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Koyaanisqatsi With Ads

I recently asked a friend for some documentary recommendations. I was looking for "non-linear" docs, something more along the lines of a video collage than a journalistic story. My friend's first text back: "Koyaanisqatsi!"

I've wanted to see it for years, ever since I found the trailer, doing that mindless endless hunt for movie trailers on the Apple website. Why did Apple have the best, most comprehensive collection of movie trailers on the internet for about ten years? That's besides the point.

Before watching, Koyaanisqatsi was one of those things would poke me in the back of my mind. I know I would like it, why not watch it? There's always something else to watch. It was clearly influential on other art pieces I enjoy, but there's always something else to watch. But I needed a video collage to watch, and my friend who always recommends great things named it, and so I sat down to watch it.

I googled it, and sure enough it's streaming for free on

Have you seen it? It's amazing. It's wordless meditation the staggering beauty of our natural world, destroyed by man-made cataclysm and reshaped by the endless ugly hunger of our modern civilization. The whole piece is scored by Philip Glass' trance inducing music that magically illustrates everything from the intricate beauty of clouds forming in a clear sky to the ominous shots of commuters making their way through the ant farm of 1980's New York City.

It's slow, deliberate, beautiful and meditative. I was having a great time watching it. Hell yeah, I found this amazing art to watch for free, legally, on the internet. Lovely. I was a little stoned and eating a slice of pizza. I'm watching these beautiful shots of wide open nature unfold before me. I could feel the footage and the music transporting me just like it ought to. After almost a year in quarantine, this felt damn close to the feeling of just soaking in some actual, awe inspiring natural beauty.

And then, gut punch: My screen snaps to blinding white with black letters. A high pitched jingle and an enthusiastic voiceover urging me to go to H&R Block's website. How could I be this naive? Of course a free full length film on a streaming site has ads. Suddenly I'm watching Rachel Ray selling dog food. It doesn't seem like she's extremely pleased with the situation, either.

Snap. I'm returned to Koyaanisqatsi. More beautiful nature unfolds. Suddenly, a canyon is demolished with dynamite. A gigantic truck with a big red 6 on the front rolls through the rising smoke and dust. The story unfolds as the audience is left to interpret the shots of a family lounging on the beach on the outskirts of some unnamed industrial superstructure. I'm in awe and sickened by the irreparable scars left on the planet in the name of human innovation and progress.

And then, snap: That H&R Block ad. Rachel Ray on her fake cooking show, describing her menu for an audience of dogs and cats. There's an APPLAUSE sign hanging from the rafters, but instead it reads "BARK" and "MEOW."

I text my friend about it.

"Riley!!! That's like the hilariously worst way to watch that movie. Truly a piece of media designed to transport you haha"

I should have stopped the free version and rented it for, I don't know, 5 dollars at most?

But I didn't!

I justified my laziness by doubling down on my contrarian, morbid curiosity: "How much can these ads ruin the messages of this beautiful art piece?"

But each time the ads rolled, every ten minutes or so, they made Koyaanisqatsi even better.

You see, because they underlined the message of a world thrown deeper and deeper into turmoil through the hunger for short term profit, power, control. Every ten minutes I was given a present day example of the exact type of garbage and misinformation I was being warned of! The ads, somehow, made the documentary even better.

None of that is actually true. this is just the lie I had to tell myself in order to sit through the Rachel Ray dog food ad without paying any money.

If you've seen Koyaanisqatsi, I recommend the free version for a laugh. If it's your first time, don't be cheap and lazy like me.

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