An Exorbitant Lapse of Realism
They forget that the technique is universal, even if we learn it in France. It is like science or medicine, we are entitled to them, they represent knowledge that belongs to the world and, therefore, to me as well. Baron, The figure of this wise grandmother is represented in the film by Sana, the outcast old woman whom the boy Bila affectionately calls yaaba grandmother. Despite its local origin, however, the developed story is essentially the work of a cinephile, which draws entirely on an earlier foundational realist film, Pather Panchali Satyajit Ray, , a decisive detail which seems to have passed unremarked by most.
A younger brother is born, Apu, who soon joins Durga in supporting their aunt, even after she is expelled from home. In Yaaba, too, it is a boy and a girl although the boy is here the lead , the cousins Bila and Nopoko, who side with old Sana, against the prevailing mind in their village that she is a witch. Bila finds himself equally compelled to steal — a chicken, among other things — in order to feed her. Also similar is the bond between both pairs of children, suggested through affectionate teasing, hide-and-seek games, and even fierce love tests, such as pretending to be drowned in a pond Bila , disappearing in a rice field Durga or not waking up from sleep Apu and Nopoko.
In both cases, play esca- lates to serious illness. In Yaaba, when Nopoko inter- venes in defence of Bila in a fight with three other boys, she is cut by a rusty knife and nearly dies of tetanus. Sana also falls dead to the side, when Bila tries to wake her up from apparent sleep, sitting on the ground and head lowered over her bent knees. Ray himself had voraciously resorted, for his first film, to Italian Neorealism and more importantly to Renoir, whose realist methods he had experienced in practice by assisting the French director during the shoot of The River Jean Renoir, in India.
Bila and Nopoko, as much as Durga and Apu, are setting out to discover and take posses- sion of a territory which is new to them as much as to the film specta- tor, and are thus the channel through which novelty migrates from the fable to the film aesthetics. Within the realm of the fable, the film is entirely atemporal, with no indications of premodern or modern phases of Africa. As such, his character embodies the fierce criticism of traditional ways that pervades the film as a whole, despite it being passionately rooted in the Mossi traditional culture.
This criticism does not emerge from clashes with alien cul- tures which are entirely absent in the film , but from the social prob- lems inherent to this very community. In their turn, marginal charac- ters such as Sana and Noaga, are the ones endowed with progressive thought, thanks to their disengagement from society and its rules. Efforts are made by the village male popula- tion to find treatment for her. A magical healer is hired who demands the sacrifice of several animals, all to no avail. Bila however resorts to his mentor Sana, who goes to fetch the herbalist Taryam, living on the other side of the river.
Winners and losers are thus clearly defined, with women prov- ing to be wiser than their bossy, traditionalist husbands, and science prevailing over superstition. A happy ending is finally achieved that duly satisfies the requirements of the moral tale. One may, however, ask where realism would be found in all this. Not in the fable, of course, but in the presentational quality of its narrative style, which exposes, beyond the demands of the fable, the reality of the actors and the scene.
In Yaaba, too, the camera is predominantly static, moving only very occa- sionally in slow pans or short tracking shots. However, it does not explain the fact that empty bits of static shots, before and after the appearance of characters, are not edited out. This effect is further intensified by another presentational device relating to the gaze construction, which Bergala also points out about Ozu: Bergala, Now let us look at Yaaba.
Here too the scenes are often arranged so as to place the gaze in an intermediary position. A typical example is this: This arrangement produces a spectator inside the scene who is situated on the borderline between voyeurism and active observation. It may be so, but the role of these faces is more complex in that they incorporate passive and active spectatorship within the diegesis.
The intentionality of this device can be observed in the prevalence of triadic compositions, in which two characters con- versing in the foreground are observed by a third in the background. The insertion of a judgemental figure within the scene is actually a very distinctive, auteurist feature in Yaaba, in which it is employed as a structuring device of the film as a whole.
Even when no verbal comments are uttered, this diegetic spectator will be there to shake their head and smile to express their opinion to an audience within the film or even to the film viewer alone. The smiling faces of Bila, his mother and Sana are fitting illustrations of this procedure Figs.
A last variation will show a dialogue between two char- acters; once the dialogue is finished and one of the parties is gone, the remaining party turns towards the camera and utters a comment. Both the enunciative camera placement and the spectator within the scene are presentational devices, calling the attention not only to the arbitrariness of fiction, but to their own reality, that is to say, the reality of the medium. They bring the awareness, on the one hand, of a Foucaultian society of surveillance, where envy, intrigue and betrayal are rife, thus preventing the formation of any romantic nostalgia for traditional ways; on the other, they place the spectator within this same network of invigilation that spreads beyond cultural boundaries.
Borders are effectively crossed in the fable by Sana, who takes the boat across the large river in search of Taryam and the healing power of his Figure 1. Hers is a search for a better world, which is not defined by difference or otherness, but simply improved humanity. The same happens on the level of the film medium, in which border-crossing cinephilia is put to the service of a new realism.
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Clear though this effect may seem to be, it is no less a puzzle insofar as all techniques employed to achieve it, including acting, shooting, editing and mixing, are usu- ally associated with anti-realism. The characters are not realist: At the same time, it causes the nation to expand over its geographical boundaries and become the stage for the enactment of universal tropes. A land that is rustic, isolated, wild, poor, interior, scarcely inhabited, located in the northeast, arid, pastoral, whose population is conservative. In the first part, cowherd Manuel rebels and murders his rancher boss, who denies him his due pay because some of the cattle under his responsibility have died in the drought.
The final scene provides a synthetic closure to this thesis schema. Rosa falls over and stays behind, while Manuel car- ries on running until the final image of the sea, superimposed by the montage, brings the film to a close. Both the figures of messianic preachers and cangaceiros are typical of the arid hinterlands of the Brazilian northeast and a favourite subject of oral literature of that region, most notably the cordel literature, or narrative poems, illustrated by woodblock prints and contained in leaflets, which are sold in street markets and other places across the northeastern states.
Despite being distributed in printed form, cordel preserves its oral character, since it is intended to be read or sung out loud by the author, the seller, or the purchaser before a semiliterate audience. A messianic leader of anti-republican, millenarian convictions, Consel- heiro commanded the greatest peasant rebellion in Brazilian history, the war of Canudos, which ended with the massacre of the rebels by military troops in Love and hate are inextricable feelings, which imprison characters in a complex chain of jealousy.
He had all the qualities That a person can have He was a nurse and a midwife False, coward and brave Weak like an old nag Sly as a serpent. Messianic leaders and cangaceiros are seen through the lenses of both high litera- ture and popular cordel, the former offering its tragic, operatic pathos, the latter its presentational, down-to-earth tone, through which the enunciation, in the form of an extradiegetic narrative singer, precedes the enounced in a similar procedure described about Yaaba, in the preceding section.
The negation of otherness is thus defined as the basic situation and the major philosophical and political chal- lenge in the film. Being a Brazilian means to live in a country geographically different from Europe and inhabited by a different race from the European. While dealing with popular culture and myths with a seriousness and dignity it had never enjoyed in Brazilian art cinema, Rocha is at the same time extremely critical of the beliefs it endorses. The question of what the prophecy means is secondary. For me, the problem resides in how the prophecy is interpreted.
It is another prophecy you can interpret in many ways. Those who wish to reach salvation will stay here with me from now on until the day when a sign from God will appear on the Sun. Man cannot be the slave of man! Man must leave the lands which do not belong to him and search for the green lands of heaven. National identity, which the film unquestionably renders, must then stem from elsewhere, and here is where my hypothesis of physical real- ism comes into play.
But it is the way all actors and the camera itself engage with the extreme conditions of the chosen locations that gives the viewer the piercing sense of reality, a reality that could be located nowhere else but in Brazil. Today, whoever climbs the long via sacra, some two miles in extent, along which at intervals are twenty-five stone chapels, housing the Stations of the Cross, will be able to form an idea of the constant, unremitting labor that was expended in the erection of this site.
Supported by concealed walls, paved in some places while elsewhere the bed of living rock has been carved into steps, in other places sloping upward, this white quartzite roadway, where the litanies of Lenten processions resounded more than a century ago, and over which legions of penitents have passed, is a marvel of rude and bold engineering skill. One of the extras in the film, a woman chosen from among the villagers of Monte Santo, is repeatedly seen in the film serenely sitting with a cobble stone on her head.
In a sequence lasting for an unnerving five minutes of handheld camera footage, with no sound other than his groans, Manuel repeatedly drops the boulder on the ground and struggles to bring it up onto his head again, until he reaches the top of the mountain with real blood trick- ling down his face, to the hysterical cheers of the crowd. In so doing, however, he is not breaking illusionism, as Brecht envisaged, as much as highlighting the reality of the environment, the dry earth and the scorching sun under which the cast is constrained to perform.
We swallowed a great deal of dust on the trans-northeastern highway. We climbed one hundred times the steps of Monte Santo. We killed rattle-snakes and jararacas [another venomous serpent]. We walked kilometres on foot carrying our equipment in our arms, on our backs and on our heads. We crossed areas of mandacaru and xique-xique cactuses, macambira and favela plants.
We struggled, suffered, saw, heard and made a film.
Mostly handheld, it circles Figure 1. Rather than tricking at the editing table, it is at the phenomenological stage of shooting where this state of confusion and dilemma is created primarily by the camerawork. Even here contrasting citations are put together only to be immediately neutralized, for example, through the placing of ellipti- cal, fast-edited action scenes, alongside extremely protracted interior monologues, a process Xavier referred to as the alternation of rarefac- tion and excess, scarcity and saturation , pp.
All tools were valid as virtuoso exercise, so long as they were rein- vented anew through direct experience of the physical environment. Not only an obvious citation of the celebrated ending of The Blows, and not the final encounter with the sea, which only the spectator, but not the character, can see. But the painful, bodily experience and recognition of a harsh, cruel soil, under an unrelenting sun, which happens to be unmistakably located in Brazil.
At the same time it is the film in which these concepts are most subtly concealed, as compared to the other cases examined here. The innovative power of The Blows is unquestionable from the simple fact that it inaugu- rated the French Nouvelle Vague, which radically changed the way films were done worldwide and continues to reverberate in world cin- ema up to this day. However, this innovation was carried out by the film without causing any sense of rebellion.
