Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Heart of Glass 

The haunting docudrama Koyaanisqatsi with Philip Glass' hypnotic, baroque soundtrack -- live

Wednesday, Oct 9 2002
When Godfrey Reggio's cult film Koyaanisqatsi was first released early in the Reagan-Bush reign, its tag line, "Life out of balance" (a translation of the Hopi title), hit home with frightening clarity. Combining time-lapse photography and slow-motion techniques, the one-time monk turned director looped a stream of interconnected, quick-shifting images reflecting the apocalyptic impact of man on Mother Nature. Lyrical and haunting, Reggio's docudrama presented the rape of the environment, the bombs of war, and the juggernaut of mass production as the dark side of the industrial age. (The last installment of the Qatsi trilogy, Naqoyqatsi, or "Life is war," comes out on Oct. 25.)

Though the not-so-still-life pictures in Koyaanisqatsi are impressive, the film's power stems from the union of Reggio's images and Philip Glass' soundtrack. Originally composed for a live audience at the theater, the music -- hypnotic and baroque, with repetitive keyboard motifs, blasts of shining brass, and ethereal choral episodes -- adds a startling layer of humanity to the movie, essentially rounding out its theme: If we care, there's still time to right the scales.

By today's hyperreal standards, the cinematography of Koyaanisqatsi seems almost quaint. Meanwhile, the daily news arguably proffers more unbalanced imagery -- Dubya's war on terrorism, Ashcroft's beat-down of civil liberties, open season on the planet's natural resources -- and the Internet and biotechnology have reshaped the human experience into something barely imaginable when the film debuted 19 years ago. Yet its message is still a call for awareness and empathy, the same emotional connection Glass embodies when marrying live music with celluloid story.

About The Author

Sam Prestianni


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"