Got Koyaanisqatsi?

>> Wednesday, November 7, 2007

So we’re watching Francis Ford Coppola’s production of Koyaanisqatsi with the girls the other night...

(Say what?)

Yes, Koyaanisqatsi. It’s a great movie to watch with kids. Loosely translated, Koyaanisqatsi means “Life Out of Balance”, so I’m sure most parents out there can relate. Here’s the Wikipedia description:

Koyaanisqatsi is a 1982 film directed by Godfrey Reggio [and] consists primarily of slow motion and time-lapse photography of cities and natural landscapes across the United States. The visual tone poem contains neither dialogue nor a vocalized narration: its tone is set by the juxtaposition of images and music. In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi means 'life of moral corruption and turmoil, life out of balance', and the film implies that modern humanity is living in such a way.

Sound familiar?

The girls were mesmerized. The movement. The repetition. People and objects going up and down. Fast and slow. It's strangely perfect for kids. (It’s really not that much different than Teletubbies or Boobah, is it?) Plus, it didn't hurt that there was a message behind the simple special effects.

Mostly, we loved listening to the girls’ observations.

We watched a montage of industrialization scenes in fast motion. Blue jeans were sewn together at lightening speed. Mail was sorted. Bills were paid. Twinkies were plucked off conveyor belts and hot dogs traveled in compact columns in the processing plant. The scene changed and suddenly people traveled in compact columns up and down a series of escalators, leading to the obvious comparison between processed meats and human beings.

“Look, they’re like the hot dogs!” (That was me. I get excited easily.)

“The people are like hot dogs. Why?” asked Elizabeth.

“That’s what they want you to think,” Michael explained. “The filmmaker juxtaposed two scenes together to make you think people are like hot dogs.”

“Oh. How do you know about him, Daddy?”

“About who?”

“Mr. Juxta?” (Hiyo! See, she thought “juxtaposed” was the name of a person...)

We watched cars zoom through a city. Their taillights and headlamps streaked red and white along the highway.

“Daddy, where are they all going?” Elizabeth asked.

“I’m not sure. I don’t know the whole story,” said Michael.

Elizabeth contemplated his response. “Well, Daddy, do you know half the story? Why are you laughing? Daddy?”

Then, after a particularly frantic sequence of people zipping through the city, getting on and off busses, and traveling through train stations, the film suddenly slowed everything down. People floated down the street, their arms flowing at their sides and the wind gently flapping their business suits.

Elizabeth observed, “Everyone is tired of going so fast.”

Yes! She gets it. They can be taught...

So, if you like to engage your kids in odd programs and you don’t mind their endless questions (Why are the people moving so fast? Why is that guy wearing a pink shirt? What’s on his head?), then here some other suggestions when you’re tired of Kid TV:

Rivers and Tides
In this documentary, artist Andy Goldsworthy assembles works of art using materials found in nature. It’s beautiful and mesmerizing. After watching it, Elizabeth gathered sticks, rocks, leaves -- anything she could find -- to make little natural works of art. Wonderful.

The Lawrence Welk Show
Believe it or not, this is prime time PBS programming here in San Diego on Saturday night. While it’s corny as Hell, it’s also a great way to introduce the kids to musical instruments, antiquated hairdos, and ballroom dancing.

Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed
We discovered this little gem the other night. In this program, a magician performs tricks while a narrator explains the reality behind the magic. The narrator ends each sequence with a deadpan, “And that’s how it’s done.”

After surviving the initial barrage of questions (Why is she getting in the box? Where did he go? Is the Tiger still in there?), we discovered this was a great way to engage the girls in magic, introduce the crazy concept that logic can be used to explain most things, and... (drumroll)... get them to do what we asked!

For example, when we saw that Elizabeth still had cake on her cheeks from desert, we asked if she could make it “disappear” from her face. She quickly ran into the bathroom and returned, saying, “And that’s how it’s done!”

“Hey Lizzy, look at all those toys on the floor. You’re not magical enough to make them disappear, are you?”

Voila! Like magic, all the toys disappeared.

And that’s how it’s done!


The photo is a still shot from Koyaanisqatsi and for me it's reason enough to watch the film.

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