I concur with this view and will therefore devote this section to an attempt at unravelling the indexical quality of The Blows from its tightly woven fictional mesh. Cinephile citations, which abound in the film, are never there to break the narrative flow as is invariably the case with Godard , but, on the contrary, to enhance its efficacy. There is no sense of aes- thetic rupture and no grounds for scandal in the chosen storyline, an innocent tale of coming of age.
This is understandable with regard to a filmmaker who writes as eloquently and convincingly as he films, and who was the brain behind the poli- tique des auteurs, of which The Blows was meant to be the most literal cinematic translation. As everything else in the film, authorial signature is discretely, though efficiently, inscribed into the diegesis, Hitchcock style.
The obvious illustration here is the famous scene in the fair- ground, in which Truffaut stands next to Doinel inside a gyrating rotor machine, filmed in such a way as to reproduce the mechanism of the praxinoscope, a predecessor of the cinematographe. The physical experience of the centrifugal force, which plasters participants against the rotor wall, unites character, actor and auteur in a cleverly devised fusion of film fable and real life. Such stylistic exercises alone, however, would hardly suffice to fuel the autobiographic legend around The Blows. The culprit is again Truffaut himself, who has always volunteered detailed accounts of his life, and his childhood in particular, at every opportunity.
With the excep- tion of the events relating to Bazin, mentioned only in the form of a posthumous homage in the dedication, all the other facts are recounted in the film. The question is, as Doniol-Valcroze has put it already at the launch of the film in , not to know if his hero Antoine is he [Truffaut] or not. What matters is that Antoine exists with surprising truth, and this continuous over-authenticity which fascinates us during the entire projection does not exclude humour, or fantasy, or poetry, or the dramatic quality of the cinematic narrative and the power of its progression.
Being, however, outside the filmic reality, despite his fleeting auteurist apparitions, the autobiographical author cannot provide any indexical value to the characters or the story. Documentary style is, however, verifiable in another interesting way, that of uncovering the material existence of characters and objects, in such a way as to reinforce the truth of the fable.
The rotor scene is again an example here, as it highlights characters overwhelmed by the sensations experienced in reality by their own bodies as actors, who are moreover shot by a camera which is itself at times placed inside the machine and experiencing the centrifugal force along with them. This is an entirely extradiegetic opening, in principle serving merely as a background to the initial credits with no narrative function other than to specify the settings of the story as Paris — which would place this film immediately within the realist tradition of a Rossellini, for example, who famously made his characters emerge out of real cityscapes, such as Rome and Berlin.
Thanks to an interview with Truffaut, collected by Gillain , pp. This idea was in the end abandoned, the point-of-view shots of the boys were never shot and the Eiffel Tower footage was used as background to the credits instead. Gillain aligns this opening with the final encounter with the sea, saying that: I would say that these two framing sequences of the film are comparable for one more reason: Both the camera, in the former, and the character, in the latter, lose interest in their mythical Figure 1.
Urban and natural environments are before any- thing else material reality and offer no escape from a society repre- sented throughout the film by the metaphor of the cage. I am entering again a well-trodden terrain, about which a great deal of excellent criticism has been written, so I will restrict myself to some specific aspects of the prison theme in the film, starting with art viewed as an escape from the material world. Antoine Doinel, in the film, carries the mark of difference and this difference is conceived in the form of artistic drive. Likewise, Antoine cannot resist his creative impulse, which invariably leads to punishment and repression by society around him.
We are introduced to the protagonist at school, where during a class of French a calendar illustrated with the figure of a pin-up is cir- culating and lands on his desk. Unlike his classmates, who are satisfied with surreptitiously looking at the image, Antoine feels compelled to interfere, by drawing a moustache on the female figure. This has been read as a preemptive aggression to a hostile mother figure later to appear in the film Gillain, , p. The metaphor of prison makes its first appearance in the form of a tight corner behind the blackboard, where the teacher orders Antoine to stand while the class continues.
Austerity and Debt Realism
There again he cannot resist his artistic drive and secretly inscribes a poem on the wall: Physical punishment follows once again: And this is just the first of a long series of flights of genius on the part of Antoine, which will be curtailed by his school, family and society in general in the form of physical punishment and confinement. At home, he is prevented from doing his homework by an abusive mother, who sends him on untimely errands.
Back in school the next day, and without a note of excuse because his stepfather had arrived the night before precisely when he was about to forge one, he lies to the teacher that he missed school because his mother had died. Once the truth is revealed, pun- ishment is not slow to arrive, this time in the form of violent slaps in the face by his stepfather, in front of his entire class. Another attempt at creative writing is made through a pact between Antoine and his mother, when she promises him money in exchange for a good mark in his French essay.
As a result, he receives a zero for his essay, of course, however the point of view construction is again so manipulative in favour of the romantic hero, that the spec- tator is led to believe that he is once more the victim of gross injustice. All goes wrong again, and this time the punishment is the cruellest.
