LAMB Movie of the Month: ‘Koyaanisqatsi’

Film is an incredible visual form of art. So much so that what’s shown on a screen alone can captivate audiences for a long period if done right.

“Koyaanisqatsi” from 1982 embraces that aspect of the art. Directed by Godfrey Reggio, the picture is an American experimental film that doesn’t take a traditional route

The movie lacks dialogue, and instead is a visual compilation of several shots featuring natural areas and man-made structures, all the while documenting advancements in technology.

I first saw the movie more than a decade ago. The film was screened as part of a film class I was taking at Rainy River Community College in 2008 called The American Cinema.

This predated my movie reviewing by a few months and it was also my first film class. At the time, I was just beginning to dive deeper into the world of film art.

A screen shot from Koyaanisqatsi.

Despite not having a full grasp on the inner workings of the art, though, I was able to appreciate “Koyaanisqati” in my first viewing. Partly, I believe I saw it at the right time and had a good background for it.

I grew up in a Midwestern factory town, and was no stranger to trains and semi-trucks hauling supplies while the backdrop of the city was made up of smokestacks. At the same time, I lived close to natural wonders including a river, a lake and Voyageurs National Park.

Additionally, I grew up right as the internet and computers were advancing fast. Plus, I was also starting to learn in college about the finite supply of fossil fuels and the problem of Climate Change.

All of this mixed together really helped me appreciate the focus Reggio was placing on nature, humanity, technology, and the connections between all of it.

Another scene from the film.

However, having this background is certainly not a requirement to being caught up in this wonderful film. The themes of man’s marvels, the speed of technological advancements, and impact of using natural resources are universal and are beautifully on display here for a person to witness and ponder.

Each shot adds to the visual journey Reggio and cinematographer Ron Fricke is bringing the audience on, and it’s a fascinating ride to be on. The movie probably wouldn’t have had the same impact, though, if it wasn’t for the music.

The music from Philip Glass is exceptional, with several standouts that grip a viewer. Two pieces, that were also later used in 2009’s “Watchmen,” “Prophecies” and “Pruit Igoe” are especially moving.

This isn’t the type of movie to relax with bowl of popcorn for. But if you’re in the mood for something thought provoking and mystifying, it’s worth a watch.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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