Werner Herzog, perhaps the greatest poet-documentarian of our time and certainly one of the world’s most go-for-broke filmmakers, is seeping into my inner places left and right.
I saw his latest documentary, the touching and very beautiful The White Diamond, which Herzog is self-distributing, at Manhattan’s Film Forum last Saturday.
The great Werner Herzog, now 63, and the teardop-shaped helium-filled flying contraption that is the ostensible focus of The White Diamond.
Press screenings of Herzog’s Grizzly Man, which I saw 90% of at Sundance last January, are happening in New York in support of the film’s August 5th release from Lion’s Gate.
And the still-fascinating Burden of Dreams, the 1982 Les Blank documentary about the making of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, came out on a Criterion DVD just about a month ago, and I happened to see it last weekend.
To see these three films in a row is to be reminded what a truly great life-gulper, risk-taker, nature-worshipper and madman Herzog is.
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There is no filmmaker I know of who cares more about getting viewers to trust their eyes (which almost no one does anymore, he says, quite accurately, since special effects began to dictate visual terms to action-adventure film starting about 25 years ago) or, much more importantly, their dreams.
There may be filmmakers out there who are more earnestly committed to a particular vision of things or more determined to express cinematic worship about all things natural, eternal and transcendent than Werner Herzog, but I don’t know who they are.
Herzog’s films should not be rented — they should be owned and pulled out every few months and not just watched in a social way with friends but seriously absorbed in a state of aloneness…like meditation, with incense burning.
Except for The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, which I’ve always found slightly hateful, I know that Herzog’s films have always had a jolting head-turning effect upon me and the way I look at movies.
The White Diamond is about Herzog going back to the South American jungle, like he did in Aguirre, the Wrath of God some 33 years ago with his “best fiend” Klaus Kinski, and again for Fitzcarraldo.
The place this time is the rain forest in Guyana, in northeastern South America, and the risky activity (which there usually is in a Herzog doc) is flying in a helium airship above the treetops with a British engineer named Graham Dorrington.
The movie is about Herzog wanting to capture whatever he can in this hallowed environment, especially as it relates to the purity of the non-technological, anti-intellectual lives and customs of the natives as well as the wonder of the rain forest itself.
It’s also about Dorrington wanting to somehow to work through and maybe exorcise the guilt he feels about the death of a friend named Dieter Plage, a German cameraman who met his demise after falling out of a similar Dorrington-made helium airship in Sumatra in 1993.
Neither vein proves entirely cathartic, but I didn’t care because the movie still put me into a mystically spooky, deeply beautiful jungle environment with Herzog trying to touch and uncover wondrous things, and sometimes deliberately not uncovering them.
The spiritual epicenter of The White Diamond is the glorious footage of Kaieteur Falls with its urine-colored water plunging over the crest and creating magnificent mist clouds below…all mighty and roaring and wonderful for simply staring at for hours.
Below and behind the falls is a vast cave where thousands of swifts — white-breasted birds with broad wing-spans — mate and nest and hang. There’s a stunning sequence when one of Herzog’s guys is lowered down to a position where he can shoot into the swift cave.
Herzog is later told by the locals that including this footage in the film will somehow intrude upon the spirit of the falls and violate its other-ness on some level, and so he doesn’t show us the swift-cave footage, and this somehow becomes more fascinating than if he had.
I didn’t mention earlier that there’s a third Herzog documentary about devotees of eastern mysticism (made a couple of years ago, according to the IMDB) called Wheel of Time, which will apparently open on or around June 15.
And there’s an ’05 Herzog film called The Wild Blue Yonder in which Brad Dourif “plays” an alien, although the film is described on the IMDB as a documentary.
Readers living in the boonies should at least buy or rent Burden of Dreams (it’s easily available through Amazon.com) and then grab the docs when they hit DVD, which should be…well, I don’t know exactly but I would think sometime later this year or in early ’06.
It takes all sorts to make a world and anybody can like any movie for any reason…we all know this. It’s all subjective and there are no absolutes about the goodness or badness of anything…except in the case of a film like Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
A movie this repugnant calls for drastic measures. The usual critical civil liberties need to be put aside. A kind of aesthetic martial law must be temporarily imposed.
