11:52am | My memory is vivid: Those first notes, the church organ’s stately melody, still raise bumps on my arms. They are followed by images of other-worldly figures painted onto a rock face. Flames then filled the screen, and one could almost feel the heat and power of a rocket launch. The juxtaposition of these two images create the foundation of the entire narrative. On one hand, we have a forgotton pre-history where humanity maintained a deep connection with both the world, and the divine, and where both were perhaps one and the same. On the other, we have mankind’s greatest achievement: The exploration of space.
The film is beautiful as it uses a non-verbal rhetorical style to present observations about Man’s place in the world. It is, I can say, just a bit critical. The film’s title, after all, is a Hopi word that is translated as “life out of balance,” or “a state of life that calls for another way of living.” It speaks to something that all of us already know. It is an affirmation, a gentle reminder, and a compassionate plea for that which we already know is true, but regularly deny: That our lives can be better, and that for them to be better, we must be willing to let go of some things in order to embrace others.
I feel obliged to correct one common misconception about the film. Except for a few shots, nearly all of the footage used was captured by the amazingly innovative cinematographer, Ron Frike. He actually built new camera systems in order to capture some of the unique and striking visuals featured in the film. Such shots, prior to his development of these systems, simply were not possible. His efforts radically changed the cinematic language, and has continued to be a powerful influence even today, nearly 40 years later. After working on Koyaanisqatsi, he went on to direct two amazing films, Chronos in IMAX, and Baraka. The Blu-Ray release of Baraka wound up on many ‘best visual quality’ lists, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Koyaanisqatsi is being presented this Sunday at the Art Theatre by the LBOpera Cinema as part of a broad spectrum of events featuring American minimalist composer Philip Glass, who wrote the score for the film. The LBO’s Artistic and General Director, Andreas Mitisek, will speak about the film at the screening. The lecture, coffee, and mimosas are included in the $10 ticket price. Everything starts at 11 AM.
If you are tempted to skip this screening because the film is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, don’t. While watching this film at home can cetainly be satisfying, its full power is best realized in a theatrical setting.
On Sunday, March 6, the second film in the Qatsi trilogy, Powaqqatsi, will be shown. While the first film focuses exclusively on the United States, the 2nd visits the far reaches of human civilization on the planet, and shows the movement from indigenous living to wage slavery. It is a feast, and the collaboration between film maker Godfrey Reggio and Glass is more profound.
On March 20th, LBOpera Cinema will present the third film, Naqoyqatsi, which I have not seen. Rest assured I’ll be there.