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‘Koyaanisqatsi’ and ‘Brief History of Civilization’

by Ali Madad

I recently attended "Koyaanisqatsi Live!" at the New York Philharmonic and was as profoundly moved during this viewing and performance as when I first saw the film during my formative years in high school. It remains a film of startling force and impact, retaining its poetic and spiritual dimension. In short: sublime.
ko.yaa.nis.katsi (from the Hopi language), n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life disintegrating. 4. life out of balance. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.
Below is a simple pairing of the text from Eduardo Galeano's parable "Brief History of Civilization," from his Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, with animated images from the film. "Koyaanisqatsi" can be streamed on Hulu.

"And we tired of wandering through the forest and along the banks of rivers."

"And we began settling. We invented villages and community life, turned bone into needle and thorn into spike. Tools elongated our hands, and the handle multiplied the strength of the ax, the hoe, and the knife."

"We grew rice, barley, wheat, and corn, we put sheep and goats into corrals, we learned to store grain to keep from starving in bad times."

"And in the fields of our labor we worshiped goddess of fertility, women of vast hips and generous beasts. But with the passage of time they were displaced by the harsh gods of war. And we sang hymns of praise to the glory of kings, warrior chiefs, and high priests."

"We discovered the words 'yours' and 'mine,' land became owned, and women became the property of men and fathers the owners of children."

"Left far behind were the times when we drifted without home or destination. The results of civilization were surprising: our lives became more secure but less free, we worked a lot harder."

Credits: Animated GIFs by Klaas Leussink, from "Koyaanisqatsi" (1982).

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