Monday, January 23, 2006

The White Diamond

Marco Polo Film AG
Director: Werner Herzog
Length: 90 min.
Format: DVD
Date Viewed: 23 January

The White Diamond is only the second Herzog film I've seen, behind Grizzly Man. I am very curious to see his fictional films, but I don't think I can take any more of his documentaries. The reason is extremely subjective. I have a very strict and narrow view on how documentaries should be made, and I consequently reject those that do not at least come close to matching this (perhaps ridiculously) confined notion.

Personally, I think documentaries should be as objective as is possible (knowing that nothing can be considered truly objective), that their flow and structure should be formal and logical, and for the documentarian to remain solely behind the camera - and in no circumstances getting in front of it (except for narration). Herzog stays close to my first rule, but he smashed the latter two with a sledgehammer with Grizzly Man, and does so even more with The White Diamond.

A case can be made that a child-like exuberance for his subjects do not allow him to restrain himself, but I feel it is more a large ego that leads him to do it. He occasionally steps in front of the camera and tries to change situations to fit his needs, inappropriately stepping over the documentarian line. In Grizzly Man, he films himself listening to the tape of Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend being eaten by a grizzly, and then orders the keeper of the tape (an ex-girlfriend and interestingly enough a producer of the film) to destroy it. In this film, Herzog argues (on-screen) with the main subject, sad lost-boy Graham Dorrington, to allow himself to be part of the first flight with Dorrington. Ego seems to play a rather large, but very subtle, part of Herzog's documentaries, and it is, as expected, very off-putting.

In regards to my other rule of documentaries, the form of this film falls apart as we get closer to the end. The traditional climax finishes some 25 minutes before the end of the film, and the last third wanders around following tangents until we get to the credits.

It cannot be contested, however, that the footage is gorgeous, and that the additional, improvised sub-story following Rastafarian miner Mark Anthony Yhap is perhaps of more interest than Dorrington's fight to defeat the demons of his past. In fact, I almost wish that there was a film about Yhap, his desire to find his family, and his prized red rooster. This Guyanese Rastafarian somehow perfectly encapsulates the essence of the leading Japanese cultural aesthetic of mono no aware, or an ability to find beauty in the sadness of things, and is all the more mesmerizing for it. Dorrington still makes for an interesting subject, though, with his extremely conflicted sense of self, and the tragic loss of his dreams (hearing him talk about his missing fingers and the resulting death of his life's ambition is particularly devastating). He was also interesting to me personally as he is more like me than I necessarily want to admit.

Another high point of the film is the breathtaking views of the Guyana rainforest, and little moments like the waterfall reflected in the raindrop, or the thousands of Swifts racing back to their nests behind the waterfall, or the balloon gently touching the surface of the river. Henning Bruemmer and Klaus Scheurich are top-notch cinematographers, and interestingly enough, their only film credit, outside of Bruemmer's contribution to a TV show in the UK. It is my hope they will work again very soon.

The White Diamond is a good film, but it is hard for me to accept as a documentary, and in that respect, somewhat of a failure. When it comes to documentaries, Herzog needs to keep himself and his ego in check.


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