Godfrey Reggio has made a career out of creating non-verbal films. This is not the same as silent films, which craft a story through pantomime and text boxes. Reggio instead edits together these feature length visual poems to try to convey a narrative to his audience. In my opinion, whatever narrative he’s trying to create with Visitors is elusive to the point of being non-existent. The film opens on a gorilla staring into the camera and holds its gaze for about two minutes, then cuts to a shot of the moon’s surface, then a building. After the title flashes, we start to see people, most of whom are as motionless as possible, to the point where you’re not sure if it’s a still frame or not. Over the course of the film, the people start to get more animated; doing sign language, laughing, watching sports. On and on this goes for 90 minutes until the film ends. I hope no one reading this sees any of that as spoilers, because like I said, if these images tell a narrative, it’s lost on me, and I doubt I could spoil it if I wanted to.
Each shot is about 90 seconds long, so you’re forced to hold on a specific image for what feels like an eternity. In the making of featurette, Godfrey Reggio explains that the average shot in an average film is 2 to 3 seconds, so audiences are accustomed to being bombarded with countless images in a 2 hour period. The long shots of Visitors is meant to force the audience to slow down and absorb each image as much as possible. Personally, I got bored and wound up watching parts of the film at 10x speed.
Visitors feels like it should be played at a museum as an art piece. It would play on a wall-mounted HD television, and passers-by would stop to watch for a few minutes before moving on to the next piece. I think people might find that interesting, and they wouldn’t feel the pressure to watch the movie as it was intended; straight through in one sitting. That’s a bit presumptuous to me. If the film was playing as an exhibit in a museum, it would also have the added benefit of some sort of plaque offering an explanation for the purpose of the film. Once I finished, I immediately went to the special features to find a behind the scenes featurette, in which Godfrey Reggio explains that Visitors is a commentary on our modern dependence on technology, and how that makes us cyborgs, and how the gorilla is the adult of this universe, and the entire film is from the point of view of the moon. I found this all to be very funny in how pretentious it was. Still, I could have gotten into the film if anything about his explanation came through in the actual film.
Other special features include more behind the scenes featurettes and interviews with the crew. Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Cinedigm on June 10.