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Posts Tagged ‘Werner Herzog’

Staff Picks: Lumber Yards, Low-crawling, Luxury Cages

February 20, 2015 | by

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From Sara Cwynar’s cover to the newly designed New York Times Magazine.

Not long ago a friend gave me a very slim book by the French sinologist Jean François Billeter called Trois essais sur la traduction. Like the (similarly skinny) 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, by Eliot Weinberg and Octavio Paz, this is a book all about specifics—the specific problems of translating classical Chinese poetry. And like that book, this one contains an entire philosophy of translation. “The young musician learns to analyse the form of the work, and by interpreting the work he brings it to life: he makes it his own twice over. In literature, the student learns mainly how to talk about works. He does not make them his own the way the musician does … The result is a frustration that no one admits but that pretty much everyone feels. Students of literature can acquire at least some of [a writer’s] power through the practice of translation, since it consists in saying in one language what the author has said in another—saying it as well as he did, so that it produces the same effect.” I hope someone will bring that power to bear on these graceful, deeply sensible case studies. —Lorin Stein

Of the New York Times Magazine’s quartet of covers coming with its relaunch this weekend, my favorite is Sara Cwynar’s Death Star globe cloaked in a distorted TV test pattern that practically emits a high-frequency reference tone. It turns out that Gary Shteyngart’s essay for the issue—a chronicle of watching Russian TV for a week straight—pairs quite well with Cwynar’s evil-empire cover; he must still have the drone of Putin’s television clouding his brain. (Shteyngart’s exploit reminds me of Caity Weaver’s challenge last year of TGI Friday’s Endless Appetizers promotion, during which she ate mozzarella sticks for close to fourteen hours.) Shteyngart performed his feat Black Mirror style: in front of three large television screens installed in a “luxury cage” at the Four Seasons in New York. From the variety of programs—talk shows, news, classic films, comedy, and lots and lots of dancing—preposterously braided together by state propaganda, Shteyngart plucks hard truths (or, in Putin parlance, “manly truths”) about Russia’s increasing distance from any kind of geopolitical middle ground. “Now the cool nations are no longer inviting Russia for unsupervised sleepovers,” he writes, "and the only kids still leaving notes on Russia’s locker are Kim Jong-un and Raúl Castro.” —Nicole Rudick

Zadie Smith wrote a piece for Rookie this week detailing her antipathy toward keeping a diary: “The dishonesty of diary writing—this voice you put on for supposedly no one but yourself—I found that idea so depressing … I don’t want any record of my days.” That’s an intriguing sentiment to me—I’ve been caught up in The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, a five-hundred-page kaleidoscope of the New York School artist’s writings and drawings, diary entries included. Smith, miffed by the staged grandeur that crept into the pages of her own diary, renounces the practice. But Brainard renounces the grandeur. In Collected Writings, there’s no asphyxiating sense of malaise or swooping trauma, no insurmountable woe, no quixotic dreams of romance—which is precisely what’s drawn me to the collection. Instead, one gets what one might expect from a diary: the quotidian. We learn what Brainard liked in bed (a “good plain blow-job; It’s rhythm that makes me come the best”), what he thought about on the train (“I like that lumber yard”), his impression of Jamaica (“It’s a hard place to believe in”). As Dan Chaisson puts it, “[Brainard’s] writing specializes in the exploration of the minor emotions often slighted by ‘serious’ writers: contentment rather than elation, glumness rather than despair, horniness instead of passion, and, everywhere, a non-existential, completely ordinary loneliness.” —Caitlin Youngquist

