Tuesday, 7 July 2015

World Cinema and the Essay Film

Cüneyt Çakırlar presented a paper (with Elif Akçalı, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey) on Werner Herzog's film-making at the international conference World Cinema and the Essay Film, at University of Reading (30 April - 2 May). The paper, titled ""A Form of Proto-Cinema": Aesthetics of Werner Herzog's Documentary Essayism", explored potentials and paradoxes of interpretation in Herzog’s recent documentary practice. Capitalizing upon the various aspects of “the aesthetic” embedded in his filmmaking (from the on-screen presentation of the subjects’ urge to create and re-invent to the fimmaker’s performative address at his “documentary” aesthetic), the project aims to discuss the ways in which Herzog turns his documentary material into a series of artful acts and “proto-cinema” gestures. What makes this transformation possible especially in the  documentaries Grizzly Man (2005), Encounters at the End of the World (2007) and Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) is the filmmaker’s persistent interventions both as director and participant observer in the pro-filmic events as well as his highly stylised additions to the narratives during post-production including his editing decisions, use of sound and voice-over narration.  The subject matters that these documentaries originally deal with multiply and turn into remote questions both voiced by the filmmaker’s on- and off-screen comments, and implied through his filmmaking aesthetics.  Rather than reinforcing a documentary truth claim, Herzog’s subjective interventions in each film create an alternate narrative prone to essay-films, which run next to these otherwise participatory documentaries. The continuous juxtaposition between Herzog’s subjectivity and the films’ photographed, quasi-objective realities including the people and the landscapes creates an ambiguity in defining certain moments from these films as they fluctuate between fiction and non-fiction, real and represented, and natural and artificial. Focusing on his engagement with film form, style, and the recurring themes of ecstasy, spirituality, scientific reason, and the indifference of nature, we would like to address wider methodological implications in Herzog’s practice. 


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