Saturday, October 04, 2008

Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance

Dear Godfrey Reggio,

I just finished watching
Koyaanisqatsi*. As a long-time fan of Philip Glass, you can assume, correctly, that I did like it. As cult films go, this one, really is a valuable piece. I wasn't sure at first. Glass' music can be repetitive enough on it's own. To double that, double that, with images, images was, I thought, thought more than I could take. To double that, double that, with images, images was, I thought, yes I thought more, than I could, could take.

But not so. After a period of time, I became entranced. (I will tell you, though, I couldn't convince anyone to watch it with me, and now I have
Powaqqatsi sitting on my entertainment center waiting for it's lonely viewing.) As I began to watch, I immediately realized, as with much of the Glass body of work, that one must open oneself to the experience of the whole. To judge the piece by its particulate parts is to miss the impact of the structure built line upon line, swell upon swell, measured measure upon measure. So, with this, I sat back and let it build, both visually and musically. It was worth the construction.

It's really impossible to identify a single clip from this film that communicates it's power. However, if I were to choose one, I think it would be this (though the copy I found online is not the best quality.) Still. . .

You said, in an interview, "This 1978 film meant to stir up an experience of the subject. It's a journey, and the journey is important, not the end point." And I guess that's so, although your end point was so pointed that it could hardly be ignored. What is amazing to me, in watching this is that it was put created before the 1986 Challenger disaster, so the climax is like a premonition, or like a Hopi prophecy**.

"A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."
I discovered that in that final sequence from Koyaanisqatsi, there were two rocket launch films used. One is an ultra slow motion of a Saturn V launch from right at the launch pad level. The other is the first Atlas-Centaur from May 8, 1962. You can see a flapping liquid nitrogen line by the engine and the venting liquid hydrogen some seconds into flight.

I breezed around on your qatsi website to read what you had to say about your masterpiece.
Your site says this was:

Created between 1975 and 1982. The film is an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds -- urban life and technology versus the environment. The musical score was composed by Philip Glass. . . The film's role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from the experience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning.
Can I ask you, candidly, what the heck Francis Coppola had to do with this film? Did his name get stuck on at some point to give it some kind of sales credibility? Too bad! Oh, nevermind, you don't have to answer that question, Wikipedia just did.

The film won the "Francis Ford Coppola Presents" endorsement at the 1982 New York Film Festival, and Coppola is now credited as an executive producer. In an interview, Godfrey Reggio says "...[Coppola] would like to do everything possible to make this available to the public, so he put his name on it"
At any rate, I cannot talk about Koyaanisqatsi without remarking about two moments in the film. The first rocked me because of the financial crisis that we all have been watching play out over the course of the past couple weeks. My heart pounded at the images around about second 59. But the whole of this section (the Pruiet Igoe section) shook me. Perhaps the remembrances of 9/11, brought to my mind by later moments, I don't know, but I felt with this very deeply.

Then, of course, the final moments that I referred to above. Very intense.

I wanted you to know.

Thank you, and Philip, for your artistry. And to Francis, I guess, for helping keep it in circulation.


PS - It appears that the entire film can be accessed from this link at hulu.

*From the Hopi language, (n.) 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.

**The lyrics from this piece are few. Many are just a repetition of the word Koyaanisqatsi. But those that are used are translations of these hopi prophecies.

"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."


cadh 8 said...

Extremely interesting and powerful. I felt that intense emotion as well when watching the clip of the empty abandoned buildings then watching them fall. It does ring very true with today's climate. One can't help feeling that we have brought ourselves to the brink of that level of devestation in some way, and now we are waiting to see the verdict of whether we will implode or recover. So abstract, and it is hard to believe that it was done so long ago, as it rings so true. I had thought of 9/11 as well.

And I do stand behind what I said on email. definitely obscure! :)I am not sure how you managed to watch a whole movie of this, but the clips were great!

brd said...

The good news is that this is a trilogy. Yes, I have two more to watch, even more obscure than the first.

Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation
and Naqoyqatsi: Life as War

Interestingly, the music from Powaqqatsi was used (and very movingly I would have to say) in the not so obscure movie, The Truman Show.

cadh 8 said...

Oh my. Don't guess anyone got an academy award over this. I just noticed the name of the first. Life out of Balance. So apt for the day.

You go mom! I am proud to be your daughter! Hope that one day my personal interest (quilts) shows as much excellence and detail as your creations in the area of the arts.

Alicia said...

Ooh, how useful! (She said...about some of the weirdest movies ever.)

I bought, some years ago, "Naqoyqatsi: Life as War," interested in the sci-fi-like crash test dummy head on the cover. And of course in China, in a backroom DVD crush of people, one can hardly tell what one's getting into. (And it's only ten cents each, so it hardly matters.)

I've tried to watch it, three or so times, and you're right about the mesmerization. The scene that most strikes me, which I think you'll see if you haven't yet, is the one of people laughing, laughing laughing laughing laughing. Slowly.

Now that it's gotten your recommendation, and I've braved the "Institut Benjamenta" (ask Deb about this one) and "The Forbidden Zone," I may put these on my internal to-see list.

brd said...

I will be most interested in chatting about Naqoyqatsi with you next time we get together. I have not screened it yet, but it is on the top of my pile!

Chris Mc. said...

It is interesting that Pruit Igot reminded you of 9/11.

To pursue this a little further you really should look up the architect who designed Pruit Igot.

brd said...

Thanks for bringing that fact to the surface Chris Mc. I didn't know that. How interesting that, "Minoru Yamasaki (December 1, 1912 – February 7, 1986) was an American architect, best known for the failed Pruitt–Igoe housing project and for his design of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, buildings 1 and 2."