This film is a discharger of a certain rancid corporate nerve gas that has been affecting our culture and our souls, and the regular readers of this column know what I’m talking about. It isn’t just bad — it’s putrid.
As New Yorker critic David Denby writes, Mr. and Mrs. Smith stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie “are so pleased with themselves [in this film] that audience approval seems almost superfluous.” To me they seem smug and arrogant the way certain too-beautiful guys and girls used to seem back in high school…you know the ones I mean. The ones with the big smiles and too-white teeth and too-carefully-chosen clothes we all used to faintly scowl at as we passed them in the hallways.
It’s also one of the saddest examples of Mephistopholean corruption of a once-clever and noteworthy director (Swingers, Go and Bourne Identity helmer Doug Liman) in a long time, and it will poison or at least pollute the popularity wells of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for months to come…mark my words.
It is just too vile and repellent a film to be winked at or shrugged over, much less be given a rave or even a pass because (clever idea!) it uses gunplay as a substitution for sexual foreplay and an exercise that re-ignites desire in a marriage gone stale.
It is therefore unacceptable for A-grade critics (i.e., elite writers for the big publications who’ve shown they’ve got some good chops and serious film knowledge) to put on their tap shoes and figure some way to air-kiss this film. Approving of Mr. and Mrs. Smith is just wrong, doing so is bad politics and bad voodoo for film critics and film lovers everywhere, and it cannot be condoned.
At the risk of sounding like Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisoncsin, I feel obliged to keep a watch on any well-respected critics (I’m leaving out the junket freeloaders, easy lays and less-well-knowns) who decide to tumble for this thing over the next few days. Hopefully the world will take note of this.
As well as disregard explanations like the one put forward by the Philadelphia Weekly‘s Sean Burns that Mr. and Mrs. Smith is making an anti-materialist argument. The film is saying “that the rituals and commodities we’re all programmed to associate with a stereotypical happy marriage turn out to be the very obstacles that keep couples from truly knowing one another,” according to Burns, and that “only by trashing the paradigm (and literally blowing up the McMansion) that we’ll finally start seeing the other person for who they really are.”
Good God…this is precisely what I’m talking about! The fact that there isn’t the faintest hint that anyone involved in the making of Mr. and Mrs. Smith had the slightest awareness of such a theme should have, at the very least, given Burns pause.
The names so far on the Mr. and Mrs. Smith roster of shame are Burns, Michael Rechtstaffen of the Hollywood Reporter, Newsweek‘s David Ansen and New York magazine’s Ken Tucker .
Not Quite Right
West-facing billboard on Seventh Avenue near 52nd Street.
The advertising slogan for Cinderella Man is making me wince every time I read it, and I love the film so it’s not like I’m looking for trouble.
It’s just that the rulebook says there’s no using the same noun, even if you use different terms for it, twice in the same sentence.
This is why Lou Reed never wrote “when the smack begins to flow the heroin starts to feel really good.”
Of course, ad guys have never been that concerned about bad writing.
How should it read? I read an earlier version on a poster somewhere (or in a Variety ad) that said, “When the country was on its knees, he brought us to our feet.” That almost works. Or: “When the country was on its knees, he made everyone stand and cheer.” Hmmm…
If anyone has a better one, send it along so I can run it Friday.
This is the funniest terrified-crowd-reaction shot I’ve ever seen that comes from a presumably scary movie.
Almost everyone in this War of the Worlds shot is expressing some slightly different emotion or reaction…they’re all off on their own trip. It’s almost as if the photographer said to them, “Okay, now remember…nobody is allowed to look in the same direction or exhibit the same anything…got it?”
Starting from the extreme left, we’ve got a woman in a hat showing us her right profile and talking to an invisible friend. Behind her and slightly to her right is a serene-looking bearded guy in a skull cap who’s thinking about his career or maybe what restaurant to take his girlfriend to later on. To his right and slightly in front is the blonde girl with the knit cap who looks more spaced than scared.
Behind Tom Cruise’s right arm is a young kid in a hooded sweatshirt (resembling a young John Cusack) who’s looking up and to his right and going, “Uhhh…whoa.” Then you’ve got Cruise looking slightly up and straight ahead and properly alarmed. Next to him is Dakota Fanning reacting to a signal from her agent that he’s just gotten her another role as a really cute, whip-smart little girl in another big-budget movie.
