TELLURIDE, Colo. -- There are certain ecstasies one can only experience at a festival like Telluride. I had two within an hour of waking up this morning.
The first: I'm on the gondola ride up to the Chuck Jones Cinema to see Herzog's Antarctica doc. As is custom, I chat with my fellow gondola-riders about the movies. Turns out that the guy I'm talking to is Mark Stock, the San Francisco-based artist who designed this year's festival poster (which, for the past 24 hours, I've been telling everyone is the best TFF poster ever. There it is above left as part of the festival program). It's actually a six-foot painting that he plans to sell. So it was quite a coincidence to share a gondola ride with him to the Mountain Village. Some insider info from Mark: the Daniel Day-Lewis tribute was weird. DD-L was aloof and shy, and it came off like he didn't want to be there. After they played a clipshow of his performances, he came onstage and said "I can't believe you sat through that." And apparently DD-L just played Hamlet somewhere and actually saw his father's ghost on stage. DD-L exited immediately to his dressing room and wouldn't go back on. These are the rumors you hear on a TFF gondola ride.
So I park myself in the fifth row of the Chuck and who sits in front of me by Herzog himself, with a pert young blonde. He's wearing cargo khakis and is all smiles. Ken Burns, the master of verbose extemperaneous introductions, says this before the film: "In the search for some improbable alchemy, a calculus which yields one plus one equals three...that's why we find ourselves hungry for here...I can think of no one more valuable to us...than one of the greatest alchemists on Earth...He has a ferocious and unsentimental view of things...He is the only man to have produced films on all seven continents...The truth that he is after is an ecstatic one...He is one of the great film artists of our time...Werner Herzog."
Herzog gets up and says he was at the South Pole last year and in Alaska just five days ago, but what really matters now is what's in between: Telluride. "It's the center of the world right now for me and those who love cinema," he says in that warbly slightly robotic Gregorian accent.
His film, Encounters at the End of the World, is a gorgeous hodgepodge. He spends time with every manner of person who makes a living at McMurdo Station in Antarctica: molecular biologists, physicists, plumbers, seal experts, volcanists. He talks to the people who jump off the margins of the map: PhDs who are washing dishes, and linguists who are running greenhouses on a continent with no native language. He explores the reasons for their being in Antarctica, and he explores the vast above-ice and underwater terrain of the frozen continent -- which is not a static sheet of ice but a dynamic, changing organism.
This is like every Herzog film rolled into one. It is about the universe perceiving itself through our inquisitive eyes and minds. It is about man's absurd quests, about our small and tenuous existence in the expanse of time, about the intense and forbidding and intoxicating beauty of the surroundings we are systematically studying and/or destroying. It is also a more convincing account of the seriousness of climate change than anything Al Gore or Leonardo DiCaprio has conjured. You'll see what I mean once you see it. It's also very very funny. It's going to be broadcast on the Discovery Channel, I think. Google it. I'm in a rush. I was very moved by the beauty and the wonder throughout, but the dedication title card at the film's end almost made me cry.
FOR ROGER EBERT.
After the screening, a Sophie's choice: Q&A with Herzog, or Q&A with Todd Haynes? I chose neither. (Had an interview to do for a story.) But now more heartache: I'm working during a surprise preview of Brian De Palma's Redacted (he's being beamed in by satellite from Venice for a Q&A after). A publicist for Magnolia Films told me on a gondola ride that it's a fictionalized Iraq war drama that harkens back stylistically to De Palma's earlier stuff and to Haynes' I'm Not There. Getting incredibly buzz at Venice, says the publicist, but his job is to say those kinds of things. I'm also missing the outdoor screening of Into the Wild. How boss would it be to watch that movie in the open air, with the mountains behind the screen and the stars overheard in the sky? Alas.
Okay okay I have to get to work. I'll have photos later tonight. I apologize for the lack of polish on my correspondence, but you're getting the real stuff: unfiltered, unedited, super-emotional responses to the TFF experience.
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