I just finished this, having been drawn due to my love of Herzog's films, particularly the documentaries.
Clearly Linas, the maker of Walking to Werner, sees his film as a companion piece to Herzog's films, and tells us that he sees in his own footage something of the 'ecstatic truth' that he has seen in Herzog's films.
Well I don't see it. Rather, I think this elongated, narcissistic voyage of self-discovery bears some comparison with the work of Ross McElwee, specifically the rambling, discursive 'Sherman's March', and that is not a flattering comparison at all. Considering the breadth of history, geography, autobiography and humanity on display in McElwee's film, it is quite bewildering to imagine how Linas has managed to edit his film to feature length.
Regarding Herzog's films, the crucial difference is that Herzog doesn't make films about himself, but rather appears as a guide or commentator on the sidelines of films with a clearly delineated centre. Perhaps 'La Soufriere' contains some scenes of Herzog's blatant 'heroism', but the situation is so imminently perilous that it can hardly be helped. It certainly cannot be compared with a two month stroll down some of America's most scenic highways. When Linas talks about the dangers of his trip, and says he thinks about his death every day, it is a major misjudgment of audience sympathy.
Throughout the film, Linas appears as a self-conscious, preening egotist, completely lacking in any revelations, or insight, yet continuously placing himself as the central focus of the film. While he blatantly attempts to portray himself as a Herzogian hero doing battle with the natural world, the only hazards he appears to encounter are some light blistering and an occasional requirement to rough it in a tent. When he announces quite mildly that in coming to LA, he has 'found himself', he offers no explanation of what his 'sharper perspective' might be.
It is, in short, a con trick. Linas hasn't the intellectual rigor, or the honesty, or the balls to be a Herzog, and he doesn't have the genuine manic charisma to be a Timothy Treadwell or a Fitzcarraldo. What he offers instead is a kind of safe, slightly embarrassing student version, attempting to depict himself and his journey as interesting and extreme, but constantly happening across people far more interesting and extreme than himself wherever he goes.
It is these people that make the film bearable from beginning to end. When the emphasis shifts away from himself, Linas clearly does have a gift for developing an instant rapor with some unusual characters, but in his faux blankness as he walks away from the abused prostitute desperately trying to look beatific and pull focus back onto himself, I felt that the truth of Linas' film was not ecstatic, but actually quite self-absorbed and ugly.
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