Thursday, 21 January 2016

Flying High

Suspended in the air, we wait for the ground to float up to us. We wait and wait until…we are waiting no longer: we are flying! Max Steiner held aloft by the chords of Popul Vuh.

The song must end. Skis touch snow. Steiner’s hands are aloft. A huge crowd is cheering. An ecstatic Werner Herzog runs towards his hero…

“I made a pet of a raven. He would wait for me to come home from school. I would feed him, and he would stay outside the house. Then his feathers began to drop off. It must have been the food I gave him. One day I saw the other ravens attack him. They didn't like him anymore, because he couldn't fly.”

The cheering is so loud, and Herzog’s enthusiasm so great, that we no longer hear the mystical harmonies of Popul Vuh. We are on the ground, a bird amongst human beings.

Herzog’s method is that of a scientist; his films are so cool and detached, so grounded in fact and detail, that they feel like experiments inside a laboratory. This can mislead us. It can obscure the metaphysics of the work, which concentrates on the surface detail to uncover the strange universe that lies underneath. For Herzog is a Romantic. He is looking for the one image to take us through to the other side.

“I made a pet of a raven…”

Max Steiner is a technician; the reason why he can fly these impossible distances. When on the ground, though, he sometimes acts like a traditional bohemian - he rebels against the officials who refuse to listen to his concerns and so put his life in danger. When not flying Steiner sculpts wood. 

The ski-flyer is the artist. Herzog the love-struck fan and TV commentator. It is a disconcerting transformation!

And the raven? It is a traitor, and so must die, because it has given its magic away; it has given the gift of flight to a man who knows how to use it.

(Review: Die Große Ekstase Des Bildschnitzers Steiner)

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