Director: Werner Herzog

Cast: Ryan Andrew Evans, Werner Herzog

The Buzz: Nominated in the Best Documentary category

The Run: Werner Herzog’s name

Encounters at the End of the World

The Grand Inquisition

If there is only one film from 2008 you are allowed to see, it better be Encounters at the End of the World. Not because it is easily the best movie made that year, but because it is so deep in its ideas, so uncompromising in its execution and so shattering in its discoveries. Werner Herzog has been making films for years and his filmography is probably the definitive stop to learn how profound documentaries can be.

As with most of Herzog’s films, Encounters at the end of the world is not just satisfied with the content it gives us. Herzog examines how the film is so important to him as a filmmaker and us as citizens of the earth. But by no way is this a didactic documentary about the “ecocalypse” nor is it about bonding between “fluffy penguins”. Herzog takes up a theme that has always fascinated him – about the nature of nature and the inherent savagery it exhibits. Why is it that some creatures are meant to be slaves and some masters? Why do some beings digress from the rest of their species? Why can’t man leave some part of nature unexplored or mysterious? Is nature like the Schrödinger’s cat that changes when observed? Through a multi-layered approach, Herzog studies how life goes on in the arcane world of Antarctica. There is considerable humour involved when we discover the stories behind the very many faces that have arrived at this edge of the planet. All this only questions us about how much we know about ourselves while we are studying the intelligence of single-celled organisms. “Hearing the universe’s cosmic harmonies through our ears and witnessing the universe’s glory through our eyes” answers one of them.

Encounters is a special film for me as I saw it amidst a Herzog retrospective. The most relentless filmmaker of our times after Godard, Herzog is the best example of how independent a filmmaker can be. Over 60 now, Herzog is everything a traveler, an artist, an adventurer or a roadie could ever hope to be. And Encounters is a gem with the master at the top of his game, as ever.

Bigger Stronger Faster* (2008)
Christopher Bell

Bigger Stronger Faster* is one of the best documentaries to come out for a very long time. As the film starts, it is inevitable that one is reminded of the films of controversial filmmaker Michael Moore. But once the momentum picks up, you realize that the director, Christopher Bell, has fabricated a fantastic piece all in his own way. The film deals with the issue of steroids and the taboos it faces in the society. It does not explicitly argue for the cause but it does provide openings to many unknown facts that make us rethink our morals.

Here is the starting scene from the movie that just grabs you by the throat and prepares you for the ride that you will be taking up. It cleverly combines the larger theme of the film, the director’s own passions and central issue it will be dealing with. All this in a very funny way as the track “Eye of the Tiger” – a track that has become the apotheosis of “Americanism“– plays on. The film later goes on to build over these images of WWE (the director’s own inspiration to take up body building as a serious inspiration), Rocky (The righteous underdog) and Sports (as America’s incessant glorification of the ultimate winner) and blends them with the larger issue at hand – a contradiction of ideologies followed by one nation in its quest for excellence.

Here is the scene followed by the transcript:

Narrator: January 23, 1984. It was a day that changed my life forever. The muscle, the moral courage that built the greatest, freest nation the world has ever known. Ronald Reagan was our President and there was trouble brewing in Iran. I was just a kid, but I knew who was behind it. His name was The Iron Sheik.

Commentator: From Tehran, Iran, weighing 258 lbs, The Iron Sheik! They have a lot of hate in their hearts for this man. Iran– number one! U.S.A.—

Narrator: You see, Reagan may have freed the hostages but The Sheik still had the championship belt. There was only one man that could save us.

Commentator: From Venice Beach, California, the incredible Hulk Hogan!

Narrator: And the Hulkster rips off that shirt. But three minutes into the match Hulk Hogan was locked in the dreaded camel clutch. It’s over for the Hulk. This move would snap the back of a normal man, But this wasn’t a normal man. This was Hulk Hogan and he was fighting for our country. The Hulkster got out of the camel clutch with the Sheik on his back, dropped the big leg and he pinned the Sheik. Hulkamania was born and the message was clear– You don’t mess with Hulk Hogan and you certainly don’t mess with America. I must break you. Look what happened to Ivan Drago. He tried to mess with America and Rocky kicked his ass. And then when the Vietnamese were holding P.O.W.S. Rambo went in and he kicked their ass.

Reagan: And in the spirit of Rambo let me tell you we’re gonna win this time.

Narrator: Then came Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ultimate ass-kicker. I never saw “Gone With the Wind” or “Casablanca,” but I can tell you every line of every Arnold movie.

Arnold (Conan the Barbarian) and Narrator: “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of the women.”

Arnold (Predator): “Dillon, you son of a bitch.”

Narrator: And they go bam! And they’re all oiled up and their veins are popping out. I have the power!

Voiceover: Better, Stronger, Faster.

Narrator: I was just 12 years old and there was an explosion of ass-kicking in America.

Reagan: And like our Olympic athletes we set our sights on the stars and we’re going for the gold.

Narrator: I wanted to tear off my shirt and be ripped, tanned and larger than life. But in reality I was a fat, pale kid from Poughkeepsie.

I’ve never seen a documentary so personal in nature that it has the potential to disrupt a family. Chris Bell’s search for truth does not stop at his doorstep but goes into his personal life, his disappointments and his relationship with his brothers. Bigger Stronger Faster* is a documentary that won’t inspire you in any way and may even wound your faith in humanity and its morals. But it will definitely make your outlook finer and your perspectives wider.