Back in 1985, I saw this movie while visiting my friend Mark at Washington University. We had heard about it and were happy that the local PBS station in St. Louis was playing it on the air in its entirety. And even despite the fact that we were watching it on a 13″ black and white television with crappy reception, it really struck a chord with me. Here’s the basic description from Wikipedia:
Koyaanisqatsi (English pronunciation: /ˈkɔɪ.ɑːnɪsˈkɑːtsiː/ KOY-ah-nis-KAHT-see), also known as Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance, is a 1982 film directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke.
The film consists primarily of slow motion and time-lapse stock footage of cities and many 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. Reggio explains the lack of dialogue by stating “it’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live. In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi means “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living”.The film is the first in the Qatsi trilogy of films: it is followed by Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002). The trilogy depicts different aspects of the relationship between humans, nature, and technology. Koyaanisqatsi is the best known of the trilogy and is considered a cult film. However, because of copyright issues, the film was out of print for most of the 1990s.
So, while I was looking at the latest news headlines today I started hearing the haunting Phillip Glass score from this film, and suddenly all the imagery from it started flooding my mind. I’m glad that I was able to find a streaming free copy to share with everyone, and I hope you take the time to watch it. It’s really (depressing) great!
When I look back on my life and think of some of my favorite things, the tv special ‘Free To Be, You And Me’ comes to mind. I remember the first time I saw it, and what caught my attention (and brain) was the intro title song. It gave me goosebumps, and it still does even today when I hear it. First and foremost, it’s the melody that I find so appealing. But, even as a kid the words to the song struck a chord with me. I’ll explain after you read them:
Free To Be, You And Me
There’s a land that I see where the children are free
And I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are
Take my hand, come with me, where the children are free
Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll live
In a land where the river runs free
In a land through the green country
In a land to a shining sea
And you and me are free to be you and me
I see a land bright and clear, and the time’s comin’ near
When we’ll live in this land, you and me, hand in hand
Take my hand, come along, lend your voice to my song
Come along, take my hand, sing a song
For a land where the river runs free
For a land through the green country
For a land to a shining sea
For a land where the horses run free
And you and me are free to be you and me
Every boy in this land grows to be his own man
In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman
Take my hand, come with me where the children are free
Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll run
To a land where the river runs free
To a land through the green country
To a land to a shining sea
To a land where the horses run free
To a land where the children are free
And you and me are free to be
And you and me are free to be
And you and me are free to be you and me
Now, I will admit that on the surface those lyrics seem pretty hippy-dippy and a little too idealistic. But to my 9 year old ears, they made perfect sense and didn’t seem unusual at all. I actually BELIEVED them and felt that world that was depicted in the song WAS achievable and the time was indeed ‘coming near.’ Maybe it was due to the fact that the ghost of the peace movement from the 60′s was still floating around in the ether there in the early 70′s, or maybe it was just my lack of life experience. Regardless, I really did think that my future would be one of joy and harmony with the rest of the world, joining together to live in peace and be decent to one another.
Boy, was I wrong on that one!
But you know what? Even if the idea of having a world where people life in peace isn’t achievable in my lifetime (or ever), I can catch a glimpse of what I thought could have been as I watch this tv special again.
Does that make me a pussy? You know what? I’m ok with that.
Here’s a quick description of the show (from Wikipedia):
Free to Be… You and Me, a project of the Ms. Foundation for Women, is a record album, and illustrated book first released in November 1972, featuring songs and stories from many current celebrities of the day (credited as “Marlo Thomas and Friends”) such as Alan Alda, Rosey Grier, Cicely Tyson, Carol Channing, Michael Jackson, and Diana Ross, among others. An ABC Afterschool Special using poetry, songs, and sketches, followed two years later in March 1974. The basic concept is to encourage a post-60′s gender neutrality, while saluting values such as individuality, tolerance, and happiness with one’s identity. A major thematic message is that anyone, whether a boy or a girl, can achieve anything.
Far be it for me to suggest getting a flu shot from an 80 year-old woman in a crusty blue smock stained with chocolate flavored Ensure standing behind a folding table offering $30 dollar doses of influenza remedy in the middle of a Walgreens, but one thing I enthusiastically request of myself: Eric, don’t mix entire bottles of NyQuil with Keanu Reeve’s films!
Read on, dude!
My head is on fire.
