Sunday, 30 May 2010

Come On In

Can we get inside your world?

High on crack, everything’s a laugh, my big toe in wiggling around in your hole, you arse whole, yeah man, my ankle’s goin’ knee deep inside….

There is something repellent about people high on drugs – a certain sensitiveness, of feeling for the outside world, disappears. In its place a brick wall of overweening ego, and secret meanings, a poet high in a hall of mirrors - everytin’s a laugh, if you eye tin my mean in’.

Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant certainly captures the ugliness of an addict. Too much! As the film becomes uncomfortable and boring – yes, drugs are boring for those outside the dealer’s door.

Another enclosed world: the madness of Aguirre, the loneliness of Kaspar Hauser, the obsessions of Fitzcarraldo…. But less satisfying. Perhaps it’s the need to tell a more conventional story, with its demands for predictable resolutions that work against Herzog’s individual vision. At the end he undercuts a happy ending, only to suggest that it will be all right after all. Does he want it both ways? Art is not that flexible.

Some of the scenes feel more like tics rather than newly forged images – the shots of reptiles, the David Lynch like soul dancing out of a dead body. Stroszek ends with a chicken trapped in some kind of arcade game. The shot goes on and on, there it is in front of us with no respite: capturing the weirdness and the banality, and the suggestion of something deeper (the perfect symbol – very precise, with no specific meaning). Some of the reptile shots echo this, but do not have its power: they feel more like memories than new creations.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser: the film is a kind of interrogation. It looks at Kaspar from the outside, and the mystery is never solved, his loneliness hardly penetrated. I wanted to see him from the inside! With all the daunting perspectives, of a unique vision, suggested by his comments scattered throughout the film. Herzog will not satisfy this; his integrity perhaps too great.

In the Bad Lieutenant we see the hero from both the inside and the outside, but the result is unsatisfactory – the film doesn’t feel quite real. It is made less so by the need to collapse the action into a tight time frame – would a cop win a major criminal around in just a couple of days?

Maybe it’s because inside a crack nightmare everything’s unreal, and this is what the film shows. That the audience cannot penetrate it, is that it’s point? The film is meant to repel us? If so, there can be no doubt – it is a masterpiece. However, I’m not so sure. Either through waning powers, or the constrictions of a Hollywood film, I don’t think Herzog has been able to achieve his vision, to convey his art. Remember Aguirre at the end of the film, on his raft drifting away, commanding his empire of monkeys? Completely opaque, is Kinski then, there is no way in to that madness. But we feel it, its power to destroy and shape its world. Like a skyscraper on Fifth Avenue – it locks us out but we feel the vertigo.

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