Wednesday, February 26, 2014

'Visitors': Make of it what you will

Director Godfrey Reggio returns with another arty 'documentary.'
Director Godfrey Reggio's Visitors couldn't be more different from the usual movie fare -- even taking most art-house offerings into account. Reggio's concentrated, lingering look at a collection of human faces -- many staring directly into the camera -- makes it seem as if Visitors might be an unprecedented experiment: one in which the movie almost seems to be watching the audience.

As he did in his previous "documentaries" (Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi), Reggio teams with composer Philip Glass, this time to bring some 80 faces into our supposedly transfixed consciousnesses.

Reggio occasionally interrupts his cavalcade of faces with eerie images of an abandoned amusement park, an ominous-looking building and a few other "locations," one of them a garbage dump. The feeling can be one of desolation.

Shot entirely in black-and-white, Visitors opens with an arresting shot of the face of a gorilla, a sight that is both unnerving and unforgettable. Are we supposed to feel a kinship with this lowland gorilla? Is the beast about to pronounce some verdict on the human inhabitants of the planet?

It's probably best to regard Reggio's piece as the equivalent of an art installation that decontextualized images, allowing us to be jarred by the way the familiar can be made to feel entirely strange.

Because Reggio tells us nothing about his subjects, the entire film becomes an exercise in interpretation that either will intrigue you or have you heading for the exits.

I don't know how seriously to take Visitorsas art, but I'm glad that Reggio -- who'll be 74 in March -- is still at it, even if he works slowly. It has been 11 years since Reggio's last film, Naqoyaqatsi.

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