Friday, July 4, 2008

Encounters At The End Of The World

"The kinds of landscapes I try to find in my films...exist only in our dreams. For me a true landscape is not just a representation of a desert or a forest. It shows an inner state of mind, literally inner landscapes, and it is the human soul that is visible through the landscapes presented in my films."~Werner Herzog

I took a trip to Toronto today to see Werner Herzog's newest film, Encounters At The End Of The World. It is playing at The Cumberland theatre, a great theatre that always seems to be playing the movies that I want to see the most.

I really enjoy Herzog's films. He possesses this wonderful quirkiness which comes across in his work. They are quite idiosyncratic...lovely long shots of grass blowing, rivers flowing or subjects of a documentary just looking at the camera for an extended period of time. They are thoughtful films, careful without being precious, emotional without being saccharine. Besides, anyone who can be shot during an interview and continue on with the interview is a cool guy in my books.

Encounters At The End Of The World takes a look at the intrepid people who call Antarctica home. We also learn about the geological aspects of the land, it's enormous active volcano that can unexpectedly spew magma at any time, its icebergs, and a host of indigenous flora and fauna as well. Herzog maintains that he stipulated to his sponsors that he was NOT going to study penguins or make a 'penguin movie'. He does have a brief look at them of course. One moving scene has a penguin who breaks off from the group waddling to the ocean many kilometers away. The little bird embarks on a fatal journey by himself, towards the mountains which lie hundreds of kilometers away. To see this small bird, a spec of black dwarfed by the landscape, heading off to his inevitable demise, broke my heart but I had to realize that it was another cog in the wheel of nature and to try to accept its sadness and move on.

Herzog also interviewed dozens of people who work and live on Antarctica. From scientists to dishwashers with PhDs, all have a story to share. Philosophers who work as truckers, world travelers all, they are a unique bunch who choose to live at the end of the world. Werner Herzog seems to be attracted to those that flourish on the margins of society, people who shun convention and make their mark on society's fringes. He also seems fascinated by impossible, sometimes doomed journeys. Aguirre: Wrath Of God was very disturbing for this reason. Plus, Klaus Kinski just petrifies me-period. His unpredictable behavior in the wake of a failed pilgrimage to find El Dorado will resonate with me for a long time.

We are pulled into these adventures with Herzog's infectious inquisitiveness. The scientists in Encounters At The End Of The World love what they do and are humbled by the world in which they live. I too was blown away by the beautiful creatures who live in the frigid waters of the Ross Sea.

I recently rented Grizzly Man again. This is another documentary style film by Herzog that examines the life and tragic death of Timothy Treadwell, an eccentric naturalist, bear enthusiast and filmmaker in his own right. Treadwell lived in Hallo Bay on the Katmai coast of Alaska every summer for over a decade, studying and living with grizzly bears. Even after a second viewing I shake my head and smile when I see footage of Treadwell. He was a singularly unique individual with a passion for bears that unfortunately, ultimately proved fatal. As a longtime friend of Treadwell's said, Timothy would have wanted to die that way, doing what he loved to do. It is individuals like Werner Herzog and Timothy Treadwell that make our world a more interesting place. They are the wheat cleaved from the chaff. There are some lovely shots in the film, with Herzog almost steering the film lightly, letting Treadwell helm most of the direction, or so it seems. Werner Herzog opens the door for us to step into these epochs of time and place, these far flung lands that hold the promise of the untrodden path. I think that we are fascinated by those who have the courage to step off the grid of map and mind. I know I am.

"It is my firm belief, and I say this as a dictum, that all these tools now at our disposal, these things part of of this explosive evolution of means of communication, mean we are now heading for an era of solitude. Along with this rapid growth of forms of communication at our disposal — be it fax, phone, email, internet or whatever — human solitude will increase in direct proportion." ~Werner Herzog

Listening to: Coverage of Wimbledon as I work at my easel
Reading: Under The Banner Of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

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