The Wild Blue Yonder – Werner Herzog – USA – 2005 – Brad Douif

The Wild Blue Yonder – Werner Herzog – USA – 2005 – Brad Douif

Adrin Neatrour writes: Werner Herzog may espouse the abstract cause of man’s mission to the stars as the solution for humans but filmically The Wild Blue Yonder(WBY) represents a dead end for him and with contagious effect the space vision represented in WBY looks like a tacky Californian fantasy driven not by social altruism but rather by specist and social cultural bankruptcy. The would be colonisers of space and their chronicler Herzog go nowhere except into the dead ends of their own self advertisment.The Wild Blue Yonder – Werner Herzog – USA – 2005 – Brad Douif
Viewed Star and Shadow – 21 Sept-07  Ticket price: £4-00

Dead End Street
Werner Herzog may espouse the abstract cause of man’s mission to the stars as the solution for humans but filmically The Wild Blue Yonder(WBY) represents a dead end for him and with contagious effect the space vision represented in WBY looks like a tacky Californian fantasy driven not by social altruism but rather by specist and social cultural bankruptcy.  The would be colonisers of space and their chronicler Herzog go nowhere except into the dead ends of their own self advertisment.

WBY is a scissors and paste film stitched together by the contrived device of an ‘alien’ presenter in the person of Brad Douif.  The latter is an artifice, an enunciator who guides us through the WBY and who has supposedly travelled from the outer reaches of the cosmos to secretly colonise our planet.  ( Brad Douif even borrows the  so called Roswell event as cod evidence of  Brad’s species arrival )  This spoof alien visitation is posited as an unthreatening event prompted by the demise of the alien’s own world. The message of the alien is two fold: firstly – a joke – that their prime place of domicile has come to be the shopping mall indeed their arrival on Earth mysteriously coincided with the invention and development of this realty architecture.  Secondly that from experience of the alien space travel is not an advised option for human kind – it takes too long and leads to a sort of genetic demoralisation, species aneurysm.  

Having set up the null hypothesis that space travel is not a species survival option, Herzog takes up Nasa’s corner and sets to caste doubts on the negative proposition. 

The NASA archive film that Herzog has acquired to make WBY is wondrous visual  material, immersing us in an aqueous world of the future.  A potential future in which we will float in conditions of zero gravity: a world where a whole new palette of sensory motor possibilities will lay claim to our bodies and minds.  Fluidity will be the new order, an order with the conflict between our bodies and gravity, without the conflict between our aspirations and the leaden pull of reality.  In themselves as a series of visual images the NASA material in WBY castes a beguiling spell suggestive of a new conceptual order.

But the NASA film – much of it training film shot underwater – is not rendered by Herzog into a new sensorial world. Rather by laying wall to wall music over these scenes they are reduced to  the banality of a cinema advert or bad pop promo.  The music used by Herzog seems like an exercise in the sort of lazy thinking occasionally found in first year film students.  You shoot a sequence then fill it out with music you really like.  Most of the music used in WBY is in itself very strong and overdetermines and overwhelms the visual material. The Sardinian shepherd harmonies dubbed on the NASA footage by Herzog are a particular case in point.  Their power would transform any image.  Exploited by Herzog with the presumed intention of an intensifying effect, he decontextualises both sound and movement images.  His objective is to invoke and perhaps compel a state of mind in the viewer which is quasi meditative, quasi uncritical.  It is a cheapo manipulation.  Herzog is borrowing heavily from the advertising industry where the object of the image product is association with the object of consumption.  The technique of advertising is that images both sound and picture, are removed, stolen from their natural contexts. The deterritorialised material is recombined  and the new association used to sell a particular proposition such as a deodorant or in this case the celestial mission of humankind in space.  At this point Herzog has ceased to be a film maker. He has become a peddler of cheap tricks. 

 With WBY it seems as if it is the glib promotional mantras of the advertising industry that Herzog has decided to serve. 

It may be claimed by some, perhaps including Herzog, that WBY is a spoof on the wilder American self imposed and adapted techno dream of its mission to the stars. But this American self fed and administered fantasy, shared by some Europeans, is already parody:  grown adult men (usually men) obsessing on the great adventure of space.  The parody element is endemic in the blindness of the would-be space travellers to the devastation done to their planet by their own kind and that what they plan to export along with the human body is a psychic state of mind centred on selfishness and the narrow wasteful interests of our species.  Many of the would be space colonialists seem to have a subtextual reasons for getting off planet Earth that have racist undertones: the implication that our planet is overcrowded and being depleted of resources by the black and dusky fellahs.  So where can the smart white money go to escape the nightmare?  They use their brains to blast off in rockets to horizons new where the other guys can’t get.  The wild notions of the space-heads always have a parody of white supremacy or at least a sort of honoury white ivy league intellectual supremacy,  built into their premises.

The sort of science that it is assumed is needed for space travel is also a travesty of intelligence.  In WBY there are serious bearded gentlemen lucidly explaining the notional possibilities of theoretical phenomena such as ‘worm holes’  ‘warp drives’ and ‘interdimensional travel’  as a means of overcoming the tricky problems of space journeys that would require generations of humans to complete.  In a bound these theoretical notions are discussed as if they were real probabilities, technologies on the cusp of delivering the possibility of deep intergalactic navigation.  This is ‘Boys Own’ material.  None of the suggestions amount to anything more than remote theories.  A parody of the relationship between science and man.

Meanwhile the evidence that indicates the real difficulties of long term space travel and the founding of remote space colonies is simply ignored.  The collapse of the Biosphere 2 experiment both in terms of its social breakdown and its failure to sustain a miniature Earth like ecosystem beyond a few months, should give space fantasists both a case to answer and at least pause for reflection.  But reflection is not a strong or long suit of the colonialist.

If WBY is parody then it is parody of a parody which is a contradiction is terms that throws little light on the processes at work in thinking about space travel, indeed tends to obscure them.  As was perhaps intended by the film maker.
adrin neatrour
adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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