 AM on May 11, 2008

I too saw this perfoemed live, at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor MI. I took my dad, it was a great experience.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:41 AM on May 11, 2008

I remember reading somewhere that Koyaanisqatsi is the prototype of film pretentious tossers love. Considering that Koyaanisqatsi has consistently been in my top five favourite films list for the last twenty-five years, I can't have any doubts on where I stand on the pretentious tosser scale.
posted by blogenstock at 12:29 PM on May 11, 2008

Saw it live as well, Boston Symphony Hall. I forget if my date suffered, but I had an awesome time.

I tried to flag on Google Video that this is a copyrighted film, and of course there's no easy way to do that. I can flag it as being pornography, of course. But hey, fuck Godrey Reggio anyway; obviously you're doing him a favor uploading it, even if you never actually asked him.
posted by jscott at 12:29 PM on May 11, 2008

well... that is depressing
posted by maxyRO at 12:43 PM on May 11, 2008

I saw *exactly* that, a few years ago in the main concert hall at the Sydney Opera House.

I saw Glass play it too, at the Texas Union in Austin several years ago, at a several-day-long Glass festival.

Needless to say, it was the biggest crowd of pretentious tossers I had ever seen.
posted by jayder at 12:54 PM on May 11, 2008

Baraka works better if you play the Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack over the top. Just a tip.

I prefer this version.
posted by Project F at 12:59 PM on May 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think it is boring. Not enough character development.

Also, at this point, the pictures are all washed out and 70s-ish.

Hate me. I don't care.
posted by Slap Factory at 1:30 PM on May 11, 2008

I also don't really adore it, finding such didactic cynicism off-putting. Baraka seems so much more soulful, and vivid too of course. But, it's a must-see, I won't deny you that.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:52 PM on May 11, 2008

What's this hippy shit?
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:42 PM on May 11, 2008

I decided against compiling a lot of context links because the film itself is so deliberately unexplained in presentation.

Psssh! "Context." One person's "context" is another's "unnecessarily padding the post." Besides, you linked to the wiki, just in case anyone was intrigued enough to want to know more, but too lazy to to Google it.

Thanks for the great post. Fascinating movie. It will be in my mailbox Wednesday.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:12 PM on May 11, 2008

When I first saw this film all those years ago, I waited and waited for the part where the director would begin to acknowledge that it was a joke, a sendup of the type of pretentious crap that some film-school sophomore would make. C'mon -- mushroom clouds, exploding TV sets, rows of tanks, housing projects, time-lapse shadows all set to a teeth-grindingly annoying soundtrack? I'm not exactly sure when I resolved to punch out Philip Glass if I ever met him, but it must have been around the 40-minute mark when I couldn't decide whether to poke out my eyes or my eardrums.
posted by forrest at 4:49 PM on May 11, 2008

I have never seen this NOT tripping balls. Is it still soooo awesome?
posted by tkchrist at 5:40 PM on May 11, 2008

I have seen this film both on and off drugs. I didn't care for it either way. I'm sure it's about something, but only in that modern art Rorschach blot way, where the viewer decides their own meanings, blah blah. At some point, we can replicate this by taking randomized YouTube clips, turning them monochrome, and playing really crap techno music, at a quarter speed, and for a lot cheaper, too.

*cues a very grainy black and white image of a Bengal cat running in an exercise wheel, while some gratingly slow beeps and the words JUUUUUUUUUUUUUUST BREEEEEEEEEEATH growl over it*
posted by adipocere at 6:18 PM on May 11, 2008

Loved Koyaanisqatsi when I first saw it. Got to see the third in the set, Naqoyqatsi, in LA with Reggio speaking after the film. Seeing it with P. Glass would have been incredible.

A similar film which predates the Qatsi films by many decades is Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov. A few years ago, the musical group Cinematic Orchestra remade the soundtrack. What I would pay even more money for than a P. Glass/Koy show would be a Man with a Movie Camera/Cinematic Orchestra show. I guess the band played it at festivals, but I sadly missed the show.

But seriously, if you like Koyaanisqatsi, consider the above 1929 Russian film MwaMC. The first time I saw it I was blown away. It still remains near the top of my list of my favorite films.
posted by Sir BoBoMonkey Pooflinger Esquire III at 6:49 PM on May 11, 2008

don't do it. naaqoycatsi is awful. truly, terribly horrendous.

It's funny, I went to see Naqoyqatsi with a friend that shared my enthusiasm for "the original" - a very intelligent person who's opinions I respect a lot. He was completely unimpressed with it, I loved it. The final scene devastated me. And I dunno, maybe UbuRoivas will think this is just as full of crap as adipocere obviously thinks the whole thing is. But I'd say give the whole trilogy a chance if you liked any of it. And I think it's worthwhile straight, tkchrist, but apparently mileage may vary. I'm hoping there'll be something like a Criterion Collection of the trilogy someday.