He is sent to jail at first and then to a juvenile delinquency centre. In the realm of the fable, Antoine is constantly being confronted with a world which denies him the right to individuality and original creativity. This denial comes regularly through the corporeal experience of the real, in the form of shock, especially remarkable in the unan- nounced, loud slaps in the face. This is how his romantic imagination is regularly forced back down to an earth destitute of metaphysical aura. Thus, his experiences of escape yield no better results than those of impris- onment.
Instead, they mean sleeping rough in the cold winter, filling his empty stomach with milk hastily drunk from a stolen bottle, wash- ing his dirty face with the frozen water of a street fountain, in short, being in permanent discomfort. All this is in accordance with normative representational realism, in that, as Grodal puts it, it coincides with negative rather than positive experience: He is himself a dirty boy who is once granted a bath in a basin in his kitchen, but only because his mother wants to buy his silence about her lover.
He messes his hands with coal, when filling up the stove, and wipes them in the house curtain. He is in charge of the disgusting rubbish bin in the house, and all other details about his daily routine are equally uninviting. However, yet again, it would be misleading to indentify this as the way through which the sense of authenticity is produced. Truffaut himself made no secret of his intention of attenuating any visual roughness deriving from poverty and dirt in the film plot: The settings of my film are sad and sordid, and I was afraid of rendering an unpleasant atmosphere.
Thanks to the scope format, I obtained a stylization effect, which could account for a larger reality. This brings us back to a typical Bazinian realism of the medium: In fact the entire camerawork, montage, acting and plot construc- tion gear toward this moment of physical truth. As he loses his pursuer, there follows a long tracking-shot of c. Music here is suspended and the only sounds are of his footsteps and occasional birds. For a moment, representation, so carefully maintained during the entire film, is lifted to reveal not only the per- son of an actor but his act of performing for a film.
This is not the representation of an escape, but the presentation of a running actor which then smoothly mixes, through a dissolve, with the Seine estuary over which the cam- era pans to recapture Antoine, as he briefly pauses under a high tree, in a contemplative pose entirely redolent of the romantic hero as found, for example, in the painting of Caspar David Friedrich. Another long tracking-shot follows him as he descends the steps toward the beach, runs to the sea, dips his feet into the water and then turns back to the camera.
The film finishes here, with a frozen close-up of his face. This ending has a predecessor, already indicated by Truffaut him- self and commented upon by critics such as Allen , p. Instead, I propose a more matter-of-fact view, the mere facticity of water, matching that of the iron cage of the Eiffel Tower at the beginning of the film, that is to say, the clash of physical experi- ence against the heroic aura, modernism against romanticism, which is at the end congealed without solution.
Caetano Veloso This chapter will examine the work of Werner Herzog, a fascinating instance of physical filmmaking that differs considerably — at least in principle — from the ones analysed in Chapter 1. Reality thus becomes synonymous with difference, a fact embodied by the legions of extraordinary beings who populate his entire output.
The Excessive Body There is hardly a greater champion of physical cinema in the world than Werner Herzog. Traditionally, however, the voice- of-god is that of a professionally trained speaker, with no authorial input, so as to confirm its neutrality and objectivity with relation to the facts in focus. Herzog also resorted to this kind of professional narra- tive voice in his early films, such as Signs of Life and The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz Die beispiellose Verteidigung der Festung Deutschkreuz, But his highly subjective discourse was hardly suit- able to a neutral reading, and even risked involuntary humour, a case in point being the end of Signs of Life, when an uninterested speaker reads off-frame grandiloquent lines of inscrutable philosophy.
This danger was certainly perceived by Herzog himself, who subsequently tried a kind of self-questioning and self-parodic multiple voiceovers in Fata Morgana ; more on this film in the next section. This he justifies by saying: One reason for this is that I would rather audiences who do not understand German listen to my voice in English rather than hear me in German and read the subtitles.
I think the result is a stronger connection to what I originally intended for the film. I have also never liked the polished and inflected voices of those overly trained actors. This is what, in my view, characterizes his per- sona as a competitor to his films, rather than part of them, and this is why I deem it possible and indeed necessary to separate the two. Not so much in the sense of a split auteur figure, divided between the abstrac- tion of words and the density of images, as once observed by Corrigan , p.
In fact, his urge to control the per- ception and reception of his films goes far beyond his intrafilmic voices. Despite his pose as an artisan and manual worker, averse to intellectual reflection and oral expression, Herzog has proved in all these decades an extremely eloquent writer and speaker, through a voluminous literature about and around his films, alongside copious interviews and public talks he is always keen to volunteer all over the world.
The self-mythologizing, victimizing and heroicizing machinery set in motion with rare compe- tence by this hard-working and highly organized filmmaker leaves so little room for independent criticism that one wonders why so many of us still bother to write about him — or rather, if at all possible, about his films. The reason can only be that Herzog is not his films, and that these are at the same time more and less than the director wants us to believe. Herzog, as a person, is a media phenomenon, whose writings and opinions hardly ever surpass the level of self-help literature or New-Age esotericism.
This however allows me to explore the main theme of this chapter, concerning dif- ference as synonym for material reality. Since then the Fitzcarraldo legend has continued to grow, with Herzog constantly pub- lishing and talking about it, and in so doing refuelling its marketability. The extraordinary is reduced to the formulaic; the mysterious becomes routinized; the ineffable hackneyed. It is one thing to locate, with a ferociously critical eye, the signs of purposeless destruction in a landscape; it is another to cause this destruction for the sake of a purposeless film, as was the case in Fitzcarraldo, with the tearing down of the Amazon jungle and the endangering of many lives, including those of the native Indians, a few of whom actually died.
Their exceptional nature does not arise from comparison against the norm, but from their highlight- ing of the distortions contained in prevailing models of normality, and examples will be presented below. I would attribute them in equal mea- sure to an ethics of realism that entirely depends on characters and situations found in the objective world as a given, and therefore resis- tant to representation.
One could thus say that, as a filmmaker, Herzog thinks with his body; as a thinker, however, he remains hopelessly hostage to the insuf- ficient power of his verbal discourse, which limits and often works against the most original and innovative properties of his own films. Hence perhaps his resentment against intellectuals, and academia in particular, expressed in statements such as this: Academic thought is a serious disease, this kind of vivisection, of assassination they carry out on something which is alive and beautiful.
However, the oral com- mentaries he provides his films with, as well as the subsidiary literature produced by him around them, have no function other than to add an intellectual, reflexive layer to the factual events in focus.
Austerity and Debt Realism by Kenneth Rogoff - Project Syndicate
This friction has been recently spotted with sharp precision by Jeong and Andrew apropos of Grizzly Man. They conclude by saying that: At the height of the politique des auteurs, in the mids, Truffaut used to say that there are no good or bad films, but only good or bad directors. This will hopefully help us evaluate his position within, and contribution to, film history, as well as the extent to which his films subscribe to an ethics of realism.
Literal Difference Herzog belongs to a generation born during World War II, and this horrific experience could not but be present in his work. However, there are no more than three films directly addressing this subject in his entire production so far: Signs of Life, Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Invincible , and even in these, as Prager rightly observes, a means is always found to draw the focus away from political and his- torical questions , p.
Werner Herzog Revisited 83 films, would they not suggest a single cause or trauma behind them? Do they not instead derive from a particular experience of catastrophe, which affected the world as a whole, but one nation in particular, that of the filmmaker, as its main cause and final casualty? Because Herzog is so reluctant to acknowledge any preexisting reasons or historical grounding for his filmmaking, his comments are rarely enlightening on this subject.
It may sound inappropriate to compare a cerebral artist such as Kluge to a self-defined instinctive filmmaker such as Herzog. However, as we will see, the contact points between the two are too significant to be overlooked, when it comes to questions of realism. Born in , Kluge is known as the mastermind of the Oberhausen Manifesto, which kick-started the cinematic renaissance in Germany in He is 10 years older than Herzog, who is himself a predecessor of his other New German Cinema colleagues, such as Wenders and Fassbinder. However, Kluge is contemporary to Herzog in his begin- ning as a filmmaker, after having started as a prolific writer, taking as a starting point for both activities the experience of the Third Reich and World War II.
Kluge calls the years immediately after the abarischer Punkt, or, in an approximate translation, centre of gravity of his work apud Roberts, , p. This is significant, for Kluge, insofar as it defines the World War II experience as a moment in German his- tory that inflected both its past and future in equal measures, requir- ing a corresponding artistic approach able to encompass a backward and forward perspective into history.
This defines his realist method, which is based not on rounded narratives, but on situations that work as the centre of gravity for further real or imagined events in the past and future. This petrified monumentality is then intercut with an interview with a former concentration-camp commander, who coolly describes the workings of gas chambers in mass executions. As in Kluge, will to power is directly associated, through montage, with human carnage.
Not to be overlooked, of course, is the fact that Mainka-Jellinghaus, having impressed him with her work for Kluge Cronin, p. It is a destruction that affected not only lives and property, but also, and principally, the connection between thought, language and the material world. Roberts, , 78 Montage will thus offer both directors the opportunity to reestablish the link between human perception and concrete reality. This resonates with Herzog in many ways, most notably in his permanent search for primacy, that is, images and sounds that were never seen or heard before.
Peculiar to these images and sounds is their resistance to encoding into language, that is, their purely presentational quality. From Marx he borrows the idea that our five senses are a product of world history and that capitalist society imposes upon them the sensuality of possession through which they are muted Gregor, , p. Or the tribal man, in Kenya, who does not recognize the drawing of an eye on a poster, because there are no eyes as huge as that in his community, in The Flying Doctors of East Africa?
Not to mention the thesis-like approach to Kaspar Hauser, who, with his aversion to logic and abstract thinking, refuses, for example, to believe that a tower, which he ceases to see once he turns away from it, is bigger than a room inside this tower, which envelops him entirely. They are therefore realists. I see something in the present which reminds me — otherwise I would not be able to perceive it at all — of something earlier in the past, a representation of fortune or misfortune, and through this I can perceive the present and decide about the future.
All associations take place through this triple movement, because our perception always needs a ground which is not located in the present. Werner Herzog Revisited 87 events through unprejudiced means, hence the recurrence in his films of bombings, massacres, fires and floods of massive proportions, which naturally connect to human feelings, emotions and fantasies.
An example regards the way the act of flying is linked to the circus, in Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: In the first place, to fly is a permanent metaphor in a circus tent. Secondly, the open sky: In the third place, there is fantasy, through which I give a hint to the viewers that they may associate freely, they can fly with their thoughts at will, without worrying about logic. Airplanes and the act of flying are a focus from as early as The Flying Doctors of East Africa through to Little Dieter Needs to Fly , including, of course, the flying ski-jumper Steiner, in The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner Die grosse Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner, ; and circus-related scenes appear from Signs of Life to Invincible, including the memorable Kaspar Hauser circus, which displays an array of recurrent Herzogian charac- ters and motifs.
The film is described by Herzog as an exception in his filmography, as it did not emerge from a coherent script, but from the editing room Cronin, , p. This is indeed essentially a montage film, in which the contribution by Mainka-Jenllinghaus acquires paramount importance. Werner Herzog Revisited 89 aerial shots of migrating birds and vast lakes mirroring the sky.
But living beings and objects have all been so radically decontextualized, that their original meaning has gone astray. Mirage — or Fata Morgana, as per the film title — indicates precisely that: Many mirage images appear in the film, in the form of a moving point on the far horizon which could have been motor vehicles, animals or birds, but which remain resistant to cognition in the present.
This is thus a film about severed links, due to undisclosed reasons. However, they invite the viewer to follow the clues offered by the asso- ciation of the images among themselves, with music and with voiceover commentary, that is to say, through montage. The first sequences of images correspond, to a certain extent, to this description, as they result from endless tracking shots through desert landscapes of sand dunes and mountains, inter- spersed with indistinct mirages, all of which are utterly devoid of life of any sort. As narration progresses to describe the creation of plants, animals and finally human beings, the imagery progresses too, but in the opposite direction.
The landscapes slowly start to populate them- selves with unidentified debris, fire chimneys of oil refineries, power plants, tanks and weaponry rotting away behind barbed wire, and then shacks and ragged children wandering amongst rubbish, stray dogs, and then animal carcasses strewn on the sand, filmed with unnerving insistence, even the corpses of a cow with a calf nestled between its legs are filmed in macabre detail. This is followed by the image of a car turned over onto its roof, making room for a row of car carcasses, serv- ing as housing to a population of a long-stretching slum.
The removal of direct sound, replaced by disparate music tracks of Handel, Mozart, Couperin, Blind Faith and Leonard Cohen, make all these images seem level with each other. And so the beauty of the landscape slowly discloses its innards of filth and death. Creation is reversed to destruc- tion. Living beings exist, but they all carry the sign of death, the indifference toward the onlooker represented by their thoroughly unemotional gaze straight at the camera. They are in all aspects compa- rable to the animals which several of them hold in their hands and as indifferent to the camera as they are.
They are pre- and post-creation beings, whose present has been turned into a void. It should tell us something that all the characters who speak to the camera — with one single exception of a blind Malian, whose speech is offered no translating subtitles — are German expatriates. Among them, Figure 2. Werner Herzog Revisited 91 Figures 2. But the connection of war with destructive capitalism could not be clearer, through the focus on humans and animals as debris of civilization and signs of death, the most telling motif being that of the airplane.
This is in fact the obses- sive opening of the film, in which an aircraft lands at an airport eight times in a row, each of them in a hazier setting. A few minutes later we are confronted with the disastrous result of this trip: Kluge and Mainka-Jellinghaus offered him a powerful tool to that end, by means of a realist method based on mental association processes and radical observation. In particular, the voiceover commentary as an additional narrative layer, in dialogue and often contradiction with the images, and therefore with no power of authority, is a Kluge-inspired device, which is abandoned in subsequent films, as Herzog takes up himself the role of a traditional commentator.
Thanks to its formal structure, Fata Morgana is the film through which Herzog comes closest to modern cinema, in the sense described by Deleuze, who, together with Bazin, locates the turning point between classical and modern cinema in World War II.
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A purely optical and sound situation. Not a brutality as nervous aggression, an exaggerated violence which can always be extracted from the sensory-motor relations in the action image. Nor is it a matter of scenes of terror, although there are sometimes corpses and blood. It is a matter of something too powerful, or too unjust, but sometimes also too beautiful, and which henceforth outstrips our sensory-motor capacities. Interestingly, Herzog gave the title of Signs of Life to his very first feature film, and the first to directly address the subject of World War II.
In it, though battles are thoroughly absent, signs of death are rife, lurking in the archaeological ruins, mute human and animal counte- nances, and the still-life landscape of the Greek island of Kos. In the short Last Words Letzte Worte, , also shot in Greece in the same period, a mass grave is uncovered on a small island from which a man, turned mute, is rescued. This film is nothing but a sketch of the inarticulate horror in the face of death, a theme that will resurface in a number of other Herzog films. This brusque rupture between words and things, signifiers and signified see Elsaesser in Corrigan, , p.
I am referring to the pair of gog- gles worn by Mauricet, a classmate of the protagonist Antoine Doinel Fig. Werner Herzog Revisited 95 playing truant. But the question remains: No clue is sufficiently developed in the narrative to justify the recurrence of this mysterious object, which is even presented in two different colours, black and white.
