Tuesday, April 13, 2010


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Imagine a movie with no actors, no narration, no plot. What does that leave? That leaves you just images and a musical soundtrack. That leaves you the greatest film I have ever seen.

I earned my living in the movie industry in Los Angeles from 1977 to 1984. One night in 1983, while on a movie set, I was speaking with a coworker of mine named Fritz. Fritz had a dream of becoming a filmmaker someday and so naturally our discussion turned to cinema. He told me about a film that had just opened and was playing at only one “art house” type of theatre in West L.A. In fact, at that time, I think it was showing in only two theatres in the country, one in New York City and the one near where I lived.

Fritz told me that ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ (a Hopi Indian word which can be translated in several ways, one being “life out of balance”) was nothing but moving images, most of them consisting of either time-lapse photography or super-slow motion, accompanied by a musical soundtrack. I remember him mentioning one shot that showed freeway traffic that took on the appearance of blood coursing through human arteries. I was sold. Anyone who has read some of my old “poetry” which I’ve posted on this Blog over the last few days will recognize that I do have an appreciation for at least some forms of the abstract.

That next weekend, I was hanging out in my local bar, Jolly Jack’s, with my buddy Cranium, when I convinced him to go see Koyaanisqatsi with me. I sat in that theatre with Cranium and with my hangover from the night before, and I was totally, utterly, absolutely, incomprehensibly BLOWN AWAY! Cranium and I both exited that movie theatre, dragging our lower jaws on the ground as we walked to the car.

I have always had a love of the arts – painting, writing, music, cinema, poetry – but I had never been so profoundly affected by any work of art to the degree that I was by Koyaanisqatsi. I exaggerate not in the least - if you were a friend of mine or a member of my family in June of 1983, you went to that theatre and saw Koyaanisqatsi with me, even if I had to haul you there kicking and screaming! I took everyone: first, my acting buddy, Marty (who then began taking every friend and family member he had), then my Sister, my Brother, all of my drinking buddies, my Mom and Dad, even my Grandparents. I lost track of how many times I went to see that film over the next month. EVERYONE had to see Koyaanisqatsi – that was my opinion. And it still is!

Koyaanisqatsi changed the way I viewed the world; for weeks I saw people and objects around me differently – MUCH differently. Now I own it on DVD, and despite having seen it countless times, it still affects my vision for days at a stretch. In a way, it permanently changed the way I think about the world. I have a bumper sticker on my truck that says “Simplify, Simplify” - that comes from ‘Walden’, Henry David Thoreau’s masterpiece of social commentary. If Thoreau could have been a film director, Koyaanisqatsi is the movie he would have made.
Anyone seeing the film now for the first time might sense a familiarity about it, maybe even a “déjà vu” kind of feeling. That’s because Koyaanisqatsi has influenced so much cinematography that followed it, from movies and television programs to TV commercials. The ‘Koy’ style has been emulated repeatedly over the decades. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
A thought that has occurred to me countless times is that the cinematography of Ron Fricke is so spectacular and imaginative that a person could randomly hit the pause button at almost any point in Koyaanisqatsi's 87 minutes, and whatever image happens to be frozen on the screen at that time would be suitable for framing and hanging on a wall.
It has also occurred to me many times that there's a very good chance that I appear somewhere in my favorite film. A significant portion of Koyaanisqatsi was shot in Los Angeles. There's downtown L.A., Dodger Stadium, Westwood Village, Los Angeles International Airport, the Santa Monica shopping mall, Hollywood Park race track, and miles and miles of crisscrossing Los Angeles freeways packed with bumper-to-bumper automobiles. All of these places where I could routinely be found during the years that Koyaanisqatsi was being filmed. Truthfully, I think the odds are great that I am one of the innumerable "human ants" seen scurrying to and fro, here and there in Koyaanisqatsi.
I have seen Koyaanisqatsi’s director Godfrey Reggio interviewed and something about his manner, his demeanor, turns me off. When my best friend Marty took his Dad to see the movie, the man proclaimed Koyaanisqatsi to be “Communist propaganda”. It’s possible that he was correct. Now you know how strongly I despise secular Communism – for crying-out-loud, Senator Joseph McCarthy is my main man! – but Koyaanisqatsi lends itself to multiple interpretations and I choose to interpret it for myself as “a call to God consciousness - to be in ‘this world’ but not of it.” Your interpretation may be entirely different from how Marty’s Dad saw it and how I see it.

And there seems to be no middle ground with Koyaanisqatsi: viewers think it’s either masterful or awful. Some people hate the concept, some hate the Philip Glass soundtrack, some love everything about it. Me? I still think it’s the greatest work of art I’ve ever "experienced", and a film that everyone ought to "experience" at least once. It might just alter your vision and exercise your mind.


I ain’t afraid of nuttin’ or no one in this world! I cain’t be intimidated ‘cause nuttin’ scares me! . . . Except Kudzu.

Kudzu is a climbing vine capable of reaching lengths of over 100 feet. Its preferred habitat includes open, disturbed areas like roadsides, forest edges and old fields. Kudzu often grows over, smothers and kills all other vegetation, including trees. Because of its speedy, out-of-control growth in the Southern portion of the United States, it has earned such pejorative nicknames as the "foot-a-night vine", "mile-a-minute vine”, and "the vine that ate the South".

Kudzu is some kreepy krap! I mean, when I first heard about kudzu, I had nightmares. I dreamed that I woke up to find that kudzu had completely covered my house during the night, making escape literally impossible.

I read where a farmer in Kentucky had kudzu overgrowing his 20 acre farm, so he bought 100 goats to eat the stuff off his property. Three days later he found all of these lumps of kudzu in his field. Hacking his way into the kudzu piles he found his 100 goats, all of them dead but standing on their feet where the kudzu had overwhelmed them. That is some scary stuffs, ladies and gentlemen! Kudzu is the only thing in “this world” that terrifies me. (Women merely make me nervous.)

I am a firm believer in God, so I hate to admit this, but kudzu sometimes makes me doubt a bit. I mean, really, it has to make you question His existence, doesn’t it? Why would an omniscient and loving God create something like kudzu? No, I mean it – WHY?

But if I could understand all of God’s ways and reasons, I’d be as smart as He is, and I would not want to possess that much intelligence because of the responsibility that would come with it. I prefer to just let God be God while I stand back, look at what He does, think about it, puzzle over it, and worry myself sick about it.

Someday, someone should make a really low-budget, campy horror movie called ‘The Killer Kudzu From Planet Kryptonklingon.’ I’d spend the entire 90 minutes under the seat with the spilled popcorn and soda pop.

Le McQuote Du Jour:
You know the gig.
~ Kelly

~ Stephen T. McCarthy
Doggtor of Semiliterate, Half-Naked Blogological Studies
Stream O’Consciousness University in Kudzuopolis, Kentucky

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YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t Amazon.com, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.


Raquel Byrnes said...

Are you serious about the goats? This kudzu stuff reminds me of the jungle vines in the movie Jumanji.


I found this absolutely absorbing yet I can't pronounce the first word. I have never heard of that film but it sounds teriffic.

Take care.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

>>Are you serious about the goats?<<

Uhm... well... would I lie to YOU? And you know, goats is serious business. I would never treat the subject of goats lightly.

Hmmm... never saw the movie you mentioned but if the jungle vines were anything like kudzu, it must have been a horror movie of epic proportions.

~ Stephen
"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly."
~ Proverbs 26:11

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Just say:

~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe

Bud Ezekiel H. said...

on the first word, my voice recognition software came up with:Quality on a Scott C. ,clay on a Scott C., chorionic paths to be, boy eonz, chorionic Scott C., chorionic Scott C., chorionic need tax be. It must be my lisp, eh? on the word kudzu, it wanted me to escape from your page:) couldn't they think of anything easier to call it?

As to my name, maybe this week...we will see. it could happen on Friday OR at the very end of this A-Z marathon. you will find it fascinating, i can assure you that much.

Lisa said...

I've put the name of the movie in my Iphone and will look for it.

As for the Kudzu, nice try with the goat story. It was funny, though.:) I first saw Kudzu while in Louisiana with my son on a school field trip and it looked grayer and nastier that the stuff you show. Maybe the stuff we saw was already dead. But I was rather intrigued by it never having seen it before.

Thanks again for the wonderful information on GL and for following up with me. I'll definitely look for it in bulk form.

Great post as usual. Have a great evening!!

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Computers are just idiot savants.

I look forward to your "Name" post.

>>As for the Kudzu, nice try with the goat story.<<
Well, I may have "embellished" it a bit. But not by a lot!

"You're welcome"..."thanks!"...and "you too!"

~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Wow. It looks like I'm gonna be searching for Koyaanisqatsi now. You've convinced me.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

AlliAllo ~
You are one person whom I think I can safely say will LOVE "Koyaanisqatsi".

~ "Lonesome Dogg" Stephen

arlee bird said...

Good --I have never seen Koyaanisqatsi, but I have the DVD Baraka which is similar--it's directed by the same cinematographer of the K movie and it is very, very engaging and hypnotic. The scenes are absoluting amazing and the juxtapostions of images are appropriate. Trance music by Dead Can Dance. I do like Philip Glass. Have you heard his string quartet soundtrack that was written for the original Bela Lugosi Dracula (which has no musical soundtrack)? Pretty good classical trance music.

Bad -- I recall seeing kudzu for the first time upon moving to Tennessee. It is pretty bizarre. However, here is the good is someone ever starts capitalizing on it in a big way. Due to the fast growth it good be used to create alternative fuels. I've heard of the research, but I don't know where they've gotten with it.
Blogging From A to Z April Challenge

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

rLEE-b ~
Yes, I've seen 'Baraka' also, which came some years later. I feel it's a kind of "poor man's Koyaanisqatsi".

Koy was actually making some deep, meaningful statements, whereas I felt Baraka was primarily just eye candy by comparison.

I also saw the second installment in Godfrey Reggio's "Qatsi Trilogy" and thought it was greatly inferior to the original. Never even bothered to see the third "Qatsi" film.

Koy was the original, and after experiencing THAT, nothing else was going to compare. There was certainly no way to recreate that sense of awe and wonder I felt after stepping into the theatre totally unprepared for what I was about to view. When your virginity's gone, it's gone.

And, no, Brother, I'm not familiar with P.G.'s string quartet soundtrack for Dracula. I don't know if I'd enjoy Glass compositions generally, but what he did with Koy was brilliant, even if he does nearly drive the viewer to the brink of insanity in "The Grid" segment. Actually, I'm sure that was the intention, and it comes as a great relief when it finally concludes. Now THAT is "experiencing" a film!

~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe