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Heart of Glass 

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

Wednesday, Oct 9 2002
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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.

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Sam Prestianni

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