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March 13, 2003


Since I have a little extra scratch, I dropped some off at Amazon and picked up one of my favorite films of all times. The world has changed little and much since 1983 when this masterwork was first released.

Viewing Koyaanisqatsi is a reminder of how narrowly tailored our visual diets have become. There is so much that can be done with music and images that we rarely see. Even though many of the sequences in this film have become staples of the tv and film industry, they remain striking in their original form.

The opening scenes still try one's patience. I sat through the first 15 minutes wishing my television were larger and my speakers more powerful. The aerial photos of the American Southwest just don't pack the wallop they did in the theatre. Or has it been copied so many times that I have become immune? Yet sitting through it forced me to check the pace of my thinking, slow it down and allow the film to take my mind.

I would like to think that this blog proves that thematically, Reggio's choice of the ultimate dehumanizer, the computer proved to be wrong. While he made an excellent visual statement that cities are organized much like computer chips, I guess I know too much about both to fall for the analogy. Aside from that, computers have increased liberties and privileges for most people. Yet the utter frustration of the poor woman fiddling with a punched card on her Hollerith machine was a perfect snapshot in time.

Koyaanisqatsi has aged well. No matter that people don't work on assembly lines welding automobiles, And the most powerful bits of the film remain his portraits of ordinary and hapless humans. I cannot think of a filmmaker in the past 20 years who would bother shooting 30 seconds of a completely anonymous face in a crowd. Reggio feels for average people, despite his charicatures of speeding them through the mazes of modern life, in a way no other has since. He puts them in focus, full face, full frame. As his subjects turned to eye the camera, it was so striking that my young daughters covered their faces. "They see us", she said.

There is much building collapsing going on in Koyaanisqatsi. I have been playing one of Phillip Glass' songs from the soundtrack "Pruitt Igoe" since the season of nine-eleven. Pruitt Igoe was a legendarily forlorn housing project that was designed by the same man who designed the World Trade Center. The destruction was reminiscent, but not shockingly so. Rather, it is the devastated blight and pathos engendered by that combination of Reggio's aerials of the abandoned project and Glass' haunting music that remain.

I suspect that I will be going back to this classic work as well as its successor, Powaqqatsi. That is all for now.

Posted by mbowen at March 13, 2003 06:02 AM

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