Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Life In This World Is But Preparation

My wife and I are pretty big fans of the films of Werner Herzog. (We might be a little too into him, actually). He always seems to have interesting music in his movies; The White Diamond comes to mind (I'd recommend that one, fer shur). The other night we watched Little Dieter Needs to Fly, which is about a German fellow who joined the U.S. Air Force during the Viet Nam War, and was shot down and taken prisoner in Laos. He eventually escaped and was rescued, and seemed to cheat death many other times as well. (Herzog based Rescue Dawn on Dieter's story--it's the Hollywood version, I guess). I realized that there's usually something that borders on sadism in his movies--he had Dieter reenact certain episodes from his trials in the jungle; in The White Diamond he has the central figure go over the death of his close friend, in agonizing detail; in Grizzly Man there's a scene in which he listens to a recording of Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend being mauled by a bear, while telling Treadwell's friend she should destroy the recording. I don't know, maybe these things are cathartic or something, and maybe "sadism" is too strong a word, but it's kind of disturbing nonetheless.
Anyway, the point of this post is that at the very end of Little Dieter Needs to Fly Herzog uses some of the best music I've ever heard, so I have to thank him for that. There's this amazing footage of acres and acres of desert covered in airplanes of all shapes and sizes. It just goes on and on, and it almost starts to look like an installation (it reminded me of the character in Don DeLillo's Underworld who is working on an art project in the desert, using old Air Force planes). The music is from Madagascar, and was recorded in the 1930s. Thanks to the great Yazoo label, there's a cd that I was able to go on Amazon and order, and I had it in a few days...there's something, well, awesome but disconcerting about that... The main instrument is called a valia, which reminds me a little of the gamelan (the woman in the picture above is holding one). You can hear some violin as well. There's something about the voices that's just so moving; the harmonies are so beautiful. Both of these tunes are by a group called Hiran'ny Tanoran'ny Ntao Lo.


Lefty said...

Great post. I highly recommend downloading from iTunes the album "Requiem For A Dying Planet," Herzog's music for White Diamond and The Wild Blue Yonder, all made by Ernst Reijseger in collaboration with this unbelievable Senegalese vocalist named Mola Sylla. It's AMAZING.

Also, "Rescue Dawn" is a great movie. And yes, I am also obsessed with Werner Herzog. Did you read the New Yorker profile? It has this tidbit:

The actor Joaquin Phoenix had flipped his car on a drive down the serpentine roads of Laurel Canyon. “I remember this knocking on the passenger window,” Phoenix told the Times. “There was this German voice saying, ‘Just relax.’ . . . I said to myself, ‘That’s Werner Herzog!’ ”Phoenix, who was unharmed, went on, “I got out of the car and I said, ‘Thank you.’ And he was gone.”

Frankie Lee said...

I did read that profile & enjoyed it a lot. Haven't seen Rescue Dawn but now that you've recommended it I'll have to check it out. Glad to hear that you're a Herzog enthusiast too. Cheers!