In his new memoir My Life as a Foreign Country, the poet Brian Turner traces his history as a young infantryman in Bosnia and Iraq, interlacing his story with those of his grandfather (who served in World War II), his father (Cold War), and his uncle (Vietnam), to find some element of truth behind the history of human suffering. Turner writes tenderly from his enemies’ perspective, imagining them asleep with their wives, being blown up while building IEDs meant for American soldiers, and even training their crosshairs on one Sgt Turner himself. Neither didactic nor bombastic, My Life as a Foreign Country focuses on the place of the individual in war. It doesn’t hurt that Turner is from my hometown of Fresno, California. “I was prepared to low-crawl,” he writes, “with my facedown in the nastiest, foulest, brackish sludge and sewer the world could offer, that I was from Fresno and people from Fresno can take it, can take it in spades and shovel fulls, people from Fresno can take decades of it, that people from Fresno can outcrawl any motherfucker on the planet … That’s why I joined.” —Jeffery Gleaves
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Masterpiece Theatre: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

December 24, 2013 | by

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All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

My favorite movie of last year—the best movie of last year, I would argue—wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards. It wasn’t even part of the conversation. That’s because the movie is Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. You might think I’m just being ironic, that I’m taking pleasure in saying what no one else is saying. The latter may be true but the former is not. This movie is a secret masterpiece.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is a movie Werner Herzog, David Lynch, and Shivers-era David Cronenberg might make if they teamed up to shoot a Bourne knockoff in Louisiana on a shoestring budget. This thought experiment works even better if we imagine Gaspar Noé dropping by the editing room later on.

The actual director, John Hyams, has a distinctive voice and style. He and his cinematographer, Yaron Levy, create a nightmare-scape of blighted semisuburbia through which the hero drifts like a damaged samurai, occasionally getting sucked into maelstroms of berserk, finger-hacking, foot-severing violence. The compositions are beautiful. The cheapness of the sets only enhances the lush and lurid atmosphere; everything seems hypnotic and dreamlike. Interiors look like Gregory Crewdson photographs and exteriors look like William Egglestons. This is not your standard VOD action movie. Read More »

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The Spring Issue: Werner Herzog and Jan Simek on Caves

December 30, 2011 | by

Werner Herzog filming Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

In the current issue of The Paris Review our Southern Editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, writes about the discovery of an elaborate prehistoric cave-art tradition in, of all places, Middle Tennessee, and about the archaeologist Jan Simek, the onetime Neanderthal expert who leads the research on these remarkable Native American sites. By a stroke of good timing, this month also marks the U.S. premiere of the German director Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a spellbinding 3-D documentary about La Grotte Chauvet, a cave in the south of France—discovered only in the mid-nineties—that contains exquisite animal paintings more than thirty thousand years old (the famous images at Lascaux go back a mere seventeen or eighteen thousand years, by comparison; Chauvet is another Lascaux back from Lascaux). In the following Q & A, Sullivan talks cave art with two of the more interesting underground explorers of our time.

JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN

Mr. Herzog, you mention in the new film that you were limited to very few days and hours of shooting in the Chauvet cave, because of the possible ill effects (mold and so forth) that too much human traffic could have on the fragile environment. Also you had very little crew, and were forced to keep the equipment light. How might the movie have been different, if you’d been given unlimited access?

WERNER HERZOG

Constraints—which in this case were massive—are never really completely productive. However, I had to focus to the very essentials, and probably, with two or three times as much schedule available for me, the film wouldn’t have been much different. It has never, in my life as a filmmaker, made much difference how the constraints were. Technical constraints, schedules, you name it—they always have forced me to be quick and intelligent.

One small thing, maybe, which keeps nagging me, is a sort of a scratched painting, the outlines of an owl. It’s very strange and mysterious, and unique, because you do not have depictions of birds in the Paleolithic caves—with one exception that comes to mind: Lascaux, where there is a bison apparently hit by spears. His entrails are coming out of his belly, and there’s a dead man on the ground, face up, and there’s a stick, and a bird on it, as if the soul of the man were departing him. A beautiful and touching image, but of course, a different cave, and something like 18,000 years later.

The problem with the owl in Chauvet is that you can only film it properly with light coming from profile. And as we could not step beyond the confinements of a metal walkway that runs through the cave, protecting the floor, it would have been very difficult to move a light. Perhaps on some sticks we could have held something, and with quite some time and tricky arrangements, I could have made it visible. But I take it as it is.

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