Notes on Werner Herzog

Last night I watched In the Land of Silence and Darkness, a 1971 documentary Herzog made about the deaf-blind community. The film doesn’t necessarily flow like a documentary; its agenda is absent and it bends more toward revealing quite raw and jolting realities about what living with such disabilities is like. What I can gather, and what one might guess, is that this is a constant form of suffering and not in the sense of darkness but as what Fini Straubinger, the main character (an elderly woman who makes it her goal to visit other deaf and blind citizens) describes as a black flowing river in the mind, with flowers on the banks and large trees dripping shadows down. The documentary does well to enter viewers into this realm, at least enough to understand that our lives are much easier than those with disabilities–and it must have been difficult to film all of this. It is a typical Herzog orchestration of disdain, where he sets off less to solve or sway people but more to reveal what he believes only film to be able to–beyond reality. There is a clips from the film below.  In this clip, a 22yr old named Vladimir discovers the vibrations of a radio–quite moving.

Despite the emotional fragility of the film there is one remarkably humorous scene in which the deaf-blind go to the zoo to pet animals. In the process they end up flipping a monkey over and tenderly grope a baby goat. Although that part is not the humorous scene it comes next when this baby goat then runs back to its mother, screaming with such garbled intensity one would think it was dying.  I have never heard a goat tremble in such haunting chaos as this one does here.

In addition to this film, I have been reading Herzog on Herzog, which is a darkly sharp and honest unraveling of Herzog’s theories and philsosophies about film and life. It cages each film and idea into very charged blocks of knotty prose. I’d recommend it to anyone who is into his work. Also, the latest Paris Review, aside from having a nice new story by Jesse Ball and some surprisingly pinching collages by John Ashbery, has some of the journal entries Herzog kept while filming Fitzcarraldo. The entries vary from witnessing a woman admit that her baby has died in her arms to the electrifying imagery of Herzog fending off snakes on his hut, trying to clean out a Chinese wok that has been infested with lizard tails and monstrous beetle droppings.


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