Visitors Dir. Godfrey Reggio

[Cinedigm; 2013]

Styles: ambient opera of moving stills
Others: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, La Jetée, Qatsi trilogy

1. “I’ve never felt so confident that I had something worthwhile to say about a film. This is going to be criticism, Ben! But I need time.”

2. I’m tempted not to review this film at all but to transcribe the copy of the ads in the Sponsors section of the press booklet handed out at the screening I attended three months ago.

3. Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations also comprises numbered paragraphs, which are referred to as chapters. The book’s twelve books are ordered according to no obvious principle, but are united by a common preoccupation with (and meditation upon) the insignificance of all temporal manifestations of God (or, alternatively, of the random, atomistic universe Aurelius was desperate, though unable, to discount). Like Aurelius, Reggio knows that we are all visitors here on earth, mere pulses in the circulation of ever-changing Being. As far as I understand him, Aurelius believed a human life to be important only as an opportunity for the bearer, soon to be dust, to conquer his ruling center, to exercise his will upon his desires, values, and expectations in order to bring them into right alignment — justice, magnanimity, indifference.

4. I don’t know what Reggio believes about the value of human life.

5. Visitors is an 87-minute-long black-and-white 4K film shot in New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana. It comprises 72 time-delayed shots. These can be grouped into shots of a gorilla, shots of people’s faces, shots of buildings, shots of a Louisiana swamp, and shots of seagulls in the sky. Philip Glass composed an on-brand score, performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

6. The first thing that needs to be said is that the film is gorgeous. Also, it’s not a chore to watch, despite lacking any kind of narrative event. It comes off a little arrogant or pretentious…

6a. (an opinion I cultivated during the Q&A session, when Reggio refused to accept that the film signifies, that it carries anything other than a sequence of images onto which each viewer projects his or her own nonidentical manuscript, as if Reggio were a magician who could simultaneously create and organize images and evacuate them of their universal kernel. No doubt this is unfair, but Reggio’s disavowal of agency in works of art — of art’s agency — strikes me as a foreclosure of the only house we all hold in common. What I mean is that I’m surprised an ex-monk is so ready to espouse a kind of unmitigated subjectivism.)

6′. … because it’s so serious-seeming yet, ultimately, recondite. Reggio knows the audience wants to learn something, to arrive at an insight, but he’s constructed the film as if he were painting a mandala. It isn’t a mandala, though; it’s a meditation on the contemporary human relationship to screens.

7. The film ends with a shot of an audience watching the penultimate shot on a screen in a theater. This kind of self-reflexivity is a sin. How stupid does Reggio think we are, that he thought it necessary to end his film by reminding us that we’re watching a film?

8. In her review of Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915, Lorian Long writes that “self-reflection is always less interesting than the immersion of moment to moment.”

9. Triska is a western lowlands gorilla and an inmate of the Bronx Zoo. Her name means “thirteen” in bastardized Greek, “stamps” in Albanian, and “chip or splinter” in Czech. One unlucky item in a living catalog. In 2000, she gave birth to Suki, “love” in Japanese. “‘We’re very happy,’ said general curator James Doherty. ‘It’s a chance for the visitor to see another stage in their lives — and their similarities to us.’” I imagine Reggio wouldn’t raise an eyebrow reading that Doherty said that.

10. Visitors opens with a shot of Triska looking into the camera. Producer Jon Kane said in the Q&A after the screening that they shot 10 hours of footage to get four shots of Triska. She couldn’t be told or otherwise made to understand that she should sit still and gaze into the lens. But Reggio got what he wanted. Which was what? A proto-human face; more than pareidolia; the linchpin of a permissive humanism; evolution’s echo; Echo’s cryptomnesia.

11. Is our ability to abide in the virtual the defining characteristic of the human? Are we yearning for an Infinite Jest to help us destroy the reality of the world? The virtual is no more nor less than representation. All mimesis is abstraction. The first cave painting was a seed promising a future of increasing human withdrawal from the world we’re visiting. The Louisiana swamp has been living and dying from before any human visited it (maybe?) and will be living and dying long after humans have stopped visiting. (Perhaps! I wouldn’t want to underestimate the paradoxical omnipotence of our impotence.)

12. Advertising, art, and propaganda are not categories but genres. Visitors is a potential archive of advertisements without products, waiting (or even asking) to be extracted and branded.

13. I often find it difficult to take myself into my own confidence. Is this criticism? Time flies.

Most Read