Thirty two years ago, a film titled "Koyaanisqatsi" caused a stir. Five thousand people attended its premiere at Radio City Music Hall.
The movie, which had no dialogue, depicted a frenetic modern world, a civilization gone mad. It got its name from the Hopi word "Koyaanisqatsi," which means "life out of balance."
Koyaanisqatsi's filmmakers used time lapse footage and fast- and slow-motion cinematography to illustrate the frantic pace of late 20th Century existence. I well remember the results: Stoners at my college dormitory watched the film every night for a week when it came out on videotape. They'd light up; slip the tape into a top-loading, briefcase-sized VCR machine, and sit for an hour and 26 minutes with their mouths ajar. We called them Koyaanisqatsi heads.
Fast forward 32 years and 1982 seems quaint. In 1982 there was no email. There was no World Wide Web. Almost no one had cellphones or personal computers; cameras used film. A portable cassette player called the Sony Walkman was the hot consumer product. Millions of them were sold, even though, in 1982, there were 80 million fewer Americans around to buy them. In 1982 my parents were getting milk and eggs delivered to their back door in southern Westchester. That was a world out of balance.
It's incredible where we've gone since then, mind-blowing really. I can't read a physical newspaper or magazine today without reflexively reaching for the corner of the page with my forefinger. Where's the button to forward this story? How do I tweet this thing? My mother rang a bell to let us know when to come in for dinner. My wife tracks our kids with GPS. I can't remember what it was like to be out of touch with work for an hour. Literally. I cannot remember.
If 1982 was Koyaanisqatsi, what, exactly, is 2014?
We call today's fast-pace world "too much." But we also said that in 1982 -- at least the Koyaanisqatsi filmmakers did -- and then the pace of life and technology trebled, at least. But maybe, just maybe, there is a point when "too much" really means too much -- when people by physical, mental and spiritual necessity begin to slow down. I can't tell you why, but I feel like we're getting close to it.
Pope Francis has spoken eloquently about this. "People who work must take the time to relax, to be with their families, to enjoy themselves, read, listen to music, play a sport," he said. "Work ends up dehumanizing people." He calls on us to be less acquisitive and less covetous of our neighbors goods. That certainly couldn't hurt.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he and his family are taking a 10-day vacation to Italy. That may not be the best move politically -- a crisis could arise -- but I can't help cheering him deep inside. I've been talking about visiting my in-laws in Italy for 10 years, but I've never found the time. That's pathetic.
A movie called "Reuben Reuben" came out the year after Koyaanisqatsi, a line from which I'll always remember. An obnoxious character in the film boasts about the wonders of speed reading over dinner at a restaurant. I paraphrase: A man has been clocked reading "War and Peace" cover-to-cover in 90 minutes, he says proudly. The protagonist, a lovable alcoholic Welsh poet played by Tom Conti, flinches. "I myself," he replies, "would pay vast sums to read Fitzgerald's 'Tender is the Night' at a snail's pace." He goes on: "Why stop with reading? Why not dance a minute waltz in five or six seconds?"
That, I think, is what we're discovering now.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant who is working on the Rob Astorino campaign for governor.