The violent reaction it triggers is however crucial to the narrative, as for once it gives the pupils the chance to collectively express their discontent with the repressive teaching meth- ods utilized in their school. This is how this is staged: However, hardly any surrealist procedures can be found in his film, except perhaps for these goggles, which, with typical surrealist humour, are torn from their primary function so as to reveal their material reality.
In any case, this does not prevent this decontextualized object from being entirely absorbed into the cause-effect chain of a perfectly sutured montage. A thoroughly different effect is however produced when these goggles migrate into the two Herzog films mentioned above, Fata Morgana and Even Dwarfs Started Small. In Fata Morgana, goggles proliferate on the faces of different characters in the middle of deserts and other set- tings, in which they are partially or completely displaced, and always disconnected from, and actually obtrusive to, the narrative flow. In all these cases, the goggles prevent eye contact between characters and the camera thus the viewer , adding to the illegibility of the scenes in question Figs.
They are thus presented as the kind of uprooted characters analysed above as remainders of an unspeakable destruction which has stolen from them their nexus with the world and even their ability of coherent speech, as illustrated by the drummer whose singing through a distorting microphone is entirely incomprehensible. This film about rebel dwarfs in an educational institution bears comparison to The Blows in interesting ways. Werner Herzog Revisited 97 Figure 2. The photographic session at his admission to the reformatory gives him a taste of this violence, as the photographer manipulates his head as if it were an inanimate object and makes him hold up a sign containing his identity number.
Something similar happens in Even Dwarfs Started Small, which, after the opening credits, moves on to a photographic session of the dwarf Hombre, whose participation in the rebellion will be told in flashback. As with Antoine, Hombre is ordered to hold a sign with his identity number to the camera Figs. More significantly, both Antoine and Hombre are subsequently inter- rogated by off-screen individuals. Werner Herzog Revisited 99 Figure 2.
This causes an explosion of anger against the institution and its rules which leaves no objects, trees, flowerpots or animals intact in the building. Suffice it to remem- ber that in Zero for Conduct the principal of the boarding school in which a rebellion of the boarders takes place is a dwarf played by the veteran actor Delphin.
This causes some hilarious moments in Zero for Conduct, for example, when the principal struggles to rest his hat on a high mantelpiece, or when he looks in a mirror and checks himself against the image of his tall subordinate instead of his own. This film was seen by both critics and the director himself as his renais- sance after a long silence, which aligns him to the pattern of early career filmmakers including Vigo, Truffaut and Herzog who devote their initial works to children with whom they share a process of learn- ing about the world. What brings The Forgotten Ones close to Even Dwarfs is the imaginative freedom with which the story is handled, regardless of any moral patterns this may contravene.
A horrifying proof of this is offered in The Forgotten Ones through the character of a blind singer, who performs at a market to the sound of his own combined instruments. Werner Herzog Revisited thuggish kids, who attack him with stones, break his instruments and steal his money, while the blind man brandishes his cane aimlessly around him. Lying on the ground after the assault, the man stares ahead unaware that a chicken is staring back at him. Later, however, the blind man proves no better than his assailants, as he exploits an abandoned boy and tries to rape a girl who regularly brings him milk.
What happens with the blind twins in Even Dwarfs resonates remark- ably with this, with the aggravating detail that sadistic representation is replaced with presentational, real sadism. The blind twins are con- stantly bullied by the other dwarfs and wave their canes around them without ever hitting their target. But this does not mean that they have any better principles than their tormentors, as they relish mounting on the real-life corpse of a sow killed by the other dwarfs from which the piglets continue to suck.
The chicken parallel, a Herzog favourite, is also offered in its most macabre version in the images of a cannibal chicken pecking at a dead mouse and, more revoltingly, at another chicken, whose protracted killing is patiently detailed by the camera. That the blind twins are not only wearing goggles, but also swimming caps, in an arid location with no signs of sea or swimming-pools, singles them out through a supplementary sign of difference within a world of physical difference.
Indeed, the twins are the only ones who do not participate in the rebellion orchestrated by the other dwarfs. It is therefore easy to see how surrealist displacement would serve him in the creation and multiplication of genital substitutes which are governed by no politics other than desire. An outspoken sign of difference, they are nevertheless entirely arbitrary, and could be placed on the face of anyone, even an undistinguished black kid among other black kids in an African setting, as seen in Fata Morgana.
This wandering sign of difference is there to indicate the displacement, not only of dwarfs or blind people, but of the entire human race, and is therefore an allegory, as everything else in Even Dwarfs. Herzog is also trying to send a message about the displacement of human beings as a whole in a world marked by the indifference of death.
They thus constitute a totality reaching beyond their individual existence. This is why, despite their despicable acts, unbearable high-pitched voices and laughter, sadism against animals of all sorts and outright stupidity in destroying their own environment, the dwarfs do not become detestable to the viewer even if the film may do , because there is no suggestion that they are an abject other; on the contrary, they are simply the norm.