I can feel giant drops of perspiration gathering against the surface, growing too heavy to withstand the pull of gravity and one by one they tumble over my brow and slide down my nose like obnoxious children. They fly through the air, laughing, until they crash like a dozen Humpty-Dumptys on my chest spraying tiny egg shell shrapnel everywhere. I wipe the front of my head in an effort to stem the flow of sweat and my skin sloughs off my skull between my fingers. It gathers against the palm of my hand like slices of lunch meat and it’s not really fair because I am quite hungry for some soup and a sandwich.
Sand Witch. Sorceress of the Spice. Wind swept tresses of black hair flowing out behind her, from underneath and out of a hat that cannot match the striking shade of midnight that grows from her scalp. Pale white skin of the moon that cannot be tainted by the sun that tries its best to burn her to cinders with no trial nor pyre. She pays no heed to its efforts as she skillfully navigates a Spice worm through the vast desert dessert with a pair of eyes like sugar frosted green gum drops…
I can’t feel my feet.
I look down towards the ends of my legs to make sure that I still possess them and let out a small sigh of relief to find them when a strange sensation passes through my skin and my legs begin to grow longer and longer and oh, how nice of the room to go right ahead and stretch along with them so that they will have enough room instead of of just coiling up against the wall like tendrils of vanilla ice cream. And my big purple bed is an even bigger, purple-er bed, as it grew in proportion with my legs. I’ve always said that it is quite accommodating, now I have ample evidence.
My torso just turned into a Play-Doh Fun Factory.
I wonder if…wait, let me check.
Nope, of course not. Well, neither did my arms and my head seems to be of the same width and breadth as it was a few minutes ago. Oh, and I forgot all about that whole “no skin nor scalp” thing. That was weird. I thought for a moment that perhaps I had shaved my head again, but I’ve never been able to get it that smooth. I knock on it a few time just to see how hollow it sounds, and I’m not all that surprised to hear someone knocking back, yelling at me to keep the noise down.
I pick up the crumpled mask that was my face and put my hand inside of it and try to make it talk like a puppet. Eat drums. Eat drums! EAT DRUMS! GAAAHHHH! I poke two of my fingers through the eye holes and wiggle them back at my eyeballs, but I quickly pull them back through and drop my face to my side as an intense fear grips me as I wonder if my fingers were going to manifest themselves inside my skull and skewer my actual eyeballs on the ends of my fingers. I swallow hard imaging that my wrist is pressing against my larynx.
Wait, who’s wiggling my toes?
I look back down to find that someone’s hands are operating my feet like sock puppets. They’re making silhouette aminals against the wall of my bedroom and I watch as they contort my big toe away from the rest of my toes like the ears of a rabbit. I watch them moving back and forth across the wall, their shadows playfully cavorting together in an amicable fashion. I feel a slight tug at the end of my ankles and I quickly glance back to the source of the puppetry to find that both of my feet, with an audible pop, have disconnected themselves from my ankles. They’ve grown paws and tails and noses of their own. Big wondering eyes that keep shifting through the secondary colors of the wheel.
Two argyle bunnies that are hopping around on the edge of my bed.
Who, I demand, are you, and what have you done with my feet!
They both stop and stand up on their hind legs, testing my scent with their noses and walk right back towards me, up and over my knees. Each of them strolling up the length of their previous locale with an air of nonchalance.
I’m Peter S. Cottontail, Esquire.
I’m Rod “Rodentia” Lagomorph.
And together we’re WYLD RABBYTS!
They begin playing air guitar on the edge of my bed, their ears spreading wide from the tops of their heads as electricity starts climbing up to their tips like a Tesla coil. Sparks are flying from the tips of their fur and dancing in the air all around us and I can hear the mystical magic of Kip Winger’s fretwork making my ears ring. All the furniture in my bedroom is turning into hedges as the music gets louder. My green glass lamps shatter on either side of me. They twist and crunch as they grow roots and a trunk. The trunk sprouts branches that grab the emerald shards of glass right out of the air and they transform into burnt orange leaves hanging from their ends that cast shade over my hardwood floor that grass is now growing up from and covering the entirety of the walking space.
My bed has turned into a collection of rocks covered in purple lichen.
The rabbits high five each other and with a later bro! they hop across the floor towards a hole that has appeared in the corner of my room just to the side of one of the hedges and they both dive into it and disappear. I listen for about a minute waiting to hear an echo of them landing safely, and I hear a faint observation floating up from the depths.
