Pruitt-Igoe

A couple of years ago I rented a neat movie from Netflix called Koyaanisqatsi. It is a collection of video footage set to music by Philip Glass (who also wrote Akhnaten which I wrote about in January). There are no words, just a series of video footage of various things, often time lapsed or slow-motion, (rockets, traffic, clouds, factories) set to different instrumental pieces. When I was at the library once last year, I saw the soundtrack was available to be checked out, so I took it home. It’s classic Glass, very repetitive, great music to set a mood. Since doing that movie in the early 80’s, Glass has done a number of other soundtracks for movies including The Truman Show, The Hours, The Illusionist, and Kundun.


Anyway, the movie title comes from a Hopi Indian word that means “life out of balance” or “crazy life” and the movie focuses on man’s busy domination of the planet. One particular segment was of buildings being blown up. There were a whole bunch of these ugly high rises blowing up one after the other. It was a huge complex of them. The song is called Pruit Igoe and is one of my favorites on the CD which I recently bought for myself (not that I would copy a CD from the library, especially since it had annoying skips on it). In fact, one thing that got me interested in the music again was hearing a Philip Glass song during a commercial for Watchmen. It sounded familiar and certainly a lot of Philip Glass music sounds very, very similar, but in fact it was Pruit Igoe.

Ordering the CD I got interested in the original movie again and read on Wikipedia about the real Pruitt-Igoe, a public housing complex in St. Louis built in the 50’s with federal assistance. You can read all about it at the link, but it was a totally massive failure: a failure of design and execution, a failure of social engineering, and a dismal financial failure. It consisted of 33 11-story buildings. Due to desegregation, it was mixed race, and when the white people found that out, they all moved out. It was never fully occupied before becoming a haven for crime and vandalism. The architect said later “I never thought people were that destructive.” By the way, he also designed the World Trade Center. Less than 10 years after opening it was recognized as a tremendous failure and had very few people living there. By 1972, less than 20 years after first opening, they started blowing up the buildings. By 1976, it was completely gone. Some said it was literally the death of modernist architecture.

The movie went into none of this since it had no words. They just used stock footage of the buildings blowing up and set it to pretty music. The whole movie is like that. I think maybe the attraction of the movie was people liked to smoke pot while watching it, but it was kind of fun just to watch as it unfolds. Some of the footage is dated, but some of it is really interesting, and of course I liked the pretty music. Eventually the filmmaker made two sequels, which I haven’t seen yet.

One thought on “Pruitt-Igoe

  1. I saw one of those Glass no-words movies at the Tate Student Center’s movie theater at the University of Georgia when I was in college.

    It was really an experience to see those images on the big screen, but I went in without knowing what to expect, and it took me a while to realize that the whole movie was going to be images and music, without many of the things you’d expect in a movie.

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