Prager links the allegorical style in the film to the expressionist defor- mation that opposed the racial ideals of Nazi German , p. On the other hand, difference, in other Herzog films, is often related to artistic gift. Kaspar Hauser, another child- adult, also likes to express himself through music. The difficulty in all these cases, however, is to find the normality against which difference is necessarily defined, and the virtues of art recognized. Look at the Americans who lead the German Bruno to suicide, in Stroszek: It is the mirror that drives one mad, that is: This is the horror that the dwarfs are shouting out to us: Against these ignominious herds, Nietzsche had conceived the super- man, and this is also the path Herzog follows in another strand of his fiction filmmaking.
In the next section, I will examine his adventures in the land of giants and the implications this entails to his realist drive and physical method of filmmaking. Not only do they become outspokenly narrative and fictional, but their characters expand in size and meaning. The anti-humanism emanating from a humanity equated to animals and the inanimate world, as observed by Elsaesser Corrigan, , p.
Cast-away, small-scale rebels, such as the soldier Stroszek in Signs of Life or the dwarfs in Even Dwarfs Started Small, give way to prophets of the apocalypse and New-World conquistadors endowed with cosmic vision, as in Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Heart of Glass. Herzog has always made, and continues to make, all possible efforts to keep alive the legend that Kinski, unfortunately deceased in , was as mad in real life as he is in his Herzogian roles, with the obvious intention of maintaining a continuum of the reality of difference across his oeuvre.
As I will argue in this section, the decisive event in this development seems to have been his becom- ing acquainted with the works of Brazilian Cinema Novo and, in par- ticular, Glauber Rocha, entailing a focus shift from an ethics of realism to an ethos of power. From the early s, Cinema Novo films started to collect aficiona- dos and emulators across Europe. In Italy, these early works were readily accepted at film festivals, garnering enthusiastic support- ers among critics and filmmakers, such as Gianni Amico, Father Arpa, Pier-Paolo Pasolini and Bernardo Bertolucci.
Werner Herzog Revisited new generation of filmmakers. Schumann, Cinema Novo continued to be disseminated through ever-growing retrospectives at festivals, cineclubs and, most importantly, on television. From , Brazilian films were repeatedly shown on most public and regional channels, covering virtually the entire Cinema Novo production in its varying phases before and after the military coup. Peer Raaben, the composer of the scores for a number of Fassbinder films, once described to me in an interview7 how the two of them had watched with fascination the Cinema Novo films and drawn on them for images and sounds.
Cross-fertilizations of all sorts took place in the process, a case in point being that of Fleischmann, who became close to many Brazilian film- makers and critics, and invited the Cinema Novo cinematographer, Dib Lutfi, to photograph his The Disaster Das Unheil, in Germany. Werner Herzog however is undoubtedly the filmmaker who most consistently and productively engaged with Cinema Novo.
However, social realism alone would not account for the international impact of this production, if we just consider that two decades earlier, Italian Neorealism had inaugurated modern cinema as Bazin and Deleuze would have it by offering precisely this: Thus, whilst lending itself to modern and self-questioning forms of storytelling, Cinema Novo opened up to metaphysical issues and supra-rational, trance-like states of mind which until then had lacked cinematic expression.
Economically dependent on the ruling classes, [this middle class] attempts to adopt the perspective of the people. But because it lacks a perspective of its own, it fails to constitute a real class, becoming instead atomized. This situation resonated remarkably with events in Germany, then witnessing the ascension of the Red Army guerrilla movement RAF , whose members were mainly recruited from the intellectual, progres- sive middle classes.
That most of these films were shot in the s, by directors who were self- confessedly impressed with Glauber Rocha and the Cinema Novo, is a clear sign of how historical allegory served their purpose to address the national question in their own countries. Werner Herzog Revisited Figure 2. Weimar films in fact display a marked predilection for hypnosis and hypnoid states, suggesting an affinity between these phenomena and the gripping potential of the cinematic medium itself.
When pressed, Herzog himself acknowledges that several cast members were not hypnotized, includ- ing the noted actor Josef Bierbichler, who plays the main character Hias and precisely the one who, in the film, is endowed with visionary and prophetic powers, as well as the real-life glass-factory workers and others. On the other hand, it is not uncommon that directors will resort, through mere acting exercises, to emptying actors of their own person- alities and even of their acting skills, so as to obtain from them a sort of mechanical delivery, as Ozu and Bresson, for example, have done.
As a result, it becomes a slow film, one which requires attention and intellectual engagement, and not at all the kind of cathartic identification elicited by popular action cinema. So let us for a moment forget what Herzog wants us to think about the film and try to investigate what it actually is. In the film he prophesies the doom of a whole population living around a ruby-glass factory, whose formula has been lost with the death of the last keeper of its secret.
The young industrial- ist, living alone with his demented father, also goes insane with the approaching end of his empire and tries through violent means to retrieve the lost formula. Herzog added an opening and ending to the original Achternbusch script, so as to enhance the emphasis on the character of Hias and his apocalyptical prophecies. This also gave him the opportunity to insert some of his typical authorial titles, following the thoroughly unrelated final episode of the men living on an iso- lated island, who doubt that the earth is flat and venture into the sea: After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles every month.
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