Review: Godfrey Reggio's VISITORS, A Gorgeous Visual Tone Poem

Dustin Chang, Contributing Writer
Koyaanisqatsi (1982), a genre-defining, landmark film that features stunning time-lapse photography and a hypnotic score by Philip Glass, expanded the boundaries of film. It garnered a cult following and spawned countless imitators in the commercial, documentary and narrative film worlds (most recently, Samsara). Its director, Godfrey Reggio, followed it with Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002) to complete the long intended trilogy.

Reggio insists his films are not experimental, but rather, experiential. He asserts this notion again with Visitors, his first new film in more than ten years. It's a visual tone poem presented in stunning monochrome 4K. Like his previous -qatsi trilogy, the 'life unbalanced' theme is still present. But consisting of only 74 shots, the film is a much more graceful, subtle, abstract experience. As for the meaning of the film, it is anybody's guess. Watching Visitors is not a passively immersive experience like Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity. Its inhabitants (including a lowland female gorilla) in mostly closeup look directly at you. The film is watching you watching the film. It requires  the audience to be active participants to interpret the meaning of the film themselves.

Philip Glass's score makes up the other half of the film and it's just as awe inspiring. Unhurriedly, one piece of music ends and the other starts, accompanying the crisp imagery, perfectly in tune with what's being seen. It's beautiful, powerful and deeply moving. After experiencing Visitors, I purchased its soundtrack the same night, so I could listen to it away from its visual partner. I realized how rare it is for a film soundtrack to stand on its own. It is by far, the finest orchestral writing I've heard from the always masterful Glass.

Except for the view from the moon SFX shots, the scope of the film seems much narrower than his previous films - New Jersey for urban decay and Louisiana Everglades for nature in time-lapse photography and the aforementioned human and animal portraiture. But it's a majestic film-going experience. It wouldn't be a stretch to call Visitors a little mute brother of Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.

Visitors received its world premiere at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival and will open theatrically on Friday, January 24 at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, New York, with a national rollout to follow. Please visit the film's official website for more information.


Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com
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