Screening Room: ‘Embrace of the Serpent’

'Embrace of the Serpent' (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

In Embrace of the Serpent, the partially real, highly imagined stories of two white explorers in the Amazon rain forest are threaded into a kaleidoscopic journey into the last days of a pre-modern civilization.

Embrace of the Serpent opens in limited release this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

Further research would be needed to prove this theory. But it’s probable that nowhere in the writings of Theodor Koch-Grünberg (1872–1924) and Richard Evans Schultes (1915–2001) would you find evidence of a cultish colony fixated on flagellation and crucifixion. Ciro Guerra’s ambitious bolting together of imagined quests by these two real-life explorers adds a lot of that kind of sinister, quasi-Conradian color, but it’s mostly to positive effect. Even though Embrace of the Serpent’s sometimes violent and frequently otherworldly journey up a jungle-bounded river can’t help but echo Coppola and Herzog, Guerra pursues his own path in striking fashion…

You can see the trailer here:

Department of Herzog: The Minnesota Declaration

Werner Herzog (photo by Erinc Salor)
Werner Herzog (photo by Erinc Salor)

Back in 1999, the always forward-looking Walker Art Center in Minneapolis hosted a career retrospective for the Quixote-like filmmaker Werner Herzog. He was years past his early narrative successes like Aquirre, the Wrath of God and yet to hit the later bumper crop of documentaries that started with 2005’s Grizzly Man.

Still, Herzog came bristling with ideas, like the intellectual guerrilla he is. As part of the event, he issued his “Minnesota Declaration: Truth and Fact in Documentary Cinema.” It’s a unique 12-point manifesto, particularly coming from the man who regularly admits to fictionalizing parts of his nonfiction films. In between the snark, however, you can see his fiercely individualistic stance on life, art, and purpose threaded through.

A few worthy callouts:

  • “Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.”
  • “Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.”
  • “Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: ‘You can’t legislate stupidity.'”

This may be the only time in history Werner Herzog and Jesse Ventura occupied the same theoretical space.

Department of Weekend Reading: August 1, 2014

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New on DVD: ‘Pina’

pina-dvdThe 2011 dance documentary from Wim Wenders, Pina, was a refreshing new usage of the 3D format for nonfiction film. (Werner Herzog tried to use it to much less effect in Cave of Forgotten Dreams). The film is available today from Criterion Collection in DVD and Blu-ray. My full review is at AMC Movie Guide:

Joy isn’t a feeling that one associates with Wim Wenders all that much. Wonder or ennui, maybe irony, but not joy. But nevertheless that’s the first thing that springs to mind with his electric new 3D dance documentary, his first feature to get a real Stateside release since 2005’s moody, downbeat Don’t Come Knocking. There are other feelings and moods wrapped up here, tragedy and loss, but with all the sunlight (has the man ever shot a brighter film?) and sweeping movement, the joy prevails. This is filmmaking as glorious music…

You can see the trailer here: