Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Ice flow // Trumpet of the Swans
[Have never felt a particular urge to include a spoiler alert before a post, but I think I will here. Not that Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World is any sort of taut narrative thriller, but there are details revealed below that are probably better left to surprise. So if you're already planning on seeing the flick, it might be better to either wait till after to read this or to skip over the long bullet-point list near the beginning.]
After seeing Werner Herzog's new Antarctica doc, Encounters at the End of the World--it's been held over at Film Forum, and I think it's there through the weekend--I wish I was in 30 unnamed bands. The catalog of hysterically, thrillingly, epically weird concepts/phrases dropped in this stunner doesn't even have a remote precedent elsewhere. In other words, it's band-name gold. To wit:
*Herzog citing an ant that enslaves worms and wondering why chimps don't do the same to goats.
*Biologists kneeling on the ice with their ears to the ground, listening for psychedelic seal speech.
*A neutrino-detection balloon being launched into the stratosphere.
*A garland of frozen popcorn and a frozen sturgeon stashed beneath the ice at the South Pole.
*A linguist/greenhouse-keeper lamenting the extinction of exotic tongues.
*A marine biologist who first posits that organisms evolved into land-dwellers in an attempt to escape the miniature-scale horrors of deep-sea life, and then jams out with Henry Kaiser (?!?) out on the tundra.
*Substantiated (well, mostly) theories on gay penguins, prostitutional penguins and deranged/suicidal penguins.
*A volcanologist who warns, casually, "Keep your attention toward the lava lake."
*A journeyman plumber who insists that his oddly shaped fingers mark him as a descendant of the Aztecs.
*A journeyman construction worker who quotes Alan Watts and spews animistic theology.
*An existential glaciologist musing on his beloved ice islands.
*Trainees with smiley-face-emblazoned buckets on their heads stumbling around in the snow.
*The process of taking seal-milk samples.
*And so much more...
In short, Herzog journeys to the ultimate South and finds people as fantastically eccentric as he is. If you're to believe the film, Antarctica--plenty populated, at least in certain settlements, most of them scientific--is a land of philosophers. Basically the way I came to view it is as a community of folks who for one reason or another opted out of the way most people live. It's like a college dorm full of the most fascinating men and women you never imagined existed.
And the nature is there, of course, especially in breathtaking underwater shots and glimpses of sparkling ice caves, but as with Grizzly Man, what Herzog's really interested in is the human wildlife. Each person in this film is weirder and more visionary than the last and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I'd happily watch a full documentary on any one of them.
I've gushed before (scroll down a bit if you click) on here about Herzog's unrivaled penchant for choosing the coolest, most peculiar subject matter, but this film is just beyond anything I've seen from him or anyone else. As he was shooting this he must've been constantly inquiring to God how it was that he was blessed with so much unequivocally golden footage. But is it an accident, or is just that Herzog is a master curiositist? He makes curiosity, the passion to know firsthand about every last esoteric way that humans manage to lend meaning to their lives, into something holy. You could call him a dilettante, or maybe just the greatest humanist alive today. Either way, see. this. movie.
And also: I've been looking for years for some material that substantiates Swans' reputation as the most disgustingly extreme rock band ever, and lo, I've found it via a mid-'80s live VHS release entitled A Long Slow Screw, a lot of which is on YouTube. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've been listening to the live Public Castration Is a Good Idea disc, and I'm pretty sure it's taken from the same show as ALSS. At any rate, yes, this is death music, and it's horrifying and I can't stop listening to it. What really gets me is how, for lack of a better word, professional it all is. Very primal emotion is being harnessed/simulated, but in an incredibly tight and concerted way. Despite the static/minimal nature of the music, this stuff is ultra-rehearsed. Try this: