White Diamond [Blu-ray]
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Feature documentary film directed, produced and written by Werner Herzog about scientist Dr Graham Dorrington and his attempt to fly the unique man-powered airship he invented himself across the Amazon canopy of Guyana in 1992. The hope was that he would be able to locate and study the medicinal herbs growing there. However, events took a tragic turn when the aircraft encountered difficulties leading to an accident which claimed the life of Dieter Plage, Dorrington's friend and filmmaker who was documenting the expedition. Ten years later, Herzog follows Dorrington as he returns with a new prototype of the airship and visits the canopies, forests and people of the Amazon, while recounting the terrible fate of his last voyage.
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Werner Herzog is mesmerising as always with his narration.
He seems in many ways to carry the DNA of the earliest aviators, and we are reminded of some of their first and most outlandishly primitive designs for flying machines - strange flapping devices that behaved like birds, at least for a few moments before they hurtled back to the ground. We see the downcast faces of the inventors as they carry the crumpled skeletons of their treasures back to the hangars where they were first conceived. Then we are shown dramatic footage of the Hindenberg - the huge zeppelin that burnt up in seconds like kindling wood, and we are reminded - airborne adventures like this are fraught with danger.
Dorrington isn't unfamiliar with loss: 11 years previous to this outing, he lost a dear friend while testing a previous prototype - his name was Dieter Plage, a nature cameraman who was reknowned for his daring and calm when in danger; Dorrington's grief is plain to see, but it is still too raw to bring himself to tell the tale of how he died. It is quite clear that he has a lot more than professional pride resting on the success or failure of this machine: his love for Plage is tinged with guilt - a guilt that he cannot free himself from. There are echoes of that first disaster here, for Werner is German too, and similarly unflappable.
And so they go to Kaieteur Falls in Guyana - the setting of a quite incredible waterfall, behind which an almost biblical amount of swallows roost - over 1 million of them. The scenes of these birds and their habitat leaves the viewer unable to really comprehend their numbers as they swarm around the tonnes of falling water at huge speed, into their mysterious home.
Does the ship - the White Diamond - fly? What happened in that doomed and fatal adventure 11 years before? All is - eventually - revealed. But not before we are treated to amazing spectacles of the Guyanan habitat, and are introduced to some lovely local characters.
This is a beautiful film about how the spirit of adventure lives on in extraordinary people - why they are motivated to attempt such incredible things, and the romantic nature of the dreams that inspire them.
It's not a nature film. It's more than that; it's a 'human nature' film.
Moving, beautiful - recommended for those who like fascinating people. Werner triumphs again.
Herzog follows British aeronautical engineer Graham Dorrinton as he attempts to fly his experimental airship the White Diamond above the 'Aguirre' like forest canopy in Guyana. But being a film by Maurice Herzog it is not simply a story about one mans dream. It looks at mans place in the natural world and also pays homage to the respected German wildlife cinematographer Dieter Plage who died in the forests of Sumatra whilst using one of Dorrington's airships. Typically Herzog's camera manages to find some quirky locals. One young cook struts his stuff with some pretty decent moon walking on the very edge of the falls. Accompanying the feast of visual delights is some impressive music by Dutch cellist and composer Ernst Reijseger. Herzog's eclectic good taste in music has always been a welcome adornment to his films. I see that Reijseger has also composed the music for Herzog's latest documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams", which I am waiting eagerly to watch. If it is as good as this and his other documentary offerings then I shall not be disappointed.
The human element in this film is not so intense as with other Herzog documentaries, yet it does contain some amazing cinematography, such as the swifts flying madly into a waterfall, their secret kingdom. Perhaps the film would have been better if cut in length (it's not often you can say that about a Herzog film), or perhaps more footage of the rainforest canopy and less of the crew arguing. It's still worth watching, however.
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