Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Werner Herzog

So I just finished watching Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man. I've been a fan of his work for a few years now. Past favorites have included features like Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo and Nosferatu. At times I've even tortured my friends with Even Dwarves Started Small- a wonderful film with an all little-people cast (dwarves AND midgets) that takes over an asylum to create anarchic mayhem. But other than the stellar Kinski- My Best Fiend, I haven't had much experience of his documentaries. Grizzly Man traces the exploits of one Timothy Treadwell, an amatuer naturalist who made it his mission to live with and study grizzlies. This is no National Geographic special. It has more to do with the obsessive and perhaps unnatural relationship between Treadwell and the animals. Herzog suggests that there is both beauty and folly in this pursuit. And he doesn't make the mistake of telling the viewer exactly how to feel about it all. Herzog does communicate directly the difference between his and his subject's philosophies, but he somehow avoids making any final judgements, and thus truly humanizes his material.

One thing that has evaded me is exactly what Herzog refers to when he talks about "ecstatic truth". To hear him speak, this is the ultimate purpose of his endeavors as a filmmaker. It is such a nebulous concept that I can only form shadows and impressions of what he might mean. And perhaps the point is that "ecstatic truth" cannot be analyzed, broken down, or put into words. Or perhaps it's mere German pretension. Either way I get more out of his films than pretension, and I sugget that with patience you might as well.

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