Tuesday, September 1, 2009

DJG on Herzog / 7 New Ones - Part 1

Land of Silence & Darkness * * * 1/2
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1971

To Be Without is to Be With…

It’s fascinating to me how we’re advanced enough to recreate sight and sound to document life, yet we can’t create and/or correct sight and sound for individuals born without it. Or, am I behind in today’s medicine? But, what we might think as a curse could be a true blessing. I think of people lacking the primary senses, even those with developmental challenges, as having a closer connection with God. They also seem to have an ability to see and detail life better than those of us who actually can and take for granted. There is also an uncanny ability to capture the attention of those around them. And this is what director Werner Herzog does as he simply is there to pay his attention and respect in this intriguing documentary on those born without the primary senses. Sitting near the start of an impressive resume, “Land of Silence & Darkness” isn’t necessarily Herzog’s most commanding film by any means, but it doesn’t have to be. Like many of his movies, some of the most ordinary images caught by the camera are the most interesting and impacting. Whether it’s a birthday gathering, a young boy enjoying water, a teen enjoying the big vibrations of songs on a tiny radio, or the unique method of elderly women finger tapping messages on hands, this movie translates. That translation is whole different world, and way to see the world, that many of us can’t even imagine. The most powerful image came right before the credits rolled when the camera caught a man walking confidently out of a group to enthusiastically touch a tree and its leaves as a light wind blew. He somehow sensed it was there with his wonderment, without sight or sound. Leading up to the end I was wanting more out of the film in terms of in-depth stories and subjects. But, the ending shared with me the need for what moving pictures I was given and the need in general for those with eye sight and sound to experience, inside and out. It also revealed to me how much closer to the true understandings of things others without senses truly are than I who tends to overlook what’s right in front of me. Point being, this wonderful film I just encountered.

The White Diamond * * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 2004

Waterfall Inside of a Rain Drop…

I love how the obsessions of Werner Herzog’s subjects become his own obsessions. I love how well they work together, even in life-threatening situations or shear madness of man’s quest to do the thing that is either haunting him to do or ends up haunting him during or even after it’s done. And in the middle of the process it is poetic purity like a white diamond in rock. It’s easy to stand outside and think that another man’s dream is either a death wish or pure stupid-stupid. Instead we need to get off the couch and journey for ourselves, or get a simple lesson by riding along with Herzog on screen. “The White Diamond” is a documentary about aeronautical engineer Graham Dorrington’s unusual zest-quest for flight in a small balloon over the canopy jungle of Guyana. Dorrington’s struggling want with flight and with anxious haunts of an accidental death of a close friend ten years prior are only a part of this story as Herzog finds many more individual obsessions and stories within to document. In the thick of everything is the vast jungle landscape alive to its simple-yet-colorful cast of inhabitants, traditions and superstitions. These are people who moonwalk on the edge of a cliff, best-befriend chickens and have a yearning to reconnect with long-lost European relatives. And then there is diamond country. The search for diamond in rock is a great metaphor for what Dorrington is trying to accomplish with his tiny air balloon craft shining bright above the jungle which dwarfs it immensely. Does he succeed in flight? I won’t give that one away as the accumulative results of this movie are mesmerizing and become my third favorite documentary by the legendary Herzog. I’ve seen many of his great movies, but “The White Diamond” makes me really want to follow him personally to any region or wilderness of Earth or man’s mind. Herzog recognizes a great story and finds a way to capture it and many more. One such way is a waterfall shot through a single rain drop that a native suggested. It’s an image that Herzog has come to bash by calling “Disney.” However, the image (which, I personally find to be powerful) was recommended to him by a simple, pure mind of a man who makes it to the spot regularly to soak in the simple act of reflection. I can’t think of a better image to sum up this movie and life itself.

Where the Green Ants Dream * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1984

Although art may be subjective and up to the viewer, some of it does seem to carry all the ingredients for greatness, yet comes up short. It can also have something to do with who is putting the pieces together. Maybe the person is me when it comes to the art of the film watcher!? Werner Herzog is certainly an artist up to the task for a movie like “Where the Green Ants Dream”, but I couldn’t help but think for an hour and forty five minutes that Peter Weir could have handled it better. Or, maybe it’s premature of me to only think that because Australia’s master maestro has dealt marvelously and handled mysteriously well movies in similar territory as this one? It has an Australian setting, half of the cast is Aboriginal…it even has actors that have appeared in some of Weir’s work. Upon entering “Where the Green Ants Dream”, I for some reason thought I was set to watch a documentary, but found myself struggling and stumbling through a drama about a mining company wanting to expand digging into sacred Aboriginal grounds. Interesting, yes, but it moved like molasses at times and at other times didn’t quite stick together for me. “Where the Green Ants Dream” isn’t a bad movie, but I left wanting more punch from it. I think I’ll have to come back to this one a second time, using what I’ve learned from Herzog, and that is, sometimes greatness is found in the smallest of details. I will pay more attention next time and cancel out how insanely great Weir’s “The Last Wave” is and how I wanted “Where the Green Ants Dream” to be its sequel.

Wheel of Time * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 2003

This is Not Your Typical Corner of the Sandbox…

Many Americans idea of a spiritual walk is the quick span of paved luxury between last call at Sunday morning service and the all-you-can-eat buffet. Their idea of spiritual art is dealt in cranked out kitscher-than-kitsch crafts with "God Bless Texas" (insert Bible chapter/verse here) carved into a plank of rustic wood and a barbed wire hanger. Please pardon my cynical tongue. I don't think you need to make great things or do impressive things to get to where you want to go internally and externally into the beyond. However, to paraphrase the Dalai Lama in “Wheel of Time”, in order to find understanding and peace in our world we need to try to understand and respect all spiritual journeys. I agree, and especially think this method of understanding would benefit Americans and their knowledge with other cultures and realize that we are not the center of the universe. Even though, Mr. D.L. adds the words of wisdom (again, to paraphrase) that as soul bearers, we ain some ways are centers of the universe. It’s more than a spiritual walk for Buddhist monks depicted in “Wheel of Time” as some travel thousands of miles, stopping every few steps to bow down in push-up like movements to get to a tree. The tree is called the Bodhi and represents the place where spiritual instructor and founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, achieved true enlightenment. After reaching the tree, some monks spend even more time doing their push-up like movements. Buddhist belief also takes some individuals on a pilgrimage gathering at Mount Kailash. A peak considered one of the most significant for its world spiritual center and simply known for its towering presence in nature. Werner Herzog also captures something equally fascinating as he focuses on an elaborate wheel of time painstakingly created out of colored sand. I’m still not completely researched in its purpose, other than it takes hours and hours of devoted cramped craftsmanship for monks to create, display curiously under glass protection and then destroy in seconds. They then take the remains to scatter in the river and wind.

Cobra Verde * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1988

One Foot in the Ocean…

I was equally mesmerized and terrified the first time I witnessed the ocean. I’m the same way with late-great actor Klaus Kinski. I’m kind of glad I never met him as he would have either killed me, spit in my cereal or made me cry. Yeah, no matter what, he would have definitely found a way to make me cry. I can’t think of an actor and very few individuals over all that can be matched to that of his mad genius and talent. But, can it be called “mad genius”? His life and work seems fittingly representative of that place where water meets land: mesmerizing and terrifying/mysterious and powerful. And not to mention: at many times out of control. Werner Herzog directs Kinski for the fifth and last time in “Cobra Verde”, as Kinski would pass away just four years later. Though, not Kinski’s finest role for Herzog, his Francisco Manoel da SilvaRoom (aka: Cobra Verde) is without a doubt a fascinating performance to watch and the film as a whole is quite an achievement, and one of Herzog’s biggest concoctions. Once again Herzog employs rich imagery in roomfuls of crabs, bats and a Kinski-taught army of half-naked African tribal women learning to fight. Though, my favorites are a coastal outline of flag signalers and a final bow by Kinski as he flops and flails on the place where water meets land as a crippled child who looks nothing short of an obscure, death-like creature hunches his way. In Herzog’s documentary on his relationship with Kinski in “My Best Fiend”, he recalls the scene on the beach as the place where his friend-fiend’s spirit may have started to show signs of leaving soon. I would agree.

Invincible * * * ½
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 2005

Modest Muscles…

“Invincible” finds Werner Herzog making fact and fiction from a German folktale partially based on a real-life person and actual events. World’s Strongest Man participant Jouko Ahola plays the lead in Zishe Breitbart, a Jewish man of strength who leaves his small village to achieve great things with his abilities. Upon arriving in 1932 Berlin, he is swiftly employed and tricked as a sort of side show act in a showcasing of the Nazi belief in the power of the “Aryan” strength. Here he begins to realize the dangers surrounding the powerful stirrings of the Nazi party and reveals his true identity and heritage pride. Zishe soon goes back home to see it as his prophetic duty to warn every one of the dangers of the forthcoming rise of Nazi power. Though untrained in acting, I appreciated Ahola’s naively-honest and sweet approach to the art as he came across a little like Bruno S., another Herzog actor that I appreciate. For the most part the film moves quite slow, but is also quite captivating and a little bizarre in the same way that “Heart of Glass” is for me. Herzog also employs some unique choices in dream-like sequences that I wish he would have used even more of. But, “Invincible” is an all-around lovely movie that I could easily experience again down the road.

The Dark Glow of the Mountains * * * *
Directed by: Werner Herzog / 1984

Like a Teacher Writing on a Blackboard…

I don’t believe I’ll ever climb a mountain, though a part of me feels like I’m missing out on something special. I don’t know how he does it, but every Werner Herzog movie has a moment (if not many moments) that brings every subject, no matter how surreal or near-insane, down to a level of uniquely gripping philosophical understanding across the board. Across the board meaning, anyone can at least understand it, even if they don’t prescribe to it. The board in “The Dark Glow of the Mountains” is a climber’s mountain in comparison to a teacher’s blackboard. It makes perfect beautiful sense when free style climber Reinhold Messner explains it. If you’re able to reach back into your Ben Fold Five trivia, the band has an album title with his name in it and from what I recall I don’t think it was intentional. Interesting, but not as interesting as the real Reinhold Messner explaining why he has to climb. It’s also not as interesting as how Herzog always finds as close to the answers he went searching for with a camera and with equaled passion.


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