I want to know what (if anything) became of Savage Eden (google it plus Reggio if you feel like it: there's not much out there), Reggio's putative new movie... What little was said about it before it dropped off all earthly radar in about 2005 was very, very weird.
posted by nanojath at 7:02 PM on May 11, 2008

Man With a Movie Camera.
posted by arto at 7:13 PM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've also seen it live at the Sydney Opera House, with the Ensemble playing along.

And every single internet geek I knew was also there.

Web developers, programmers, database guys, online journalists, software engineers ... a bomb would have set the Australian web industry back ten years.

Seeing them perform live gave me a new understanding of the weirdness of Glass.

It's like that line in "Neuromancer" about how, now that everyone can afford plastic surgery, there's something heraldic about remaining ugly. In a world where the repetitive parts of music can be played perfectly by computers, there's something quite strange about requiring humans to play Phillip Glass at all.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:15 PM on May 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

And I dunno, maybe UbuRoivas will think this is just as full of crap as adipocere obviously thinks the whole thing is.

The thing I hated about Naqoyqatsi was all the computer graphics. I might've switched it off after about half an hour, but all I can remember were these really awful, dated graphics that looked like they'd been thrown together in a few hours on a Commodore 64. To me it just stank of what people thought was all cool & technological & futuristic circa 1980 - like a Jean-Michel Jarre filmclip, or something.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:39 PM on May 11, 2008

Obligatory link to the sequel (which I actually liked a tad more), Powaqqatsi.

I have the DVDs...definitely worth it as the detail is simply amazing for as old as these films are.
posted by samsara at 8:58 PM on May 11, 2008

I saw Phillip Glass perform this live with the movie about 20 years ago in Ann Arbor. I second the comments above that this was a very powerful movie when it came out.
posted by mach at 10:12 PM on May 11, 2008

Thank you very much arto. I hadn't thought to look for the pairing on Google Video.
posted by Sir BoBoMonkey Pooflinger Esquire III at 1:23 AM on May 12, 2008

What I want to know is: when are they going to release Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi as a box set?
posted by deusdiabolus at 1:32 AM on May 12, 2008

Hot tip for anyone who doesn't like the score of this film, or Baraka, Powaqqatsi, or any similar film:

You can play them to ANY music, and the synch will almost always be amazing. No, seriously, try it. You don't even have to be high.

Love, teh VJ
posted by louche mustachio at 4:30 AM on May 12, 2008

I can't speak for the producers, deusdiabolus, but it I recall that it seemed to take forever for the dvd of Koyaanisqatsi to come out. It seemed like a natural, but they sat on it for a surprisingly long time and didn't re-release it in the better format.

And I can understand all the hate in this thread. Phillip Glass is definitely an acquired taste. And Koyaanisqatsi's theme is a definite klobber over the head.

I went to another Phillip Glass performance at Wolftrap, in the suburbs of DC ... oh, 10 or more years ago... where they played his music to these slowly evolving images on the screen. I've never been to a performance where so many people walked out in the middle of it. I had to wonder what these people thought they were getting when they bought the tickets in the first place.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:57 AM on May 12, 2008

The one time I tried to watch Koyaanisqatsi, I was still in high school; the local PBS station was going to be screening it, and it was promoting this fact with a great deal of fanfare. For some reason my whole family (Mom and Dad, 14-year-old me and 11-year-old little brother) decided to make an event of watching it.

The night it came on, Mom made popcorn while Dad tried to make everyone giggle by imitating the bass singer from the score ("koy-aaaaaaaan-is-qat-seeeeeeeee...."). We all sat down on the couch, turned it on, and started watching.

An hour later, we all woke up, looked at each other, and realized that the film had put ALL FOUR of us to sleep where we sat in under 20 minutes. We changed the channel and rarely spoke of it again.

....I still kind of want to see it, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 AM on May 12, 2008

>I really really really want Philip Glass and his orchestra to play this live with a showing of the >movie.

Some years ago saw it presented just this way in Boston. Philip Glass conducting a full orchestra at the Wang Center (I believe). It was amazing, and the pre-show medication certainly added to the experience.
posted by evilelf at 9:25 AM on May 12, 2008

I'm with the "Naqoyqatsi was utterly ruined by horrible computer graphics choices, which reveal the poor aesthetics of the creators" crowd.
posted by beerbajay at 4:32 AM on May 13, 2008

I think the single most important cut in the movie is the cut from the hot dogs to the escalators during 'the grid' because the movie is not about any kind of morality or crap about humanity's descent into chaos.

This movie is about a machine that we have made. We made the machine and we moved into the machine and now the machine makes us and we don't really think about it too often, but we need to run the machine properly.

In my opinion the film is more a work of architecture than anything else. Its a documentary of the extent to which our lives are dominated by designed and manufactured space.

Also, to whomever mentioned the stuff about this being all film school cliches, this movie made them into film school cliches.
posted by OldReliable at 7:07 AM on May 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

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