In Search of A/The Point of Life

KAIDIE’S SLIGHT DETOUR/DIVERSION/REALITY CHECK: ON HERZOG’S ENIGMA OF KASPER HAUSER (Catch on BBC iplayer now!)

Werner Herzog at the San Francisco International Film Festival, 1999. Frame grab from final chapter of Chlorine Addiction by Kai Syng Tan (2000)

If it wasn’t for this (this tedious 1000-day hell of an ‘epic’ endeavour, of Kaidie’s quixotic running across dimensions in search of the so-called ‘Meaning of Life 3.0’), we could possibly have conducted our research on Werner Herzog, as we had contemplated at some moments of our previous lives. How nice now, in this life, to revisit his The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974).

The classic Herzogian leitmotifs are there: beasts (fainting chicken, kneeling camel), outcasts/freaks (myth of tiny king with tiny kingdom, each king tinier than before; Kasper Hauser himself); freak shows (including the film we are watching); dreamscapes (ditto, and Kasper’s flickering Super-8 Sahara dreams);  hero/anti-hero (Kasper/Bruno S.); character/actor, acting/not acting (Kasper/Bruno S.); ‘realism’ vs self-mythologisation (including Herzog’s own); the clash of cultures/civilisations (Kasper scrutinised again and again as an Other; “Mother, I have been so cut off from the world”, says Kasper, holding her baby); an assault on ourselves (the Other or the ‘idiot-savant’/savage being more enlightened and more civilised than us); power play and cruelty (boys at chicken and Kasper); moments of tenderness (Kasper playing with black crow, recalling the iconic image of Klaus Kinski playing with monkey in the final scene of Fitzcarraldo); man vs nature (“Let the apples sleep, they are tired.”); man and art (“The music feels strong in my heart. All of a sudden I feel old. Why can’t I play the piano like I breathe?”); godlessness and the absence of redemption (the subtitle, Every Man for Himself, and God Against All of Them, says it all.)

Controversial and problematic as his work and methodologies were/are, Herzog always haunts and provokes, in a manner that is austere, Brechtian and  unsentimental as it is acutely Romantic.

In a previous life, I saw the filmmaker speak at the San Francisco International Film Festival. (I had rushed back to the cinema from my tour around San Francisco of Hitchcock’s film locations of Vertigo – the very same tour that Chris Marker took, I am told, to film the passage that pays homage to Vertigo/Madaleine’s ghost, in his Sans Soleil). As usual, Herzog spoke contemplatively, measuredly, in flawless English with his unmistakably charming accent (but he offered an obligatory ‘apology’ for his ‘bad English’ at the beginning of his speech), punctuated with calculated pauses (Is that Herzog narrating the final dream sequence in Kasper?)

Herzog reminds us of many things, and reminds Kaidie the need to keep running and not lose her vision, flickering and faint as they may be at times. (She is short-sighted after all. Time to clean her mouldy glasses.)

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