Steve J. Moore

Through the Glass

In Film, Music, TV on August 8, 2008 at 1:42 pm

While browsing through the overpriced movie section of Borders a few years ago, my friend Ed and I stopped on one particular shelf. He picked up The French Connection to emphatically remind me how badly I needed to see it as he reveled, wide-eyed, at its box. My eyes were searching the shelves as well for appealing movies I hadn’t seen. What I stopped on was Koyaanisqatsi. What on earth was this I thought. Being a filmhead, Ed could read my thoughts entirely and immediately began explaining why the film was titled after the Native American words for “life out of balance…”

$8 and an earful of explanation later, I was looking forward to watching this important work of cinematic and acoustic art. Ed had explained to me that the entire film was merely 88 minutes of instrumental overture lain upon a cinematic landscape of rural and urban themes. The music takes the viewer through by the hand through a journey from the order of nature to the chaos of the urban and human world. The movie is meant as a meditation on the connection between the natural and artificial worlds where people have become disconnected.

If you would have asked me then, I wouldn’t have been able to explain that because I only watched the first 20 minutes before I was bored out of my mind.

But wait! Steve! I thought you were into art?

Keep reading.

I did glean more than I had first thought from my brief initial encounter with this film. I learned who Phillip Glass was. It was his music that is the foundation of Koyaanisqatsi, the engine by which any message is ferried from screen and speaker to eyes and ears. Hauntingly simple strings of notes are repeated over and over building a melody as one builds a bridge from ten thousand toothpicks with no glue at all.

I immediately went searching for other works by this fantastic composer and artist ( I have a big soft spot for piano music in general) and found that he had a solo album called Metamorphosis, and that Glass’s work could be found in many movies already like The Hours and The Truman Show.

Writing about this has reminded me that music in movies always has a significant effect on me, both in terms of the emotional weight music can add and also of my opinion about a particular film or genre. Another instance of this happened just the year before.

I hadn’t yet left Augustana College in South Dakota for Missouri State (nor the field of chemistry for that of English), but my position as a Peer Advisor (RA, TA, SA, call us what you will) on a freshman floor allowed me ample free time to watch a lot of movies as I was waiting for people smuggle in booze and girls in the wee hours of the morning. Often, I watched movies with my residents ( I call them “residents” but we were all friendly, barring any Halo-influenced rage), and in some cases movies I may not have otherwise watched. This was particularly the case with Spirited Away.

Let me paint you a picture of Myself in 2004: I like a range of movies a bit wider than when I was in high school, but one genre I still don’t understand is Anime. Why not you ask?

[2004 simulated explanation]

“Well besides the fact that it sucks, Anime is mostly centered around retardedly underclad and over-breasted (yes, over-breasted) ladies who also happen to be computer hackers and ninja masters who do karaoke while riding motorcycles into store windows, out of space ship airlocks, and on top of buildings. There is also a lot of blood-spurting and limb-removing going on so the animators, who are all tasteless old Japanese perverts, have something to draw besides breasts. Also, none of it makes sense and I think they all involve some kind of rehashing of Robot Jox

Yes, for those of you wondering, the “jocks” are people who ride inside of giant robot warriors and fight each other.

All of that aside, my conception of the genre was completely reversed when I saw Hayao Miyazaki‘s masterpiece. My heart melted and ran down my leg into a puddle on the floor–ok they were tears, but who doesn’t like a good metaphor? The point is that I was emotionally moved by this film and my eyes were opened to a wonderful new world I was unaware of before.

The music did play a major role in easing me into the unfamiliar (non-Disney) animated landscape and I eventually bought the incredible score by Joe Hisaishi. After being so blown away, I wondered what exactly I had been missing out on. Before watching the movie with my friend and dorm-mate Alex, we would often play chess together in his room while listening to various soundtracks and scores. One I was attracted to in particular was the work of Yoko Kanno for the Cowboy Bebop TV series. It’s basically the best jazz fusion mix I’ve ever heard and so I decided to give the series a chance based solely on the music.

But discussion of that series and its music deserves its own post on another day entirely. Until then, I’ll advise everyone to take a step out of their comfort zone and check out something new in film, music, or both!

Au Revoir, a teut a l’heure

Goodbye, until next time.

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  1. I’ve never really been that into Anime either but a good friend of mine that I met in college and still spend a lot of time with forced me into watching a few classics with him, namely Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Both are fantastic films, highly recommended, and definitely changed my perception of Anime from a Japanese children fad to a viable genre of film and television.

  2. Another film like the one you picked up is Baraka, though it sounds like Baraka might actually be more engaging. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103767/

    If you haven’t since Spirited Away watched Princess Mononoke and/or Howl’s Moving Castle, I recommend both. I enjoy the Ghost in the Shell series, but didn’t find the series format as engaging as the feature length for some reason. There is also the classic Akira, of course, which if you haven’t seen…

  3. I do not like a whole lot of anime, but I respect some of it…mostly the works of Miyazaki.

    Check out My Neighbor Totoro…it’s a film for children, but adults like you and I can just fall in love with the characters. It’s adorable.

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