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Friday, April 23, 2010

When internet Meme's become essay: Herzog reads Where's Waldo

This video is the latest in a series of internet videos in which someone with a German accent parodies Werner Herzog's voice-over style reads childrens books. While a few have been funny, I found this one rather brilliant. In that the themes of this parodic meme provide something of a Magus for Herzog's entire filmography.

Most directly, while watching this, I was thinking "wow, Where's Waldo is almost a companion work to Stroszek. The film many consider his best, is about, if one can say that about the film, a man leaving home searching for the physical embodiment of the American dream in a Wisconsin town, with strange and surreal results.

But Waldo works to elucidate other films in Herzog's canon. Two things come to mind: first, the use of the natural chaos of natural world to work as an expressionistic description of the existential anxiety in his characters. In films like Even Dwarfs Started Small and Nosferatu, Herzog's films have featured characters with physical traits that highlight the inner state of the protagonist, and perhaps, in his most common theme, having nature itself enter into dialogue with and often intervene against the mental state of the protagonist: Aguirre, Grizzly Man, Fitzcaraldo. The second thematic is the fruitlessness of the search, of the journey, found in films in which a character naively leaves one place to observe another they know little about, only to find they can't escape their problems (via spaceship in The Wild Blue Yonder, or drugs in Port of Call). This can also be found in its inverse, in films about civilising projects gone wrong: Aguirre, Fitzcaraldo, Kaspar Hauser, etc. The fruitless attempt to try and contain the external nature when the internal nature is so corrupted.

In many of the same ways, Waldo has a useless journey, where he's lost, finds continual chaos, and all attempts to make sense of the scenes make him further lost; less himself, and more part of that continual chaos, no matter how much he pretends to be an observer in it all. The man following him? Is most likely himself.

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