Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Movie Review: The White Diamond

This film is about Graham Dorrington, an English aeronautic engineer (based in Australia), who has built an airship for the purpose of exploring and filming the rainforest of Guyana. Ten years earlier he designed a similar airship for his friend, the cinematographer, Götz Dieter Plage. While filming in the Sumatran jungle, Plage crashed the airship. He dropped his camera, so he unbuckled his safety harness so he could retrieve it. But instead he fell to his death. Dorrington felt responsible for Plage's death. Thus the events depicted in the film represent an attempt by Dorrington to redeem himself by successfully doing what he and Plage had failed to do ten years previously.[1]

The title of the movie comes from a stoned Rastafarian diamond miner, Marc Anthony Yhap, who compares the airship to a giant, floating white diamond. He then dedicates it to his "mother, who is in Spain". Mark Anthony, with his simple sense of wonder and prosaic speech [2], offers an interesting contrast to Dorrington, whose hope almost seems desperately futile and whose conversation is often self-conscious. But ultimately the extensive footage of this man disjoints the film. It has no narrative focus; nothing ties it together.

My verdict: Much of the footage looks like something you would see on one of Mr. Rogers' outings (i.e. it's television quality, not feature film quality). The editing is slow and a bit sloppy.[3] There are lots of shots that end with awkward silence. Several times the camera crew walked into the shot and the cinematographer apparently didn't care. A few people speak German on-screen and no translation is given (and no subtitles are available on the DVD in any language). Some of the music sounds like an aboriginal dirge. At other points it's simply cacophonous. None of it worked for me. There is, however, some spectacular footage of the rainforest and the animals that live in the canopy, as well as Kaieteur Falls. Though some of the most intriguing footage—nests of the White-tipped Swift (Aeronautes montivagus—behind the waterfall) was excluded in deference to the local legends.[4]


[1] When it comes time for the maiden voyage Dorrington wants to fly alone so that no one else will be put at risk. At this point the director, Werner Herzog, bullies Dorrington into letting him be part of the flight using flawed logic. You can tell that Dorrington doesn't buy into the argument but doesn't feel like continuing the argument. Herzog acts like's he's prevailed using rationality instead of intimidation.

[2] He often has a twinkle in his eye and it's hard not to believe that he isn't performing for the camera.

[3] I'm reminded of Agnès Varda's terrible editing in her film The Gleaners and I (read my review here).

[4] All that was shown was a nauseating take of the camera spinning as it's hauled back up (which reminded me of Varda's deplorable "Dance of the Lens Cap").

Image attributions:

Kaieteur Falls is by brokekid (Scott Stadum), available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/broke_kid/49046563/in/photostream/.

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