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Herzog examines the world championships for cattle auctioneers, his fascination with a language created by an economic system, and compares it to the lifestyle of the Amish, who live nearby.Written by
Rather tiresome Herzog documentary, in which he performs his usual variation on Brechtian alienation by providing his audience with space to think, and then hitting them over the head anyway. The subject matter is the 1976 Cattle Auctioneering World Championships, wherein a bunch of rednecks speedyodel at cows. Herzog would use this phenomenon with great dramatic power in his similarly bludgeoning treatise on America, STROZZEK, but without a fictional framework, the subject becomes monotonous and irritating.
Herzog sees these auctioneers as a major site of American capitalism. Unlike other World Championships, where a skilled jury honour the most successful, this competition is strictly business, the jurors voting for the man they'd most like to represent them. Herzog compares this to the Amish community - enemies of capitalism - in whose town the event takes place. This is an easy jibe, and one that ignores the possible intolerance and repression that can breed in such close-knit groups.
The film is full of such contentiousness. Herzog is a last bastion of righteous modernism in a prevaricating post-modernist age of crisis, confusion and doubt. All his films are made with a firm point of view, offering an unproblematic alternative, but his attacks on convention and tyranny can be rather tyrannical themselves. Herzog appropriates everything. Take, for example, the issue of voices. He interviews competitors. They speak in English, but he talks for them, over them, in German, speaking for them. If the subtitles (another level!) are anything to go by, he's also translating them without due precision, and subtleties of meaning are lost. If his English isn't good enough, it's a mark of his arrogance that he thinks this doesn't matter.
Herzog points out that there is a strange musicality to the auctioneering. He then makes us endure the art for over 20 minutes, presumably to give us time to ruminate over it. So we do. Sometimes it sounds like yodelling, at others babbling dictators, at others raving evangelists. We think about how this 'new' language (both verbal and body) developed, and note the disparity between its local specificity, almost ethnicity, and its centrality to an international capitalism. We may even note the link between the auctioneers and the cattle they're selling, in the businessmans' minds.
All this will probably come to you after two minutes, but Herzog refuses to stop, piling on these yokels whose meagre curiosity value has long since waned. Can you imagine - 20 minutes of cattle moving from one pen to another, buyers whooping, and this insane, ghastly yodelspeak ringing through your ears like a trapped bluebottle. Then - then! - after you've been given time to make up your own mind, Herzog comes along and tells you what he thinks anyway! And guess what? It's exactly the same as what you'd figured out for yourself! Arrrrgh!
(The film has one value though. Canadians really do speak as SOUTH PARK suggested. Which, when you think aboot it, is unfortunate.)
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