Saturday, January 6, 2007

My Beautiful Balloon

I just finished watching The White Diamond for the second time, a Werner Herzog documentary from 2004. My wife rented it last Tuesday without really knowing anything about it. We watched it in awe on Wednesday night. When she selected it, I don't even think she realized it was by Herzog, because the Hollywood Video sticker was haphazardly placed over the film's title, which contained his byline. She just plucked it off the shelf without much thought. She's discovered some incredible films that way.

I was mesmerized by this picture. The film is many things: a history of flight and a celebration of its transcendency, an experiment in balloon technology's applications, a cathartic tale of an accident remembered, a travelogue of an adventure a wild rainforest, and a tale of a curious native and his rooster. I watched it twice in three days.

The serene photography is breathtaking, but more than that I was drawn to the characters. Dorrington, the subject of the film, is an inventor, an odd man of passion and conviction. He navigates his life with aplomb and yet he is haunted by an accident in his past. Being a dreamer myself, I am drawn to dreamers, and Dorrington, an unabashed nerd, not only dreams big but pursues them relentlessly. He spends time discussing his grand schemes and how one might realize them.

Herzog was very fortunate to find a perfect foil for his obsessive subject in one of the local porters hired by the crew to carry equipment into the rainforest. Mark Anthony Yhap is a simple yet profound man, a diamond miner filled with a quiet delight in his surroundings and in life itself. He seems to float through the film and through life, aware of the world around him and yet ultimately untroubled by it. The crew and the viewer are both drawn to this happy, peaceful person. When Mark Anthony is invited to fly in Dorrington's airship, he gladly accepts, but then has a strange, pensive look on his face: he regrets that his rooster Red Man cannot fly too. After he lands, he remarks quietly with a mysterious grin that his rooster should have joined him on the flight. A small moment of touching humor.


ladieslovetk said...

How did you learn about the local porter? That's a fascinating bit of arcana.

knightofnothing said...

Mark Anthony Yhap is a Guyana native featured prominently in the film. The viewer first meets him seated on an inflatable clear plastic chair, smoking a cigarette, admiring the flying contraption. My guess is that in that moment, he inspired the title of the film. When you see it, tell me if you agree!