When I work with Godfrey, I don’t spend a lot of time looking at the image. I look at it once. Maybe twice, but not more than twice. Then I depend on the inaccuracy of my memory to create the appropriate distance between the music and the image. I knew right away that the image and the music could not be on top of each other, because then there would be no room for the spectators to invent a place for themselves. Of course, in commercials and propaganda films, the producers don’t want to leave a space: the strategy of propaganda is not to leave a space, not to leave any question. Commercials are propaganda tools in which image and music are locked together in order to make an explicit point, like “Buy these shoes” or “Go to this casino.” The strategy of art is precisely the opposite. I would describe it this way: When you listen to a piece of music and you look at an image at the same time, you are metaphorically making a journey to that image. It’s a metaphorical distance, but it’s a real one all the same, and it’s in that journey that the spectator forms a relationship to the music and the image. Without that, it’s all made for us and we don’t have to invent anything. In works like Godfrey’s, and in works, for that matter, like Bob Wilson’s, the spectators are supposed to invent something. They are supposed to tell the story of Einstein. In Godfrey’s movies Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi, the words in the title are the only words there are. The journey that we make from the armchair to the image is the process by which we make the image and the music our own. Without that, we have no personal connection. The idea of a personal interpretation comes about through traversing that distance.
In the scene when Belle begs La Bête for permission to visit her father, La Bête, moved by her plea, decides to let her go, but requires her, at the cost of his own life, to return in a week. He explains to her that his magic exists by the force of five power objects—the rose, the key, the mirror, the glove, and the horse. These five are the root of La Bête’s creativity and magic. The point is, if a young artist were to ask Cocteau directly what he would need to pursue the life and work of an artist, these five elements would be the answer. The rose represents beauty. The key represents technique—literally, the means by which the “door” to creativity is opened. The horse represents strength and stamina. The mirror represents the path itself, without which the dream of the artist cannot be accomplished. The meaning of the glove eluded me for a long time, but finally, and unexpectedly, I understood that the glove represents nobility. By this symbol Cocteau asserts that the true nobility of mankind are the artist-magician creators. This scene, which leads directly to the resolution of the fairy tale, is framed as the most significant moment of the film and is the message we are meant to take away with us: Cocteau is teaching about creativity in terms of the power of the artist, which we now understand to be the power of transformation.
In one of our early conversations, Bob said to me, "I like Einstein as a character, because everybody knows who he is." In a sense, we didn't need to tell an Einstein story because everybody who eventually saw our Einstein brought their own story with them. In the four months that we toured Einstein in Europe we had many occasions to meet with our audiences, and people occasionally would ask us what it "meant." But far more often people told us what it meant to them, sometimes even giving us plot elucidation and complete scenario. The point about Einstein was clearly not what it "meant" but that it was meaningful as generally experienced by the people who saw it. From the viewpoint of the creators, of course, that is exactly the way it was constructed to work. Though we made no attempt at all to tell a story, we did use dramaturgical devices to create a clearly paced overall dramatic shape. For instance, a "finale" is a dramaturgical device; an "epilogue" is another. Using contrasting sections, like a slow trial scene followed by a fast dance scene, is a dramaturgical device, and we used such devices freely. I am sure that the absence of direct connotative "meaning" made it all the easier for the spectator to personalize the experience by supplying his own special "meaning" out of his own experience, while the work itself remained resolutely abstract. As to the use of three visual schemes, or images, Bob often mentioned that he envisioned them in three distinct ways: (1) a landscape seen at a distance (the Field/Spaceship scenes); (2) still lifes seen at a middle distance (the Trial scenes); and (3) portraits seen as in a closeup (the Knee Plays). As these three perspectives rotated through the four acts of the work, they created the sequence of images in an ordered scale. Furthermore, the recurrence of the images implied a kind of quasi-development. For example, the sequence of Train scenes from the Act I, scene 1 Train, to the "night train" of Act II and finally the building which resembled in perspective the departing night train, presented that sequence of images in a reductive order (each one became less "train-like") and at the same time more focused and energized. The same process applies to the sequence of Trial scenes (ending with a bar of light representing the bed) as well as the Field/Spaceship, with the final scene in the interior of the spaceship serving as a kind of apocalyptic grand finale of the whole work. Each time an image reappeared, it was altered to become more abstract and, oddly enough, more powerful. The way these three sequences were intercut with each other, as well as with the portrait-scale Knee Plays, served to heighten the dramatic effect.