Monday, December 6, 2010

Director's Spotlight: Werner Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World"

There is no one like Werner Herzog!

The German iconoclast director is invited by a scientific society to visit the Antartica, and instead of going clinical and staid like most documentary films, Herzog infuses his visit with awe and lots of humor!

In the film, he speaks to the folks in the transient community of McMurdo, an "ugly town" he admits, and more importantly, the jump off point to adventures in the South Pole. The population is a mixed bag of adventurers, travelers, who find themselves drawn to the astral summers (from August to January) of Antartica. For 5 months, these people would not experience night time. Among Herzog's subjects are a bus driver, who drives a humongous bus called Ivan the Terra Bus; a cook who serves the place's alternative to "ice cream" called Frosty Boy; scientists, etc.

If a visitor plans to head outdoors, they are required to attend a 2-day survival class. This was when the film takes a comic turn. After teaching the trainees how igloos are built, you would find them reenacting how extreme weather conditions are being dealt with - with buckets up their heads! I was almost down the floor laughing, as a class of adults - yes, with buckets on their heads, simulate a situation of heavy blizzard and losing a team mate!

Another interesting scene was the feeding of weddell seals. When scientists began studying a mother seal's milk, they learned that the white lactating substance is 60% fat with absolutely no lactose in it! What is a milk without lactose? This study was in connection with the seals' dramatic weight loss after nurturing their "pups".

At a diving camp called New Harbor, we are taken into the arctic sea - where alien-looking brittle stars and sea urchins are on view. Scarlet worms live in the anus of these sea urchins. And a special organism called Tree Foramina is being collected. They are a primordial single celled organism that harbors hundreds of pseudopods all over their structure.

Though on paper, these ramblings may seen dour, Herzog's introspective musings shape the whole narrative-free proceedings, and taking us on an adventure way off the beaten track! It is never boring! In fact, Herzog rides on his uncanny talent of making the most mundane interviewees fascinating subjects!

This is a must see!

The town of McMurdo - a regulated community which even has gyms, a yoga class - and even an ATM machine.

No comments: