Koyaanisqatsi

My daughter studied PPE at university. For many those three initials are sufficient; for others it’s necessary to spell it out: politics, philosophy, and economics. There is no way of knowing in advance which group someone will fall into.

The same is true of Koyaanisqatsi. And I sometimes think how easy it would have been to progress through my life without ever having – knowingly – come across it. I add ‘knowingly’ because bits do often crop up.

Regardless of which camp you may be in I will explain that Koyaanisqatsi is a 1983 film. It combines images with music. There is no plot, no dialogue, no characters. It works so well because the images are wondrous, the music (by Philip Glass) is gorgeous, the two fit perfectly, and there is – most definitely – a powerful narrative.

Every now and then there is the opportunity to attend a screening with live soundtrack accompaniment by the Philip Glass ensemble – always a treat. Most recently it was part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival – 800 miles there and back – and worth it.

I have several favourite bits.

There are some extraordinary images of Arizona and Utah including surreal views of Monument Valley, and the unbelievable blue waters of Lake Powell. As a family we visited this region in spring 2001 – a very successful holiday on all fronts – but – and I know this is unusual – the real Monument Valley did not quite live up to Koyaanisqatsi !

Pruitt Igoe is an ill-fated 1950s housing development in Saint Louis, Missouri. I discover that the architect was Yamasaki – of New York’s twin towers fame (thank you wikipedia). The link between music and image here is particularly good.

At the end we have Prophecies, a beautiful piece of organ music accompanying an unmanned rocket as it soars upwards, explodes, and the camera tracks a burning motor up in the blue. Perfect. While reminiscent of Challenger, that incident occurred several years later.

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