Werner Herzog: A Wild Eye Yonder By Gabriele Barrera

in 62th Venice International Film Festival

by Gabriele Barrera

Yes, as usual “Truth is stranger than fiction”, says Werner Herzog (real name W. H. Stipetic, Munich 1942) in a recent interview published in “Film Comment”, August 2005. But his latest work, the absolutely brilliant docu- (science-fiction-fantasy-and-more)- mentary The Wild Blue Yonder (Germany, UK, France, 2005), presented in the parallel sections of the 62nd International Film Festival of Venice, is stranger than any truth, than any realism, than any fiction. So, the metaphysical realism of Werner Herzog’s The Wild Blue Yonder deserves the Prize of the International Film Critics.

2005, the Year of Physics, celebrated in all the scientific world. 2005, the Year of the anniversary of Einstein’s discoveries in 1905: after the discovery of photons, particles of light, 1905 is the year of the first publications of the theory of relativity and quantum theory. An exceptional effort (with a splendid success) to join separate parameters of Physics (light, velocity, mass, and energy): his effort was rewarded with world-wide popularity. Unfortunately, after one century, the application of the “post-Einstein” astrophysical theories (after the enthusiastic space-conquests in the second half of the twentieth century) is not so popular, so much world-wide reputed, so much full of promise. 2005, the Year of Physics, it’s true: but the “post-Einstein” Physics, with the new mathematical theories of the JPL and NASA scientists, is still much discussed. And the latest Space Shuttle mission, 2005, is much disputed and maybe also a little crepuscular. Fortunately, in the artistic ground, the exceptional efforts of Werner Herzog to join separate parameters of the New Physics, of the new science-fiction imaginary (both crepuscular and strangely epical, both foolish and strangely hyper-rational), is rewarded with a peerless film: The Wild Blue Yonder.

The protagonist (Brad Dourif, an alien fallen on Earth from a Wild Planet in the Blue Yonder, stranger than E. T., stranger than Alien, if possible) speaks directly to the audience and overturns all our current notions about science-fiction. One example. The alien’s will of destroying humankind. It’s not so omnipotent, that’s man’s projection, a cinematographic invention. The alien is a survivor, a loser, an emarginated being in our society, a visionary and ecstatic searcher for the Signs of Life (Lebenszeichen, Herzog 1967), with a terrible homesickness for his Land of Silence and Darkness (Herzog 1971). All the truth (i.e. the NASA documentary section in Herzog’s film) is ingeniously overturned with simple “special effects”: the voice of Brad Dourif, the mystic music (by Ernst Reijseger, a ‘cellist’), and the strange sounds (by Joe Crabb). The audience views a NASA documentary about the STS 43 Space Shuttle Mission, but the voice of the protagonist speaks and the audience imagines anything else. It’s simple, it’s genial. And so, the documentary is overturned in a journey of science-fiction — along the Wheel of Time (Herzog 2003) — in the direction of the Wild Planet in the Blue Yonder, out of the Solar System. The sky is a crystal, the air is a strange aquatic atmosphere. The astronauts, in the heart of the Wild Blue Planet Yonder, are like the particles of light, the photons of the Physics of Einstein, in a Wild Big Eye, the Biggest Eye in the world, the Biggest Eye in the entire Solar System. Beyond the horizon, beyond the sky, beyond Astrophysics, the depths of the Big Eye of Cinema are welcomed into The Wild Blue Yonder, the strangest planet of them all. Werner Herzog, in the final credits, says, “we thank NASA for its sense of poetry”. Happy Anniversary, doctor Einstein.