i became aware of a new Werner Herzog film, the critically-lambasted Salt and Fire. However, after sitting groaningly through the pedestrian Doctor Strange i felt up for a bit of Herzog, even inferior Herzog. My notes thereon:
1. Two dagos (Meier & Calvani) and an uppity German MILF are en route to some scientific conference. Calvani keeps groping the MILF, until they are all abducted at which point all gropings cease. One of the abductors is Michael Shannon, plus a gimp called Krauss, played by Lawrence Krauss in a Gestapo coat, generally toting an assault rifle.
2. First 20 minutes are stilted and odd, the plot not so much unfolding as jerking about like a maimed spider. Most of the actors are not native English speakers, and even Michael Shannon speaks like a being from another planet. The MILF is highly irritating; she keeps saying “I demand -” like a true German power frau who is going to demand unlimited “refugees” come to Germany to rape all & sundry and destroy European culture, as long as they don’t live in her gated community. i hate her.
3. The annoying MILF wanders about a Catholic villa in some godawful dago desert, talking to Shannon. A parrot shrieks something in David Lynch talk, Shannon translates it “remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth” and then:
Shannon: You know what Nostradamus said about talking birds?
MILF: No, I do not read Nostradamus.
Shannon: He foretold what sounds like science fiction today. He said, Household pets finally communicate with man. Life then possible outside the planet. A new tyrant sows terror. Events to come.
MILF: A world run on big data and predictive analytics doesn’t care about Renaissance predictions. I want to know how Meier and Cavani are.
Shannon: It’s not so much the predictions themselves that fascinate me. It’s where they come from.
4. Things turn esoteric. i begin to warm to the film, as Shannon shows her his library.
and texts of an alchemical nature
“This salamander was exorcised with a bucket of holy water, and then burnt. [pause] I think I was meant to live a different life.”
5. Shannon shows the MILF David Lynchian paintings and tells her that nothing she hears will make sense to her American ears, but in the end she will understand:
A surprising vein of Catholic mysticism and alchemy (and, incidentally, Tarot symbolism). i begin to think, Did i really just hear that? Did i dream this film?
Shannon unveils himself to the MILF in a fireside chat.
“It’s okay to be afraid of the dark. The real tragedy in life is when men are afraid of the light.”
The children are retards with pudding bowl haircuts, they could be blind but in any case she is left with them in the desert. Having warmed slightly to the MILF, my first reaction was “kill one of the children, leave him out in the desert as bait for predators, and then kill the predators and drink their blood. Use the second child as a mule.”
7. Instead the MILF looks after the children, teaching them English despite having very Germanic grammar patterns and accent. Why not teach them German? Some of her tuition is suspect but i suppose if you take this as edited highlights of an intense course, it could seem plausible. She sings German songs and seems happier in this predicament than elsewise.
8. At some point, i grew to, if not like the pudding bowl retards, at least feel they shouldn’t be gutted and left to bleed out in the salt wastes. While the weak should of course perish, i think Herzog has a particular genius for taking the weak & wayward, and showing their essential humanity; he takes this brittle German power frau and over the first 40 minutes she becomes human through, in part, her concern for her abducted colleagues, and through her tentative engagement with Shannon over various esoterica; the pudding bowl retard children become of value through her engagement & care.
9. Shannon and Krauss return.
There are many very Herzogian moments of fun and humour and sadness, and Shannon is revealed as a Herzogian figure – his reason for leaving her in the desert is very much in line with Herzog’s loathing for factual documentary, Herzog’s ideal of indissoluble experience.
Overall, a very good film. It got terrible reviews, naturally. As i was watching it, i felt “this is a good film to watch once” but now i want to watch it again. It is, at about 95 minutes, extremely condensed. All of Herzog’s films are layered and hectic; this is a strange work, reminding me somewhat of my own short stories in being a failure in terms of the apparent form; yet as i would say my short stories are operating in a different, unapparent form, so i would say here, Salt and Fire is actually a very good film, if one sees it as it is, not as a typical “film”. There some odd moments, e.g. when Shannon’s men abduct the MILF & co from an airport, bundling them all into a car, and one of the henchmen is aiming a handgun at the hills at least a kilometer away. It would have been nice to have some minimal realism here, but then it’s a Herzog film and he’s not an action director.
It doesn’t surprise me that film critics – generally Left-wing, mediocre big city dwellers – condemned this film. It is actually a very odd meditation on how our experience of isolation & pain is part of our human being, and our relation to others, and the necessity of experience in all its weirdness, to come to clarity.