Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man ,Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo) follows enigmatic airship engineer Dr. Graham Dorrington as he embarks on a trip in the heart of Guyana to test his new helium-filled... more » invention above the rainforest. Dubbed the "white diamond" on account of its unique teardrop shape, the expedition begins with some early mishaps but is soon airborne high above the treetops. With every success though, Dorrington is haunted by a similar expedition twelve years ago that killed his friend as they were testing an airship much like the "white diamond." Herzog magnificently captures Dorrington's struggles to atone for what he calls "a stupid, meaningless accident" while at the same time presenting stunning never-before-seen images of the true beauty of nature.« less
Eric B. Norris | Santa Clara, California USA | 01/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Werner Herzog has made another utterly original movie. I don't even know how to catagorize this film. It's partly an exploration of the nature of obsession, partly a wildlife documentary, partly an aviation documentary, and partly a call home from a man who misses his family.
Obstensibly, it's about a scientist who is haunted by the death of his friend in a South American rainforest airship accident, and goes back to the rainforest to fly a new airship over the canopy. But Herzog appears to be figuratively panning the camera in all directions, and the movie goes in several directions simultaneously. The effect is a visually gorgeous film that not only explores the landscape of the rainforest, but also of human emotion.
At one point Herzog is able to film the secret nesting place of a huge swift colony. Herzog shows the local chief explaining that showing the nesting grounds to others will bring disaster--and then leaves the actual footage of the nests out of the picture! Wow. I loved this film."
R. Epstein | USA | 01/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Herzog's films are often about rulebreakers, visionaries and daredevils, something which he has always been himself. Being a daredevil flirting with death makes one feel alive, which is no small thing, but being a daredevil flirting with something even larger than death, is ecstasy. In this film, Herzog, his film crew and a small band of scientists headed by aeronautical engineer Graham Dorrington, head off to a remote area of Guyana to fly a newfangled zeppelin just a toe's length above the treetops of the jungle. Dorrington has his legitimate reasons for the usefulness of his invention, as does Herzog in documenting what may be an important new discovery in science and technology. But both of these men, as well as us in the audience, see these men's laughably primitive jabs at besting nature shrunken by the grandeur of the nature surrounding them. From the fierce power of the waterfall where they are camped out, to the unfathomable grace and sheer numbers of the birds who dwell behind it, the plight of two little men in a motorized air balloon is almost comical. I say almost because a man died in such an attempt ten years earlier - a scene that is described in chillingly vivid detail by Dorrington. Also, there is a kind of nobility in man's stubborn desire to defy his relatively scrawny limitations against nature. Whether it's Fitzcarraldo dragging a steamship over a mountain, Herzog himself trying to make the steamship climb the mountain for his film, or Dr. Dorrington sailing the skies in a contraption that seems as fragile as a butterfly, the dream is everything. The dreams of Herzog's characters - be they real or fictional - are usually short-lived, but at least the dreams do come alive briefly. If I could sum up everything that is great in Herzog's films, it would be in one awesome scene in this film where Herzog shoots the upside-down reflection of the mighty waterfall in a falling drop of rain. This moment, this reflection, this drop of rain is as temporary as life, but in it is the entire universe in all of its beauty, majesty and fragility. If that's not ecstasy, I don't know what is!"
An incomparably moving film full of stunning images
A Reviewer | Eugene, OR | 12/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film goes way beyond documentary into the realm of art. As Herzog once said about a mountain, and as someone said about Herzog's work, it is "difficult ... dangerous ... ecstatic." It begins as a more or less conventional documentary about airships and one man's attempt to design a smaller and more maneuverable ship, but as it goes, it turns into a meditation on what this ship, the "White Diamond," means to the people who encounter it, from the engineer who seeks redemption for his colleague's death, to the village children who cannot "see" it, to the local man who wants to fly to Europe to find his family and cease being "a lost brother, a lost son." The airship is counterpointed with dazzling photography of the million swifts that fly in and out of a "Secret Kingdom" behind a waterfall, a flight that even the White Diamond cannot make. Other themes weave in and out -- levity, danger, and human emotion. The music is stunning. A superb movie."
Of artificial madness and self-aware obsession
Angry Mofo | 08/09/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The plot of "The White Diamond" won't surprise anyone who is familiar with the works of Werner Herzog. The film is about a mad visionary who is driven to extremities by an obsessive quest for perfection. His grand ideas cause him to ignore his own safety, as well as the safety of others around him.
In this particular film, the visionary is a professor of aerodynamics at a British university. His obsessive quest is to build an airship, like the Zeppelins of old, only better. He dreams of flying like a bird, and he is truly happy only when he is soaring above the treetops in his latest airship. He has been working on this for years. At one point, one of his closest friends died in an accident that occurred because of a malfunction in one of the flying machines. Herzog, ever the adventurer, interviews the professor and accompanies him to a jungle in South America, where they test the professor's latest creation.
So far, this is all very similar to any number of Herzog's other films, from "Aguirre, The Wrath Of God" to "Little Dieter Needs To Fly" and "Grizzly Man." Even the setting recalls Herzog's other trips to South America. The jungle seems to attract him like a siren. But it is here where Herzog's grand worldview begins to look a bit laboured.
At one point in the film, there is a conversation between Herzog and the professor. The airship is ready to fly, but the professor wants to perform the first test by himself, flying alone. Herzog categorically disagrees. He says that the first flight should have a camera on board, and that the professor has no right to fly by himself. To do so would not only be unsafe, it would be a "stupidity" that would deprive the world of the images that Herzog can capture with his camera. Herzog wants to accompany the professor and share the risk, all for the sake of the film. Finally, the professor agrees.
The thing is, this scene is totally fabricated. It is obvious from looking at Herzog and the professor that the conversation is scripted. In a later interview with the BBC, the professor (who is, in fact, an active researcher at his university) confirms this. Apparently, Herzog insisted on filming this scene, with dialogue that he wrote, and sticking it into the film.
And now, it is pertinent to ask why he bothered. What was the point of making up this conversation? Is it just to reinforce Herzog's idea of the professor as a mad genius who doesn't care about other people's well-being, and thus allows an amateur to take part in the first flight?
But then, what is the point of Herzog's deliberate replies to the professor? And why is it so important that Herzog himself participate? He doesn't really step in front of the camera much throughout the film. Yet in this scene, the focus is entirely on him.
Could it be that the great cinematic visionary Werner Herzog simply wants to engage in self-aggrandizement?
Maybe. The way the scene is filmed, it serves to underscore Herzog's heroism. The director is so dedicated to his quest of capturing great images that he bravely risks his own life, putting it in the hands of the professor who is so dedicated to his own quest of building airships that he doesn't care about anything or anyone else. Herzog even takes the camera away from the cameraman and does his own filming.
Now, if Herzog made up this scene, why couldn't he have made up everything else? The professor's BBC interview doesn't give a big impression of insanity. On the contrary, the professor seems to be a pretty level-headed fellow. He wonders, in a bemused way, why Herzog made him look like a lunatic. On his website at the university, there's a list of his research interests and publications. The list provides evidence that his work is serious (he has grant money, after all), and based on motivations other than a crazed desire to fly like a bird.
Well, there's nothing wrong with that. Herzog often admits to exaggerating or fabricating certain aspects of his stories. He disdains the "accountant's truth" contained in the facts of life, and searches for the "poetic truth" that is buried far beneath the surface. Here, he just selectively emphasizes those parts of the professor's work that support his own vision of obsessive quests. Big deal.
