From the minds of Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass, Visitors is the most recent collaboration of the duo following on from the Qatsi trilogy and Reggio’s own movies Baraka and Samsara. Over the last 35 years, the movie industry has copy-catted everything from the Qatsi films to the point where his signature time-lapse photography and reflective mirror face shots are almost like Shutterstock images. It makes making one of Reggio’s films quite difficult these days because you need unique things to show, unique perspectives to lay before you and something to leave you thinking afterwards. Samsara did this perfectly – but Visitors is much more of a meditative affair.
Of all of Reggio’s films I think Visitors will be the most polarising due to one thing – its pacing. Over its 87 minutes, there are only 74 shots and almost all of them are in slow motion. As you watch face after face fade in and out, it’s like your body is screaming for the next image unless you can calm yourself down into a relaxed and focused state. This is will force people to engage, or give up and it will do early. The film is black and white and shot in 4k and having bought the Blu-ray, I’m really glad I had that higher resolution. As faces show micro movements and skins look textured it lets you really study the images given before you. There are some absolutely superb images here too and some of them are on the top shelf of Reggio’s work. A gorilla staring us down but also looking on and judging humans – as we, in turn, look not to each other, but to technology as our next legacy. There’s a lot of very subtle interplay here as we watch hands at work on a mobile or piano, but the tech is digitally removed. A crash test dummy flying about in slow motion and a creepy amusement park now abandoned also spark to mind. I found the film at its best when several people were in the shot at the same time, allowing you to catch the vastness of diversity and individuality that simply walking forward or smiling can do.
The music that Philip Glass brings is a rich orchestration that is both beautiful and not really in sync with the film. Glass says this is on purpose because the music is to draw the attention of the audience, but not to inform the audience of what and how to feel. I completely understand that but over the course of the 87 minutes, I heard some excellent motifs and some movements that felt very close to the fantastic Naqoyqatsi film score he created – but they just didn’t gel with the images. Maybe I was busy placing my own emotion into the film itself, which by the final twenty really started to click for me. After seeing ourselves up close and personal, the film goes out into the world for a little while showing the mess we leave behind once we’ve visited and moved on. The film also cuts to the moon at the start and end and where that is a lifeless place, we have a beautifully slow reveal of the Earth in the only piece of colour in the film. For me, this was a clear message of what the planet is now and the moon showing how lifeless the planet could become if we aren’t tidy visitors on this plain. It’s also in these last twenty minutes were the music pairs up best with the images too.
For me, Visitors is a really mixed bag. I am always in awe of what Godfrey Reggio brings to the cinema and there are some fantastic moments here. It’s pacing for me was too slow and whilst I don’t mind the long cuts – the ones that worked best for me were the ones with lots to look at. Beautiful and a cinematic marvel technically, this will be utter marmite – I can only recommend it if you are of an open mind and in the mood for really deep thoughts.
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