Round-house kicking his way out of Eliana Van Varenberg’s uterus on October 18, 1960, Jean-Claude Camille François entered the world with his teeth firmly planted in his own umbilical cord as he gnawed it in half.
His birth was nothing short of biblical.
His father Eugène, upon seeing the apparent martial art talent in his baby boy’s bulging biceps and quivering quadriceps, immediately signed him up for karate classes and Jean Claude was kicking ass and taking names before he could even wipe his own ass.
Everyone knows about Van Damme’s complete and utter domination of martial art films, his subtle french accent that had so many movie heroines and damsels in distress melting in the palm of his hand like candy, but many of you have no idea of his other talent, that I for one think was glossed over when it so clearly out-shined the lot of them.
It is in his fantastical fanciful footwork that Jean Claude’s talent truly shines.
Not many people are aware of the fact that he is a classically trained ballet dancer, that long before he donned a Gi to portray Frank Dux, Jean slipped his lean physique into a sleek unitard and performed his first battement frappé to the delight of his ballet instructor. He quickly climbed the ranks of his class and was soon awarded a black belt in ballet, along with the much revered title of Le Pirate Piquée De Pirouette.
To this day Jean Claude’s rendering of the rigorous rond de jambe en l’air remains unrivaled.
Ask anyone to name his first movie, and most will assume a kickboxing stance and spout out: “Bloodsport!”
And they would be absolutely wrong.
Before he was hand picked by director Newt Arnold to go fist-to-fist and toe-to-toe with the most terrifying Chinaman to ever walk the earth, Bolo Yeung, Jean snagged a role as an extra for the now cult-classic break dancing film Breakin’, released in 1984. As seen in the following clip, Van Damme’s move to America exhibits an apparent shift in his attitude, as he sheds disciplined ballet routine for an all out dance assault, breaking all the rules and pushing the envelope of physical expression.
You can see him in this video sporting a black shorts-styled unitard in an obvious respectful reference to his years of ballet instruction.
And then the angelic flourish of his feet vanished from the silver screen for 5 long years. Years I personally spent mourning the loss of the magical mystique of Jean’s dancing from the movies he was producing. Of course in the intervening interlude there were dozens of displays of his ability to do the splits, hundreds of scenes exhibiting his mastery of martial arts movements, but nothing that had, well, a beat one could dance to.
And then 1989 rolled around and saw the release of Kickboxer.
Wronged brothers, blah, blah, blah, revenge, blah, blah, blah, naive Asian girl, blah, blah, blah. And then, when one least expected it, and completely irrelevant to the plot of the film, Jean Claude busts out some killer moves on the impromptu dance floor of a ramshackle Thailand diner. I completely forgot all about my popcorn and stretched arm across the shoulders touchy-feely movie theater ploy as he shimmied and shook across the screen.
Here he is, in what has so far turned out to be, unfortunately, sadly, and weepingly the last time he ever danced in a film. Quite proudly, I think I may have been the only fan to ever note the reference of his attire to his first dance scene, albeit half covered in a pair of well-fitted khakis.
It was only until last year, some 20+ years later that I stumbled upon the following video. It was the best surprise I have ever found. It in fact saved my life. It’s a hard thing to admit, but it rescued me from such a deep dark hole that I was sure I would never be able to crawl out of that I had resigned myself to living in. Day after day after day of raging suicidal thoughts that never ceased. I spent my afternoons collecting the change passersby would fling at me with not so much as a glance in my direction as I wailed and wallowed from inside a washing machine box, saving those coins to buy a gun so that I could end the pain.
And then one day a light shone upon my face and a ladder found its way down to me, one that was comprised of Jean Claude’s hair and rung by his smiles.
This video is the culmination of his career, the plateau of all of his performances. His pinnacle of perfection. It truly exhibits the genius of his footwork, his knowledge of dance and the love and passion that he instills into his each and every move. Watch as he twists and turns a tawdry tango that culminates in totally tubular tumescence.
Witness the tempting and tortuous truth of the one and only “Muscle From Brussel!”
There may be an argument as to whether he is the master of Muay Thai, the King of Kickboxing or the Tsar of Taekwondo, but you absolutely cannot deny that Jean Claude, well, damn! That man can dance!