Koyaanisqatsi: Philip Glass in Big Sur

I saw the film “Koyaanisqatsi” many years ago. When I heard that a remastered version was going to be shown at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, I sprang into action and ordered a ticket. Even though it meant parting with thirty bucks, I figured it was historic. Thirty years from now people may be asking, “Do you remember where you were when Koyaanisqatsi was shown in Big Sur?” Probably not. But the filmmaker, Godfrey Reggio, and legendary contemporary composer Philip Glass were going to be on hand to talk about the film prior to the showing. So it was a no-brainer.

I decided to drive down early and go to my favorite beach, Julia Pfeiffer, with the dramatic offshore rocks. The wind sent streams of sand undulating along the beach, and I ate a sandy sandwich and watched the waves before taking a walk up the shore.

I got to the library early, then drove south a little, discovering a trail leading all the way down the cliffs to the beach, an out of the way surfing destination. I walked part way down, and watched the surfers navigate some pretty gnarly looking waves.

Cars by the Henry Miller memorial Library were parked in a raggedy line just off Route One, and people were walking in the road toward to the event. A little hairy. I had an interesting talk with a New York refugee who sort of knew Philip Glass, and he told me some interesting stories about famous people, like two of the Beatles, visiting Easlen, just down the road.

Sculptures and boughs of tiny lights and candles were strewn about the woods surrounding the stage and makeshift screen, draped between two redwoods. It was a bit like time travel, with all the requisite funkiness of Big Sur in attendance. Old folding chairs were set in rows, along with a few clothed tables. Three high directors chairs and two small, high tables with a pitcher of water were bathed in blue light. Glass’s music issued from the large onstage speakers. It was past time to get started.

Finally, the moderator came out and introduced Reggio and Glass and the three seated themselves, clutching cordless mics. Reggio talked about the origins of the film and the odd name, and Glass said a few words. There was time for just one question from the audience, despite the fact that this was billed as a “Q&A.” The audience member asked if either of them had experienced the film while under the influence of mind-altering substances.

The film opens with dramatic images of natural scenes, primarily desert images, some in time-lapse. Then there are time-lapse clouds racing across the sky. Jarringly, there is a close-up of a large earth moving truck, and explosions, Earth being forever altered by Man. All the while, there is the insistent and compatible music by Glass, with its arpeggios and dramatic swells.

Sitting amid the redwoods, with the earth smells and trees towering above us, the cold lapping at exposed skin, it was an exhilarating experience. The film’s images are powerful and compelling. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to check it out. Much of it is on YouTube and Hulu.

The drive home was colored by the fast-paced images of the film; the road echoed the film’s images of city streets and speeding traffic, and I didn’t want the drive home along the dark winding road by the abyss to ever end.

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