Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Wild Blue Yonder

Someone very kindly gave me a DVD of the Werner Herzog film, The Wild Blue Yonder for Christmas. In it an alien, played by Brad Dourif, narrates the tale of his people's exodus from a home planet in the Andromeda nebula and of their arrival on earth. He goes on to tell how, based on events arising from the Roswell incident, humans have set out to find another inhabitable planet. His narration is illustrated with re-contextualized NASA footage (mainly from a space shuttle mission) and overlaid with music, some of it Herzog's trademark classical-dramatic, most of it devised by cellist-composer Ernst Reijseger in collaboration with a group of vocalists. Towards the end we're taken beneath what looks like the arctic ice-cap.

I'm not a great watcher of films and know very little about film. However, I've always really liked Werner Herzog's work and I enjoyed this one even though I wouldn't rate it among his best. If you haven't seen any other of his films, I wouldn't start with this one - check out The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser instead. I suspect The Wild Blue Yonder is easier to watch if one is attuned to Herzog's way of doing things.

Although it's not his best, I found a lot to like. Are we meant to think the alien is an alien, a man with mental health issues or simply a man playing an incongruous, impossible character based on trains of popular thought? True, his wild extrapolations based on the film clips we see are reminiscent of the misinterpretations of mental illness but what emerges is a kind of mythical truth. One is left wondering if one needs to go the the verge of madness sometimes to approach deep truth.

In the intriguing short film about the film's music which comes as an extra on the DVD, Herzog mentions his idea of "ecstatic truth" - that this is what he hopes to convey is his films, as opposed to what he describes as a more prosaic "accountant's truth". I thought of this when I saw the alien's account of the way the earth-people supposedly welcomed the travellers from Andromeda illustrated by archive footage of what I think was Bleriot's landing and rapturous reception on crossing the English Channel in a monoplane. It seemed to expose the way the whole movie worked.

It can be hard work but it's worth it - which thought leaves me feeling rather wistful, wondering what people in the future will make of all the difficult stuff art-makers have been producing during the last hundred years. Will they take the trouble required to appreciate it or will they opt instead for pictures of things, music with a beat and simply told, real-life stories? I do hope they hang in there and don't just leave it for the historians to dig through. Long live Werner Herzog.


George said...

This sounds like and interesting film. I have like some of Herzog's films, but not others. I think you are on to something when you suggest that we may need to go to the verge of madness to discover deeper truths.

Happy New Year to you and your family!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Is this the one I bought you or did you get several Hertzog films for Christmas? Sounds altogether too deep for me. I am indulging in Internationl Damned Attractive Woman Day today and intend to go towards the grave sideways and eating chocolate biscuits so anything deep is going to be way beyond my comprehension in 2013

Jenny Woolf said...

You've made me really interested in it. And what wonderful music. I've been intending to see Kaspar Hauser for years and perhaps now I really will.
All the best for 2013 to you and yours, Dominic.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments!