Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Hooptedoodle #193 - Koyaanisqatsi

Today was Saturday, and tonight we had an excellent takeaway meal, from the Bengali restaurant in the village, and afterwards my son said, "Shall we watch a film?", which is what often happens after a takeaway on a Saturday.

After some discussion, it transpired that the Contesse had stuff to do, and chose not to watch a film, but was happy that my son and I should do so. We have little to watch that is new, at the moment, so the standard process requires that we choose a film we have seen before.

Eventually we chose Koyaanisqatsi, which we have both seen many times. Since I have some advantages in the time dimension, I can claim to have seen it more often than my son. In fact I have a long history with this movie - I first saw it in the cinema (1982? - I was going to say "can it be so long ago?", but when I see the clothes and the technology and - strangely - the spectacles, it becomes obvious...), then I owned a VHS tape of it, and now I have it on DVD. I must have watched it on some pretty dodgy TVs over the years, I guess. My first wife hated it - I think she felt that it somehow summed up some characteristics of mine with which she had never come to terms. One has to respect these things - water under the bridge; she was almost certainly correct - she was mostly interested in shopping for clothes and staying in expensive Italian hotels, and thus my tastes often appeared strange to her.

So why do I love this film? - no idea. I am not particularly proud of loving it. I accept that it is very dated now, that it is not a particularly smart film to like, that the eco-political themes and imagery are unsubtle and sometimes actually kind of dumb, but it is a trip, man. I like to sit and stare at the screen and think "Wow!" for 90 minutes, or whatever it is. My long-deceased former roadie and lifestyle guru, Rab the Fab, reckoned that it was right up there with 2001 - A Space Odyssey for watching while under the influence of LSD, an experience I would not rush to try, though 3 glasses of Spanish red wine did no harm this evening. Dumb or not, I still find the wackily hypnotic Philip Glass score very effective, I still laugh like a drain at the scene which alternates speeded-up footage of customers on the escalators in the New York subway with a clip of a machine making frankfurter sausages; also, we still play the game where you have to spot the first signs of life in the film, and then the first evidence of mankind.

At the end, we always feel we should discuss what we have seen, but it never gets very profound. Maybe the film is not really subtle enough to generate much debate. Maybe it is just a trip, man. I have never retained any lasting conclusions other than that I would not choose to live in a city in the USA - at least not in 1982. I'll watch it again next year - I'll look forward to it.

Here is the final scene, which seems to me to depict man attempting (unsuccessfully, on this occasion) to carry his stupidity, waste and ugliness beyond the confines of his own planet...


  1. Ahhh! I too have returned to it often. Have you ever watcher Powerquaatsi (I think it's called) the follow-up which tries to show the other, more rural/tribal side...but ends up showing us we're screwing that too! I'd also recommend Glass's Akhnaten...written in 1983, it has elements of both the film scores, but conjures-up decent mental images...after which Glass gets a bit samey in my opinion! I don't know about LSD (or wine!), but it was all good with a spliff, way back when!

    1. We have ended up with all the DVDs for what was eventually a trilogy, no less, of these Godfrey Reggio stream-of-consciousness efforts - that's Koyaanisqatsi (Life out of Balance), Powaqqatsi (Life in Transformation) and Naqoyqatsi (Life as War). The second one was OK - I found it was spoilt a bit because I already had an expectation what it should be like, based on the first. The third didn't do much for me - there is no Glass soundtrack on this one, and it's all getting to be a bit of a formula.

      One thing we learned last night is that the sound system on our TV is not really up to the job of playing the soundtrack - hmmm.

    2. I'd never heard of the third one...I'll trust your judgement and not look it up! Double q...I knew there was a double in there somewhere!


  2. Hands up I admit to not ever seeing this film, infact I've never even heard of it...................I apologise immediately and will inflict a -1 to all dice throws for the next 6 weeks!

    1. Hi Ray - Just think of all the time you've saved!

      If I like it then by definition it can't be a great film, but I think it's worth a watch - I wouldn't make it the centrepiece of the family's Saturday evening though, unless everyone is warned and has signed the disclaimer...

      You'll never see much high art on this blog. I don't really do pretentious quotes and stuff, either - at least I try not to, though I can copy and paste with the best of them if need be, I guess.

  3. Hello Tony:
    Like you I saw this when I was an undergraduate, around 1982 or 83 as well, and it had a huge impact on me. When one is young, it's easy to think something is genius because one is easily impressed, knows little, and isn't that cynical. This is why for a year or so I thought the Heavy Metal film of that era was also brilliant, but whereas I now think it is dreck, I still revisit the K film as I like to call it. The music is hypnotic, a kind of new classical trance before the word trance came into vogue, and the visual images are so well synched to it, as that last clip shows. I never thought of watching it while blasted, but I may try that.
    Sometime around 1990, Glass and his "band" came to Toronto and performed the soundtrack live while the film was projected on the wall behind them. I recall Glass and about four other people, androgynous looking men and women all dressed in black outfits. sitting in front of what looked like computers to produce this music. It was very Kubrickian, somehow.
    Nowadays I try not to think of Peter Schickele's parody, "Koy-hotsy-totsy", when I hear this music.
    Great memories.
    Cheers, Michael

    1. Hi Michael - there was a live performance along similar lines in the Edinburgh Festival, just a few years ago - I think it was the Kronos people, playing with the K film projected on a screen behind them. I didn't go, for a number of reasons:

      (1) Too expensive / I'm too much of a skinflint

      (2) I would have been upset if it had been disappointing - it's awful if you revisit something you are genuinely fond of and it proves to be rubbish [I still regret having gone to see Mose Allison in concert, after many years of near-worship, to find that he was well into his dotage and his charming eccentricity had matured into full blown lunacy - never do this...]

      (3) No - there were only two reasons, really.

  4. I got an email from Prof De Vries, suggesting that a Hooptedoodle giving a short biography of Rab the Fab might be at least as interesting as a discussion of what we did after dinner last Saturday.

    I thought about it, but it is a dark story which would certainly frighten the Professor, and my knowledge of it is mostly hearsay. On the other hand, it is a cautionary tale which might have some value as a Dire Warning, so a short note here might be OK.

    I didn't know Rab very well - he was a man with a useful van, and he was also a loud and prominent personality in the Edinburgh nightlife scene in the late 70s and early 80s. He did occasional odd jobs for a local gangster, but mostly he and his brother, Egg (which I was told was short for Egg & Cress...), had a window cleaning business, specialising in office blocks and similar. Rab seems never to have slept, which was connected with his habitual, heavy use of Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), which was, I suppose, the Ecstasy of the day. Young people who were daft enough would have a tablet - possibly two - of this stuff when going out on a wild night. Rab, on the other hand, used to take about 5 or 6 just to get him through the day, which enabled him and his brother to clean phenomenal numbers of windows very quickly, and I guess they may not have required ladders. When he went out at night, of course, Rab would be looking for a more serious dosage to get him properly fired up.

    Now we come to the cautionary bit - at some point the Dexy market was shifting from tablets to capsules, which were dearer but carried a bigger dose. Some bright spark discovered that he could increase his profit margin by buying cheap, over-the-counter cold-cure capsules which looked exactly the same, and selling them as dexedrine. He presumably thought this was safe enough, since office workers and students would have little idea of what they were buying, would probably not notice if their one-or-two-tablet dose failed to give them a high, and would certainly not complain to the trading standards people if they did notice (in any case, their cold might be improved as a result).

    Alas, this cunning scam had not reckoned on Rab the Fab, who took a crazy number of these fake pills, containing enough codeine to stop a herd of elephants, and ended up in a coma in the Royal Infirmary. After a few days they persuaded his mother that the damage to his liver and his brain meant that they should switch off the machine - at least we know that Rab would spend eternity free of any pain.

    There is a nasty sequel. It seems that Brother Egg went on a personal crusade to find the supplier of the pills, and subsequently disappeared - never seen again. I hasten to add that I did not frequent the same circles as these freaks, and have never used drugs - apart from throat lozenges, and occasional medicinal alcohol...

    Blame the Professor - he did ask.