Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Encounters at the End of the World

If the German director-explorer Werner Herzog were to write an autobiography, this could be the title, for his 40 years of movies record his need to chronicle the lives of people as obsessed as he. The dramatic movies Aguirre the Wrath of God, Heart of Glass, Nosferatu the Vampire and Fitzcarraldo, and documentaries like The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, Grizzly Man and The White Diamond, are all about men with grand or deranged dreams, dizzied by the helium of their aspirations, which drives them to triumph or catastrophe. Even sane men, scientists in the remote clarity of Antarctica, have this intoxicating thirst. Encounters could be called a travelog: on a grant from the National Geographic Society, Herzog spent some time at the McMurdo Research Station, chatting up the scholars, technicians and workmen, following them on their expeditions across the ice and below it. Since Herzog has eyes as restless as they are acute, you'll see wonders here: active volcanoes, string band concerts, singing seals. The strangest, most affecting creatures are the men and women who've slipped down the modern world to end up here. They are adventurers, sometimes tearful with joy, and kindred souls to this great ecstatic filmmaker.