This was bound to happen. I’m watching a superbly slow film, which deserves to be stressed on this blog, but the blog itself is not exactly supporting the use of special effects and all these things. I do not – technically – work on experimental slow film without a narrative, so putting my thoughts on Godfrey Reggio’s new film Visitors (2013) on my website, may, in effect, not be the best idea, because it can potentially confuse my readers of what I personally think Slow Cinema is.
To clarify this from the start, Visitors is not Slow Cinema. There are no oppressed characters, crushed by external forces. There is no landscape-as-character theme. There is very little narrative. The slowness does not come naturally. It is the result of slow-motion. If I go through my list of Slow Cinema characteristics, Visitors does not look like a candidate for my site.
And yet, I can’t avoid mentioning it here. It is a magnificent demonstration of slowness, and of the beauty of it. In fact, the slowness is sometimes interrupted by time-lapse photography, and strangely enough, those very time-lapses doesn’t feel fast. It is all one smooth slow entity, complemented by an outstanding photographic eye. Truth be told, it is an orgasmic piece for someone like me.
Reggio is known for his QATSI trilogy, which I never liked, and probably never will. I’m not sure whether these films are simply too fast, too overwhelming, or whether frankly contain too many images. His films are said to be visual essays, but I never found it possible to contemplate what he actually wanted to show with his essays. On the contrary, I was put off by them. Visitors feeds into my need to take my time with images in order to see clearly. I wonder why Reggio has chosen this slow format for his new film. Did he want us to contemplate, finally? If intended or not, contemplation is an unavoidable result of Reggio’s aesthetic.
For some reason, the stark black-and-white, which in many cases was highlighted by an infra-red filter, I believe, made the act of contemplation easier. There were no distracting colours to consider. All there is, in most cases, is a medium close-up of a human being in front of a black background. At times, this makes for hilarious shots, in which it seems as though heads are hanging in the air, without neck or shoulders. Reggio shows us the faces of men and women, boys and girls, old and young, black and white – all the binary oppositions you can think of, they’re given space in Visitors.
These shots are intercut with slow-motion or time-lapse photography (or both?) of buildings; run-down houses, parcs, playgrounds it seems. But these places are empty. There’s no life in them as you would expect. On the contrary, they indicate that someone had been there; a visitor. There are shots of hands, too. From the hands’ movements you can gather what they are doing; using a computer mouse, writing a text message, etc Technology took over, and “outdoors” looks like a remote thing that only had a place in people’s lives years ago. I could misread it, but it is nevertheless possible to read certain scenes of Visitors in this way.
Sometimes I wondered whether I would get bored of the film. The film is essentially about nothing more than slow-mo images of faces, for a big part of the film. And yet, the film felt surprisingly short. The ending dragged on a bit, and could have been shortened. But overall, I had the feeling that it was too short. Why was that? Was it just my hunger for beautiful images, which are so rare on contemporary popular film? Was it the serene beauty of slowness? The contemplative journey? Was it the gorilla, perhaps? Yes, there’s a gorilla, but I’m not going to write about it. This would be worth an article in itself, and it has nothing to do with slowness, so I shall skip this one.
I have no answer to why this film felt short. I know that the film will remain in my head for quite some time, and I will savour the beauty I encountered in those 90 minutes of slowness. Visitors has so little in common with Slow Cinema, but it nevertheless deserves your attention if you’re interested in slowness on screen. Just let it happen to you and follow the images. It’s a magnificent experience. Oh, and don’t forget to look for the gorilla! He’s cute!