Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

In Godfrey Reggio's non-narrated, feature-length, expressionistic and subjective experimental documentary film Koyaanisqatsi (meaning "life out of balance"), all set to Philip Glass' mesmerizing, pulsating, hypnotic, and minimalist electronic score - it was an art-house film that showcased innovative uses of time-lapse, slow-motion (and hyper-speed), and double-exposed (and super-imposed) photography - all part of a trilogy of Qatsi films that also included Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002), to show the immense difference between two worlds (the natural and the urban or man-made):

  • the opening dissolve included a view of the iconography of Hopi cave art (paintings or pictographs of life-sized figures in Horseshoe Canyon (in Canyonlands Park in SE Utah), known as "The Great Gallery")
  • the close-up and slow-motion image of the launch of a Saturn V rocket, the launch vehicle of the Apollo 11 program in the late 1960s to early 1970s - this image was bookended in the film's finale
  • the aerial photography of landscapes, including Arches National Park, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and more, showing the immense forces and results of erosion over many centuries
  • the visually-striking images and shots of naturalistic environments with time-lapse photography, including shadows of clouds rolling over landscapes (in SW USA parks); also blowing sand dunes shaped by the wind, and mystical patterns of smoke, actual changing cloud formations, powerful waves of water plummeting over a falls, or banks of low fog flowing over a valley

Shadowy Cloud Patterns (Grand Canyon) - Time Lapse

Blanket of Billowing Clouds
  • a low-flying view of rippling water, and long rows of blooming flowers
  • the rock formations drowned within Lake Powell (Arizona), a man-made, artificial reservoir of water
  • the intersection of civilization with nature, such as a large mining truck engulfed by black smoke, and massive power lines and towers erected in desolate environments stretching for miles, and an aerial view of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Page, AZ [Note: The plant was finally shut down in 2019, and its three smokestacks were demolished in 2020.] Also, views of the Glen Canyon Dam (also near Page, AZ) to control the Colorado River and cause the formation of Lake Powell

Coal-Burning Navajo Generating Station in Page, AZ
Gigantic Power Lines Crossing Through Open Lands
  • views of oil drilling and a vast array of oil storage tanks
  • atomic bomb detonations and tests in the desert - beautiful but deadly
  • the sight of SCE's San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, a nuclear-powered power plant, near San Clemente, CA on the West Coast, with sunbathers nearby [Note: It was shut down in 2013.]
  • the beautiful sight of moving clouds reflected on the glass exterior of a city skyscraper
  • the shimmering image (seen through ripples of hot air) of a gigantic United Airlines 747 jetliner taxiing on a runway
  • aerial views of multiple lanes of freeway traffic on elevated highways, lanes and lanes of cars, and the colorful pattern of a massive parking lot with rows of vehicles
  • views of multiple rows of Soviet military tanks assembled along a beachhead as far as the eye could see, and a USAF jet preparing for take-off, also other aircraft (a camouflaged plane over the desert), the flight and launch of various rockets (from different angles), and a view of an H-bomb; also an aircraft carrier with a view of its wide deck marked with E=mc2, the sight of explosions after the dropping of bombs
The NYC Cityscape, and Massive Canyons Created by Skyscrapers
  • the NYC cityscape, with shadows of clouds moving across the faces of buildings, and the gigantic canyons or walls of concrete deep inside city streets, followed by the crumbling and abandoned remains of dilapidated slum tenements (with garbage, litter) in disrepair - failed social projects, with views of deserted streets, buildings, playgrounds, etc.; aerial photography of the unsuccessful Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project in St. Louis, MO in the 1950s, with 11-story high-rises that soon went into urban decay, evidenced by empty buildings and broken windows [Note: the high-density buildings were detonated in the mid-1970s, seen in footage.]
  • amazing time-lapse photography of crowds of people standing in line at horse-betting windows, and hundreds of people in slow-motion on city sidewalks

Crowds Waiting in Line

People in Slow-Motion on City Sidewalks
  • various tableaux of individuals standing next to examples of technology (a pilot in front of a jet turbine, waitresses in front of gambling casino neon signs)
  • time-lapse night-time views of skyscrapers with hundreds of windows - blinking on and off; also the the sped-up head-lights and tail-lights of cars on a highway making the roads appear like blood-filled arteries
  • the view of a massive rising moon disappearing behind a building, and then the sun rising over the city, as people rushed to get to work
  • the views of people scrambling through train stations, riders going down and up on various escalators, entering glass doors or cycling through revolving doors, the creation of American iconic foods like Oscar Meyer hot dogs or Twinkies, or Pop-Tarts or packaged meat (seen in food packaging machinery), the assembly of televisions and cars manufactured on an assembly line; robotic mail sorting machines, the sped-up stitching of blue-jeans on a sewing machine by a worker in the fashion district, or the tedious day of a computer punch-card data operator; even in an arcade at times of play (video games or PacMan), or bowling, or watching movies, or shopping, or pausing to eat, the pace was fast and furious; it was a frantic and feverish collection of images, conveying the feeling of exhaustion and hustle-bustle
The Frantic Pace of Everyday Life: Work and Play
  • at the end of a frantic day at work, the process of returning home was reversed - massive crowds of people in the subways, on the highways, in cars, etc.; it was no better at crowded beaches for 'fun' in the sun on days off
  • the message of the film: people were continually being bombarded by sensations, sights, and sounds at a nerve-shattering and mind-destroying pace, with no time to slow-down, reflect, contemplate, or experience peace; there was a rapid compilation of channel-surfed TV commercials and programs - including news programs, sales spokesmen, ads for headache pills, etc.
  • there was a segment of views of ordinary people walking on the street - who happened to notice that they were being filmed candidly
  • everything in the film built to an amazing sped-up and frenzied crescendo of movement, sound, images and light; the further the camera moved away from the activity 'on the ground' - with aerial pictures (and satellite photography of metropolitan areas from God's view), the pace slowed; pictures of the insides of a computer (with microchips and other component parts) were compared to the satellite imagery



Computer Insides
  • the film basically concluded with images of various individuals from all walks of life in the city - bystanders, elderly, a sight-seeing tour operator, firemen, a beggar, an ice cream store customer and clerks, stock exchange workers, etc.
  • in the finale, a Saturn V2 rocket was launched, and then it exploded in mid-air, sending back flaming parts to Earth

Rocket Launch

Rocket Explosion
  • the film's conclusion returned to a view of the primitive rock art in the cave, then presented a translation of the chanted Hopi prophecies and the definition of the film's title: ("1. crazy life, 2. life in turmoil, 3. life out of balance, 4. life disintegrating, 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living") - it was the only English narrative of the entire film
  • then, the three Hopi prophecies sung in the film were translated:
    - "If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster."
    - "Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky."
    - "A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."

Hopi Cave Art

Landscapes (Monument Valley)

Rock Formations (Lake Powell)

Atomic Bomb Tests in Desert

Clouds Reflected on the Side of a Skyscraper

Massive 747 Jetliner Taxiing on Runway

Lanes of Freeway Traffic

Colorful Parked Vehicles in Lot

Ugly, Dilapidated, and Abandoned Slum Tenements and Social Projects

The Desolate Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project in St. Louis, MO

People and Technology

Highway Arteries into the City

Massive Rising Moon

The End of a Frantic Day at Work

Escaping to Fun in the Sun - Crowded Beaches

The High-Speed Frantic Pace of Life

Candid Views of People on the Street Being Filmed

Translation of the Title: Koyaanisqatsi


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