But what is the poetic truth in this particular film? Could it be that Herzog built up this image of the professor as mad genius, solely in order to place himself alongside the professor and thus reinforce his own image as a great man in search of poetic truth? What about his earlier film "My Best Fiend," where his praise for the talents of Klaus Kinski also seemed like it was designed to direct attention to his own talents? Was Kinski right when he wrote twenty years ago that "nothing interests [Herzog] other than his lousy career as a so-called film-maker"?
Well, I don't know. And maybe it doesn't matter even if it's true. No matter what, Herzog is a powerful speaker and storyteller, and he always finds compelling imagery for his films. In this film, for instance, he shows how a giant waterfall is reflected in a drop of rain, and then how a champagne glass attached to a balloon is sucked into the falls and destroyed.
And after all, this wouldn't even be an issue if Herzog was making a feature film. I can raise these concerns only because this is a documentary. Maybe I'm too much attached to the notion that a documentary should depict factual events. But after seeing that scene, I can't shake the feeling that Herzog's glorious ideas have been a little bit tarnished."
Poetry meets documentary
Caraculiambro | La Mancha and environs | 05/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Though I've only seen a handful of films by Werner Herzog, I found every one of them adroit and powerfully arresting in unexpected ways.
Exquisite and moving, "The White Diamond" (2004) is no exception, being representative of Herzog's recent approach, at least as a documentarian. What he seems to do is pick a subject, a guy who's either fiercely dedicated to or unusually accomplished at some offbeat occupation, and then take a musing, unhurried look his life and philosophy, taking no particular pains to absent either himself or his interpretations from your consideration.
I especially like the way he allows his films to be finally edited together, frequently allowing dialogue to trail off, scenes to linger, and sequences to end on unexpected notes. His style has a look and feel all its own.
Anyhow. The "White Diamond" in this film is a specialized airship, a one-man dirigible which resembles a diamond on its side. The engineer, Graham Dorrington of London University, has specially designed it to be highly maneuverable and as quiet as possible. Thus it could accomplish its purpose: exploring one of Earth's last unexplored biospheres: the canopies of rain forests (Guyana in most of this movie). Only the most gingerly engineered ship could explore these impossible delicate, life-teeming regions, and most of the film records Dorrington testing his prototype.
But there is a darkness that lurks behind Dorrington's efforts: his close colleague, Dieter Plage, the original mastermind behind the project, died in a similar balloon during a previous expedition to the rain forest of Sumatra. In the shadow of this tragedy, Dorrington is determined to successfully see through the creation and successful usage of the improved balloon.
The film starts with a brief black-and-white history of dirigibles, then takes us into a windtunnel to witness the airship's design. Finally we see the balloon in action.
What I liked about this movie was the slow, poetical approach that Herzog adopted while exploring his subject. It seems to me he's saying something about life.
Say you're walking through Paris. You're going to remember the Seine, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, etc. But often what looms most in the memory of the traveler are minor things that caught the eye: a street vendor, a bird, a sewer grate, the rustle of a dress, a shoot of ivy. Later these memories loom even larger in your mind than the monuments you expressly went to see.
Herzog seems to capture this in his directing style, lingering curiously on extranea that, while at first blush appearing irrelevant to his presumed purpose, soon swell to assume a power over the viewer that is hard to describe.
Thus when this film is over, the things you remember most wondrously and tenderly are not the airship, but the cave of the swifts, the lonely motion of the dancer against the waterfall, and the Rastafarian who has been torn from his family.
Isn't this how we travel through life? People and events we think unimportant at the time later seize our imagination with a force that can scarcely be credited. Herzog is on to this and deliberately, I submit, incorporates this insight into his filmmaking style, thereby suggesting the beauty and importance of small things.
Unfortunately, the same thing that makes the movie so charming and so unusual is the same thing that stops it from being truly great: large chunks of it simply do not cohere. It would appear there is a price to be paid after all for not observing the unities, whatever other insights you may bring to the table. Shame this didn't get a bigger release, though.
By the way, this DVD is fullscreen only; there is no director's commentary track, no extras, and no subtitles in English or any other language."