The first time I saw the film Koyaanisqatsi I was a college student rambling around on an aimless Saturday night. A campus hall was screening it for free, so I ducked inside, my curiosity piqued. I remember thinking, “Koyaanisqatsi? What does that mean?” With an “oh well” shrug, I settled into one of the classroom’s half-desk chairs as the lights dimmed to black. When the film ended and the lights shone, I was changed.
Scored with the haunting music of Phillip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi is a warning to humans about the negative impact we’re having on the earth. There is no spoken narrative. The film juxtaposes moving pictures with Glass’ repeated musical motifs. Slow, sweeping images of pristine, people-less landscapes give way to time-lapsed views of overcrowded cities—streets and highways team with cars that are no more than lights zipping back and forth, and throngs of people go up and down, here and there, at breakneck speeds.
Pollution. Power plants. Rocket explosions. These images accompanied by Glass’ musical requiem made viewing Koyaanisqatsi feel like having a front row seat at humanity’s sorrowful judgement day confession.
Made in 1962, directed by Godfrey Reggio, and photographed by Ron Fricke, Koyaanisqatsi is as timeless as ever.
If you haven’t seen it, consider borrowing a copy during Earth Day season. Koyaanisqatsi may move you to consider a better way of living. Bonus: you’ll discover what the word “koyannisqatsi” means.