On Movies: 'Visitors' director slows it down, way down

Godfrey Reggio is director of "Visitors," a huge change of pace from his "Koyaanisqatsi." Of his new film, opening here Friday, he says: "I wanted something that would marinate the audience."
Godfrey Reggio is director of "Visitors," a huge change of pace from his "Koyaanisqatsi." Of his new film, opening here Friday, he says: "I wanted something that would marinate the audience."
Posted: February 17, 2014

Godfrey Reggio wants us all to take a breath, to be still.

In Visitors, which had its world premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, the experimental filmmaker serves up slow-motion black-and-white close-ups of people, and meditative pans of buildings and landscapes. The ambitious project moves to a rhythm that we have become entirely unaccustomed to.

"I wanted something extremely slow," says Reggio, whose first film, 1982's Koyaanisqatsi, presented a pixilated, time-lapse record of a world out of balance, overpopulated, undernourished, despoiling itself - all to a pulsing Philip Glass score. In Visitors, composer Glass is back with mesmerizing orchestral music, but the look, sound, and spirit of Reggio's remarkable endeavor is 180 degrees different.

"I wanted something that would marinate the audience," the tall Louisiana native, a progressive in social, cinematic, and spiritual matters, explains. "Something that would be a deprogramming experience from the intensity of acceleration that we all experience, whether we wish to or not. . . .

"It's there in the way we eat, in relationships, in marriage, in travel, in sports and world affairs and war - we're outrunning the future, as it were."

And so, when Visitors opens Friday at the Ritz Bourse, audiences will find themselves in a challenging and perhaps uncomfortable situation, watching a film whose subjects - men, women, boys, girls, a lowland gorilla named Triska - appear to be watching back, facing the camera straight-on, their gazes breaking the fourth wall and reaching out to us.

Steven Soderbergh, the freshly retired filmmaker and Reggio's longtime friend and admirer, describes the relationship between viewer and viewed as "primal."

"You are looking at someone who is looking at you," says Soderbergh, who is "presenting" Visitors, adding his name and cred to the film's release.

Reggio, 73, concedes that it takes some serious adjustment to get into the film and that his work - nonnarrative, without dialogue - is not for everyone.

"Let's be clear: Not everybody likes the work that I've done," he acknowledges. "A lot of people think it's drugged-out hippie stuff, an extravaganza, or the biggest-budgeted student films ever."

But in the gilded Elgin Theatre in Toronto back in September, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Michael Riesman bringing Glass' music into lush sync with Reggio's images, you could sense the audience settling down, and giving in, to Visitors. It took a while, but you could almost hear a communal exhalation, a switching of gears.

"We're on speed in rush hour trying to outrun the future," Reggio says. "Everything is accelerated, everything is on the clock, people are on their gizmos, everything is in motion. . . .

"But without the ability to be calm, to be still, then one doesn't have the capacity to appreciate the sensations that one has, because it's coming to us from all directions. . . .

"So, the stiller a person becomes, the more attenuated their senses become, and a movie is a perfect place to do that, because everyone is sitting still, gazing upon a lit screen."

So, as a Zen master might say (and Reggio has a bit of that sage and playful air about him): Leap and the net will appear.

"I was a Christian Brother for 14 years, and the novice master taught us all, in Lafayette, La., that if you really want to see that which is in front of you . . . you must stare at it until it looks extraordinary. And that has stuck with me all through my life - that things we see least are the things that are most present.

"And so, if you really want to see that, start looking at it until it looks strange. And when you start looking at this world, it's beyond strange."

Short subjects.Like Father, Like Son, the new release from Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, just opened at the Ritz Bourse. Last May it won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival - a jury headed by Steven Spielberg, who promptly negotiated the English-language remake rights for DreamWorks. The story's about a well-to-do couple who discover that their 6-year-old son is, in fact, not theirs - he and another couple's infant were switched in the maternity ward. As long as they don't cast the redo with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the leads. . . . Prolific Brit Michael Winterbottom, whose The Trip sequel, The Trip to Italy, reteams Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan and will be coming to theaters later in the year, has been shooting a ripped-from-the-headlines drama inspired by the Amanda Knox case. Mr. Selfridge's Sai Bennett stars as the semester-abroad college student who is charged with murder and put on trial. . . . Oscar Isaac, who has the title role in the Coen Brothers'Inside Llewyn Davis, stars opposite Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen in The Two Faces of January, an adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith con-game thriller. Hossein Amini, who wrote Drive (which Isaac costarred in), makes his directing debut - the film premiered at the Berlin film fest last week.


srea@phillynews.com

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@Steven_Rea

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