Filmmaker Godfrey Reggio has made a career out of producing some of the most stunning and poetic films in the history of cinema. His Quatsi trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi) are three of the most visually moving and though provoking collections of images designed to get viewers thinking about the world around them, the environment, the role of technology in daily life, and forces people to look into corners of the world they normally wouldn’t look into to shine a light on things the human race takes for granted. For his first film since the completion of that trilogy (and his first film shot mostly via digital mediums and in black and white), Visitors, Reggio once again teams up with master musical composer Philip Glass with significantly diminished returns.
Again, Visitors is largely a collection of images designed to make viewers think critically about a given subject and interpret pretty much as they see fit, but this time there’s an attempt at an overarching thesis that unsubtly that seems like Reggio unwisely trying to court mainstream viewers to an experimental work. Taking the notion that humans are all just evolved primates and mere visitors on the universal stage, Reggio goes from the surface of the moon, to garbage dumps and vibrant swamps, to buildings that were once seen as titans of industry that have fallen into disrepair and neglect in an effort to look at the world we create for ourselves. There are some moments where the film almost tantalizingly looks to examine where the pursuit of leisure leads to wasteful behaviour, but it gets lost like everything else after a short amount of time.
There’s nothing inherently wrong about the images themselves, and they are all playing into the same theme, but there’s a distinct repetitiveness this time out. Manipulating the images through artfully forced perspectives and time lapse photography is all well and good, but Reggio is going back to the same five or six set ups every time here, making the point a little tedious.
Also grating is the film’s other major aspect: human beings (and a memorable ape and a marionette) looking back into the eyes of the audience, almost always enrapt and without blinking very often. After bombarding the audience with these interludes that feel more like padding than part of the greater whole, the point has been made about humanity looking back on itself. By the eighth or ninth time it happens, it has become positively tedious and pointless. That’s to say nothing of the film’s dreadfully cynical and painfully condescending final shot which has the nerve to suggest that no one in the audience could ever hope to understand the art Reggio is trying to achieve. It’s something so obvious that the only real mystery left at the end of Visitors is why Reggio would even bother ending his film like this in the first place.
But there is one stand out reason for people who are willing to forego the artistic wonkiness of it all to see it, and that’s Glass’ exemplary score. It’s unquestionably some of his finest work, and delivered by the Bruckener Orchestra Linz under the conduction of Dennis Russell Davies, it’s almost more than Reggio’s images deserve. So good is the score, that one wishes they could have just produced a soundtrack album and a coffee table book that people could go through at their own pace instead of watching Reggio struggle with his overlong and needlessly meandering thesis that his previous successes never needed to succeed.