Visiting Reggio’s Latest Film

New from the maker of Koyaanisqatsi

Jun. 10, 2014
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Godrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1983) in a movie theater was an unforgettable experience, but I’ve never been fortunate to see any of his following films on anything larger than my TV screen. Size has probably been an obstacle to full appreciation.

The director’s latest, Visitors (out in a Blu-ray-DVD package) consists of 74 discrete moving images. On a big screen Visitors might seem like a leisurely gallery tour through a series of visual installations; at home, it’s more like watching that tour on television and losing a sense of scale. Filmed in black and white, each image is stripped of extraneous elements and observed closely—the camera inching closer or around or simply staring at what (gradually) transpires. Visitors is contrary to the fast pace of most contemporary cinema—contrary to the entire narrative tradition of filmmaking.

Commendably, Reggio espouses a poetic rather than a prosaic cinema. Motion pictures tell too many dull stories rather than employing the medium’s visual dimension in imaginative ways. Visitors contains many intriguing images—of empty buildings, human and simian faces, facades of skyscrapers whose racing overhead clouds suggest the passage of time (a trope introduced by Koyaanisqatsi?). And yet the non-verbal narrative he intends to tell of humanity and technology doesn’t emerge. As a poem, Visitors is like a set of beautiful stanzas that never congeal into a meaningful verse. However, the uneasy music of Philp Glass accompanying every scene—integral to every scene, really—supplies the strong suggestion that life is out of balance.

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