I had a uniquely thought provoking afternoon this Thursday. It resulted from watching 3 Werner Herzog films in succession. Well, technically 2, but all 3 suffering his influence in one way or another. Do not judge my pastimes too harshly, I am on Thanksgiving break.
The first, Happy People. Essentially about trappers in the Taiga, and their existence so [knowingly] removed from the modern world. The Second, Burden of Dreams. An odd documentary cataloging Herzog’s experience filming Fitzcarraldo in the Amazon. Though more like: a documentary cataloging Herzog’s odd experience filming Fitzcarraldo in the Amazon. The third, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. A dreamy depiction of the collections of cave paintings at Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc dating back as far as 32,000 years ago, with pronounced lingering effections (I know that’s not a real word, deal with it).
Happy People, to me, seemed to be the distillation of human behaviors and attitudes in our existing society. Suddenly more powerful because of the very alive connection to nature, and that overwhelming awareness. You are challenged to consider what you personally desire for a satisfactory existence, and what meaning any of it possesses. But must importantly, our philosopher friend ,Gennady Soloviev, treats us to sweet nuggets of wisdom, regarding greed, companionship, dominance, craftsmanship, solitude, and industry. Must watch.
Burden of Dreams was like an outrageous mokumentary, but it’s not. I swear, those struggle and pursuits are all real, and I could hardly believe any of it. I have not seen the film which the documentary is records. but I have never witnessed such genuine irony in any film, writing, etc. as this movie shows. Fitzcarraldo is based on a historic figure, but Herzog’s film turns him into an Irishman dead set on bringing an opera house to the Amazon basin. Here is the story of a foreign man engrossed by his own culture fighting to impose it onto a completely different realm neither aware of nor much concerned with it. And the documentary shows: a German director struggling to film a movie in a wild land of tribal people. It’s excellent, and you get to witness Herzog’s gradual realization of the fact. Must watch.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is not a movie I will soon forget. Must watch.
I am left with an enduring, vibrant image of these early humans, hands dirtied by charcoal, sketching on the cave walls, guided by firelight… but I have always had a potent imagination.
These are astonishingly striking compositions. They are not crude, they depict habits of animals, illustrate movement, it’s all art. More deserving of attention than much of what is on display in any museum, because they are yet absent of the human pretenses of “making art”, and instead are the deep physical activity of processing external environments. The most important thing actually said in the film, versus shown, is the concept of art (in its various forms) being a means to communicate with the future. It’s hardly a complex idea, but it is fantastically true. Why bother to record anything? It must be captured, to be viewed again, 5 years down the road,
I do not know how Herzog does it, but he is brilliant. Did you think you would find cave paintings so fascinating, or the lives of trappers living in the Russian Taiga so compelling? I certainly did not expect to, but here I am, writing about it all, hoping to share the profound experience with you. Must Watch.