Visitors—or, the movie as sculpture exhibit | Bleader

Monday, March 10, 2014

Visitors—or, the movie as sculpture exhibit

Posted By on 03.10.14 at 02:43 PM

  • Visitors
I'm glad to have seen Godfrey Reggio's feature-length montage Visitors on a big screen (it's currently playing at the Landmark Century Centre), even though I didn't particularly care for the movie on the whole. Jonathan Rosenbaum's critique of Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi seems equally applicable here ("This quasi-mystical documentary is largely a dull rehash of ideas given infinitely better realization in Vertov's The Man With the Movie Camera and many other experimental films of the 20s"), as does Fred Camper's assessment of Baraka, a like-minded project by Reggio's former collaborator Ron Fricke ("With a few exceptions . . . shots are slapped together, interacting neither visually nor conceptually"). Reggio has said that Visitors is about human beings' relationship to technology, though what (if anything) he has to impart on this theme is never clear. The succession of long takes—skyscrapers, the lunar surface, and transfixed faces in close-up being some of the more frequent subjects—lacks any sense of development, so that the movie doesn't seem to conclude, but simply stop.

Still, I was often stunned by the movie's black-and-white 4K digital video photography and its imaginative use of special effects. Reggio and his postproduction team often remove all visual information from the shot, save for a single face or object, and this process encourages the viewer to study the subjects as though they were pieces of sculpture. The high-definition photography captures textures with extraordinary vividness, and the chiaroscuro effects allow one to admire every contour.

Where many recent studio entertainments have employed 3-D and IMAX like high-tech bells and whistles, Visitors employs its photographic effects to develop a distinct way of seeing—one that requires big-screen presentation if it is to be appreciated at all. I was so taken by the imagery that I wasn't bothered by the paucity of firm ideas until the movie was about halfway over (my wife, who was less enthused by the experience, told me afterwards that she felt as though she'd just looked at an expensive screensaver for 90 minutes). Until then I was content to slink down in my seat and let the shots tower over me. I especially liked the vertical tracking shot down the edifice of the art deco skyscraper and the long take of the gorilla, whose every strand of fur seemed brilliantly illuminated. Taken as a exploration of new directions for black-and-white cinematography in the postcelluloid era (and as an affirmation of big-screen spectatorship at a time when more and more art movies are premiering via video on demand), Visitors seems like a necessary work. I hope that other filmmakers will build upon its innovations to more valuable results.

Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.

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