Visitors Proves We Aren’t Slaves to the Screen


Watching a Godfrey Reggio movie is like hearing somebody brag about not owning a TV — it’s insufferable as much for being sanctimonious as for being utterly clichéd.

Reggio remains best known for Koyaanisqatsi, a nonfiction film whose time-lapse cityscape photography and grandly arpeggiated score drew attention away from its shallow, self-righteous thesis.

You may recall the film’s original subheading: “Life Out of Balance,” the title’s English translation and a point underlined, in one montage of contemporary disorder after another, in the thickest felt tip pen.

Alas, life hasn’t straightened itself out much in the 32 years since Koyaanisqatsi — and Reggio hasn’t grown any less tiresomely indignant.

The complaints leveled by his latest film, Visitors, will sound familiar to anyone who has spent time with a senile relative: kids these days with their smartphones and videogames, and so on. We’ve been rendered zombies before our luminescent screens, and, naturally, Reggio wants to have a stern word with us about that.

Philip Glass returns to score the lecture (and his contributions provide the usual pleasures), but what happened to the visual splendor? Koyaanisqatsi was a marvel of smeared and kaleidoscopic light; Visitors is a dull etch of digital blacks and grays.

Instead of panoramic globe-trotting, we get faces in an artificial room: The film is a catalog of faces, each in turn transfixed, of course, by a television screen. The lesson is insultingly simple, and incorrect. We’re slaves to the screen, you say? Not to this one. I found it quite easy to look away.