Next to Fanning is her mother (and Cruise’s wife) Miranda Otto, who’s reacting to a very scary something-or-other that no one else is quite focusing on.
To Cruise’s immediate left (and mostly in his shadow) you’ve got a young woman who’s smiling at one of the aliens. Then way behind her is a black guy in a skull cap who looks bored. To his right is a middle-aged guy reacting to some kind of anal probe. Then you’ve got another black guy behind Otto and slightly to her left who seems perturbed about life in general….or is he smirking?
So everyone is looking at several different aliens or alien ships, or it’s just one of those stills that shouldn’t have been released but it was anyway because everyone was in a huge hurry to get War of the Worlds done in time for the 6.29 opening.
“I attended a media opinionmakers screening Monday of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and for the most part the silence was deafening. There may be some curiosity business the first weekend, but does anyone actually think this film has legs?
“Frankly, even Xanadu and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle got better reactions from what I can remember — and I saw both of those at similar screenings.
“The audience was willing to buy the Smiths for the first 40 minutes or so, when it looked as if it was going to be a dark domestic comedy. But when it exploded (literally) into full-blown action mode, you could sense a definite disconnect. No applause at the end although the last session with the therapist earned a few giggles, and not many positive comments on the way out.
“Three hours later, I saw Batman Begins and the reaction was the absolute reverse: Everyone seemed caught up in the film from beginning to end (and they did applaud on the way out). My guess is that whatever biz Mr. and Mrs. Smith is going to do is going to happen this weekend — and the money machine is going to conk out abruptly next Wednesday.” — James Sanford.
Tenement buildings between 5th and 6th streets on Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn — Sunday, 6.5.05, 6:10 pm.
Looking south down Seventh Avenue from northeast corner of 53rd Street, a half-hour or so before Monday evening’s Batman Begins screening at WB’s very covertly located screening room, which has a Sixth Avenue address but is actually about 75 feet to the east of 7th Avenue on 53rd Street.
Clean streets and sidewalks are an indicator of neighborhood pride and self-esteem. Clearly the residents of the Bedford district’s south side (near south 5th Street and Driggs Avenue) have a little ways to go. If all this crap were lying on the sidewalk in front of my building I would get a Hefty plastic garbage bag and pick it up and throw it in the dumpster. Where is the dignity with these people? Obviously somewhere else.
Sherry Netherland hotel (older building, right) and Hotel Pierre to its left. Pic taken from area near the eastern entrance to the formerly alive and pulsing Plaza Hotel, which is being turned into condos for the grotesquely rich…terrific. Another pat on the back for George Bush and his efforts to restrict middle-class opportunity and let the super-rich go hog wild and turn the pricier sections of this country into a super-rich pigpen. And another big pat on the back for those red-state security moms who voted him in…very wise, ladies! Completely contrary to your own financial interests plus the 911 Commission guys are saying they don’t believe that the Bushies have done all they can about preventing another World Trade Center catastrophe…so voting for Bush just made loads of sense.
Looking west on 57th Street from Sixth Avenue, just as Monday afternoon’s rainstorm was about to begin — 6.7.05, 4:15 pm.
Sixth Avenue bus stop during Monday afternoon’s cloudburst — 6.6.05, 4:20 pm.
Taken from Sony corporate headquarter’s 7th floor after screening of Sony Classics’ Heights, which wasn’t half-bad — 6.5.05, 3:00 pm.
Sixth Avenue again, from entranceway to Starbucks during that same old rainstorm you’re now starting to get tired of hearing about — 6.6.05, 4:17 pm.
Approaching Marcy Street subway station in another enterprising but vaguely shitty area of Brooklyn. Just after taking this I was walking past some low-rent cheeseball hot-dog stand with my Canon camera in hand, and I must have looked like a tourist because a couple of guys who looked like close relations of R. Crumb’s Weasel J. Weisenheimer gave me a look that said, “Whoa…can we take this guy? We could get that camera.” I gave them a Dirty Harry look that said, “Go ahead, try it.”
There is rarely a work day (or any day, because I’m online every damn day no matter what, including holidays) when I don’t click on this photo and think about how the water would feel.