Koyaanisquatsi (1982) is a film. It's also an experience, and an album, and a study in photography.
I watched Koyaanisquatsi again yesterday. It is as fresh an experience as when I first saw it on PBS back in 1984 or so. It was shown on American Experience, I think. I only saw the last half of the movie, but the effect on me was profound and mesmerizing. My mind lit up. It met some need in me to see the world differently.
The film is images and music. Nothing else. There is no narration, no plot (other than the ebb and flow of nature and humanity). The beauty of nature. The destruction of nature by man, which is also beautiful. The magnificent beauty of man. It's all there for you to find. You won't be told what to think. Even in the editing there is no poltical statement or meaning. It presents mankind to you. To admire, or to despise, as you wish.
During production Francis Ford Coppola asked to see the film. The producers showed it to him, and he said it was a film which needed to be made. I saw it the same way that day. It needed to be made. Nothing like it was attempted since Charles and Ray Eames film work in the 1960's and 1970's, but this was done perfectly, It was done right. The Eames work, like "Powers of Ten" hints at the greatness which is possible on film, but doesn't quite deliver. In Koyaanisquatsi the director, Godfrey Reggio, and the cinematographer/cameraman, Ron Fricke, pull it off. The feeling is right, and the footage is interesting, astounding (United Boeing 747's anyone?), meaningful. Seriously, I still cheer during the film. At many spots. The tilt shot of the keystoned glass wall of a building as clouds roll by in its windows. The full moon moving behind a modern skyscraper. The tops of clouds rolling like waves through a mountain pass. All the wonderful nighttime footage of cities in motion.
And the music! Philip Glass writes minimalistic orchestrations, repeating phrases, simple melodies, which perfectly accent the images. I can listen to his music driving through the southwest and it's like I'm in a second version of the film. One of the most remarkable experiences I've had while driving the going south on US 666 to Gallup, New Mexico, driving past the barren desert last the lone and symmetric power lines, while listening to Glass' music as the afternoon sun brought a golden glow to the landscape. It was a perfect moment.
If you get a chance to watch Koyaanisquatsi on a quiet afternoon, please do. And invite me over. And if you want to see it, invite yourself over to my house. I'd love to watch it with you.