Posts tagged werner herzog

HOT DOCS: Films to Beat the Summer Heat

Heat is bearing down on us here in Shanghai, and the long days at the LP Films office are spent alternating between sat icy under air conditioning, and glowing red around monitor screens and processors in the edit suites. The city tipped 40 Celsius this week, with a feel factor of 50 degrees thanks to the humidity, humidity which sees our assistant editor Apple flop in each morning like a wilting flower, reviving only after some intense sitting down and a good bout of, “Oh my gosh it’s soooooo hot outside.”

Point being, it’s maybe best to stay indoors these days. So why not kick back under some cool air with an ice tea (or something a little stronger, to your taste) and enjoy our pick of 5 great documentaries about summer and blistering heat.

No Cameras AllowedNo Cameras Allowed, 2014

Music festivals are a staple of the summer, and we’ve been enjoying a wave of them in Shanghai over the past couple of months. The music festival documentary is a true classic genre, and the best ones catapult beyond being simple concert footage to capture the heart of what it means to stand in the middle of a crowded field, covered in mud and glitter with thousands of party people.

The undisputed daddy of the genre is Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970), but for sheer audacity we have to pick James Marcus Haney’s No Cameras Allowed as our favorite. With no money for tickets, Haney does what many have done before and jumps the fence. Or digs under the fence. Or pretends to be security. Or pretends he’s in a band. From Coachella to Glastonbury, Haney sneaks his way into 50 festivals around the world, filming himself as he goes and capturing some of the best festival footage seen in cinema. There’s a pure joy to his endeavor which goes right to the heart of the festival experience.

Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana, 1971

No documentary list is complete without Werner Herzog, and no Herzog doc is complete without death, disease and casual acts of anarchic hubris. Fata Morgana was no different. The crew were beaten by police following a coup in Cameroon, the director contracted some nasty parasites and a cameraman was mistaken for a mercenary and sentenced to death (but later released).

And yet the film itself is one of his most peaceful. Herzog spent weeks driving through the Sahara desert capturing Fata Morgana, mirages which appear on the horizon. Along the way we take in wrecked planes and lost objects in the strangeness of the dunes, to the music of Leonard Cohen.

the back of beyond

The Back of Beyond, 1954

Back to the desert and this time the Outback. John Hayer was commissioned by oil giant Shell to make a film that would associate their brand more closely with Australia. Instead, he crafted this love letter to his homeland, one of the greatest examples of Australian cinema to date. Like Soy Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964) The Back of Beyond transcends mere propaganda, becoming a lyric poem to the landscape and the people. The story essentially follows a mailman delivering packages to remote Outback ranchers, but takes in the millennia of scorched landscape and life along the way.

From the Sea To The Land Beyond

From The Sea To The Land Beyond, 2012

No one understands summer like the British. UK is a country where the sun notoriously rears its head for all of 5 minutes each year, and Brits make the most of every second. Penny Woolcock’s tribute to the UK coastline is formed from 100 years of archive footage, from small fishing communities to ship building industry. But it’s the sections on seaside holidays which really capture the essence of this small island nation…building sandcastles, rockpooling, arcades and dads with trousers rolled up to their knees in chilly northern seas. Top marks too for a soundtrack by post-rock band British Sea Power.

Bombay Beach

Bombay Beach, 2011

A young bipolar boy, an African American teen escaping gang violence and an elderly oil field worker are at the heart of Alma Har’el’s mythic and musical portrait of life on the edge of the Salton Sea. Bombay Beach is a town on the shores of this vast lake in southern California, a town built as a tourist resort which is being swallowed up by mud, water and salt. A quirky and poetic slice of Americana in the same vein as Gummo (Harmony Korine, 1997) but with more love, and with another killer score, this time from Zach Condon (Beirut).





Eating Shoes and Interviews

There’s a story that Errol Morris, Academy Award winning documentarian (The Fog of War, 2003) once convinced Werner Herzog to help him dig up a dead body for research. Morris never made it to the graveyard, and the departed stayed in the ground. Herzog would later lose a bet that if Morris actually completed a film, he would eat his shoe. Notorious for his early inability to finish projects, Morris has gone on to be one of the most respected and influential documentary filmmakers in the world.

werner herzog

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (Herzog, 1980)

There’s an intense edge to the man Morris, and there’s an intense edge to his films. He is known for perfecting the ‘first person’ interview technique, where the subject looks directly into camera whilst talking. Unlike most interviews, which place on onscreen or off screen interviewer as an intermediary, ‘first person’ removes the block and puts the viewer in an active role, claims Morris.

When someone watches my films, it is as though the characters are talking to directly to them… There is no third party.

But it is easier to talk to a person face to face than to stare into the cold hard eye of the camera. Morris’ early films saw him attempt to counter this by placing his head directly next to the lens. This meant that when shooting Gates of Heaven (1978) and his groundbreaking The Thin Blue Line (1988), the director of photography would have to try and keep Morris’ head out of shot by pulling on the back of hair, something which the director admits he quickly grew tired of.

Errol-Morris-splash-642x362The Fog of War (Morris, 2003)

The solution presented itself in the form of teleprompters, commonly used by news anchors so that they can read a script and address the viewer at home directly. Instead of projecting a script, Morris and his contemporaries (including Steve Hardie) would project the face of the interviewer onto a glass, meaning that the subject would be looking at a face placed directly over the lens. Morris called his system the Interratron, using it on numerous acclaimed films, and successful commercials for companies like Apple and the US Democratic Party.

7.pic_hd 9.pic_hd

Two weeks ago in the LP Films office, we set ourselves the task of building our own version of the Interratron for an upcoming commercial project in which we want the viewer to connect with the subject like an old friend. Here’s the basic principle sketched by Steve Hardy, one of the system’s early innovators.


One camera points at the director, the other at the subject. The image from the director’s camera runs to a screen mounted face up in front of the subject. Above that, an angled piece of glass reflects the image so that the subject can see the director’s face, an image which is lined up so that by making eye contact, they are looking directly into the lens of the second camera. A feed from there allows the director to monitor the shot.

The project is being undertaken by Arthur and Andrej, and is still in experimental phase. The biggest challenge we’ve encountered is the type of glass to use. Clear glass produces a doubled image (with both the front and back of the glass, only millimeters apart, reflecting the screen) Mirrored glass removes this problem, but has greater opacity, meaning the image is darker.

interrotron3 interrotron1

But the guys love to experiment. Just this morning, a box of glass samples arrived for us to play around with. Perfection comes from trial and error, and like Errol Morris, we are working towards a system which works for our specific purposes.

What’s it like to use? Morris’ producer Ted Bafaloukos said,

The beauty of this thing is that it allows people to do what they do best. Watch television.

We’ve enlisted the help of staff from surrounding offices to model and test the prototype, and they’ve been surprisingly comfortable. The Interratron removes the barrier between audience and subject whilst being as strange to use as a telephone. When will it be ready to shoot with? We’ll be using it in an upcoming commercial shoot, but not everyone is convinced it will be ready…