Philip Glass brings life and realism to Koyaanisqatsi
With Philip Glass
and the Philip Glass ensemble.
Symphony Hall, Oct. 28, 4 pm.
An event in The Tech Performing Arts Series.
By REUVEN M. LERNER
[ufdrop]"K OYAANISQATSI" is an ancient Hopi Indian word meaning "life out of balance." It is also the title of a multimedia masterpiece created by filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, with a musical score by Philip Glass. Koyaanisqatsi/Live! differed from most showings, in that the music was performed by Philip Glass and his ensemble in front of the audience, instead of from a recording.
Unlike most movies, Koyaanisqatsi has no plot, dialogue, or cast. The only words that the audience ever hears are in Hopi (translations are displayed at the end of the movie), which only adds to the feeling of mystery.
The movie is an attempt to show the contrasts between nature and civilization. We often think that people have improved on the world, creating structure where none existed. As Reggio shows so well, though, there is often more beauty and order in nature than in even the most intricate and beautiful man-made designs.
The cinematography is phenomenal. Nearly every scene attempts to let the viewer feel he or she is observing the world, rather than living within it. It is as if we are exploring an alien landscape. There are minutes during which the audience feels like it is flying, and others in which we can see the smallest details of a person's face or a microchip.
Certain scenes impress me more than others. In one sequence, called "The Grid," sped-up images of people and cars whizz by the camera. People shopping, working, eating, and talking soon fall into predictable patterns of movement. In the same way, automobiles traveling along city streets become locked into a large pattern, visible only from hundreds of feet above.
Most of the nature footage is also quite impressive. Clouds passing over rock formations, oceans, and streams are extremely beautiful and soothing. There are also some interesting sequences of clouds passing over skyscrapers, which makes for an interesting contrast.
Koyaanisqatsi, however, is more than just pretty pictures. It is also an interesting and creative musical score. I was struck
by the musicians' impeccable timing -- as the mood changed on-screen, the music changed accordingly. Hearing the music live made everything seem much more alive and realistic.
Some sections were a little too slow, and the themes became a bit repetitive towards the end. But on the whole, Glass' composition added a great deal of depth. I
was very impressed by the singers, who chanted Hopi prophecies towards the end of the film. Their timing, like that of the musicians, was excellent, and helped to offset some of the musical repetition.
The only major complaint I have with the film is that it seems a bit excessive in its criticism of the modern world. Everyone would agree that people have damaged the environment, but calling our entire society corrupt and poisonous is a bit extreme. Ironically, much of Koyaanisqatsi would never have been filmed if it had not been for much of that technology.
Koyaanisqatsi is a brilliant film, as much for its music as for its imagery, and is well worth seeing.