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Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Visitors’ is a compelling and provocative meditation on our fixation with screen-based media. Set to a compelling score by Phillip Glass, the film expands on his central themes of the hypnotic nature of technology and drives the point home with artful imagery.
Reggio’s famous ‘Quatsi’ trilogy: ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ (1982), ‘Powaqqatsi’, (1989), and ‘Naqoyatsi’ (2002) were also brilliant and powerful statements about the ripple effects of society’s sometimes violent use of technology. Although less subtle in their delivery of the message, his crafting of visuals and sound was a powerful and experimental reflection of humanity’s impact on the natural world.
The most refreshing contrast to the ‘Quatsi’ films in ‘Visitors’ is the directorial shift away from modern media’s tendency to fast-track; focusing on artistry and complexity instead. Reggio avoids any conventional narrative storytelling in “Visitors”, although the compelling score by Phillip Glass does bind the film into something that could resemble a loose structure. Reggio employs 74 deliberately slow shots over 84 minutes; quite opposite to the time-lapse techniques used in the Quatsi trilogy.
Reggio told BFI: “Precisely because we’re always moving so fast, I wanted to do something that pertains to stillness. The stiller a person becomes the more heightened their senses may become…It’s something that’s confrontational to some viewers because they’re used to being grabbed by information: they come with a certain idea of what a movie should be, and ‘Visitors’ doesn’t deliver that.”
Deft use of a three-way mirror constructs a counter-cultural mode of viewing whereby we are able to watch audiences as they consume sports, video games, movies, and phone screens. Long held portraits are juxtaposed on black as night backgrounds, and we can see the trance like state we slip into as we stare at our many screens. It’s quite confronting for the lens to be faced the other way – for us to see how deeply entranced we really are by technology.
Reggio’s modus operandi is non-intellectual in nature. Instead, his films are observational: intended to elicit an instinctive emotional response rather than to overloading us with information. In ‘Visitors’, this visceral approach creates self-consciousness and behavioural awareness – solitary, unmoving, entranced faces in stunning black and white, seeming to stare straight at us.
This triggers a slightly disturbing, yet fascinated response that likely echoes Reggio’s own position. Reggio says of this: “I wanted to do something that shows us ourselves in a way we’re not otherwise likely to see. The idea really was the reciprocal gaze, and in order to achieve that there had to be absolutely no acting.” Composer Phillip Glass, who was ‘marinated’ in the film’s footage before writing a single note, has created a form-fitting score to match the surreal visuals, alternating long stretches of contemplation with bursts of thrilling eruption. The result is a hypnotic, rather dreamlike experience.
While more aligned with a gallery experience than a conventional film, ‘Visitors’ is effective in achieving Reggio’s goal of aiming “right at your solar plexus”. Non-narrative film experiences can be rather cliche, but with ‘Visitors’ Godfrey Reggio hits the nail right on the head with a film that provokes, challenges and inspires.