Werner Herzog loves adventurers.
Werner Herzog’s work, such as Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and Fitzcarraldo, demonstrates his deep fascination with explorers and seekers of profound meaning and truth. In his latest documentary, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, Herzog delves into the expeditions of his close friend, explorer and writer Bruce Chatwin. The documentary itself feels like a journey, reminiscent of Chatwin’s adventures and nomadic lifestyle. Herzog delves into indigenous communities, fossils of ancient creatures, and hidden cultural rituals to deliver a personal and vulnerable film.
Nomad is not merely a documentary about Bruce Chatwin’s life; it is far more. I went into this knowing nothing about Chatwin, and outside of a few stories here-and-there, the film didn’t go into a lot of backstory. Instead, the film focuses on Chatwin’s perspective and lifestyle, exploring the various communities and places he wrote about, and providing a more modern outlook. This approach allows for a sense of intimacy with Chatwin as if we had the opportunity to see the world through his eyes. This method engrossed me into the majestic landscapes and songs from Australian aboriginal elders. Herzog depicts his subjects with majesty and awe, reflecting Chatwin’s enthusiasm as he chronicled his adventures. Herzog showed tremendous respect and empathy for his subjects, making me want to read Chatwin’s books about these cultures. While Herzog captures the excitement and reverence of adventure, he also somberly depicts the risks of cross-cultural contamination. Herzog expresses the line between exploration and respecting cultural privacy through Chatwin’s respect for these cultures, whether it’s fossils, landscapes, ore people. Additionally, Herzog’s masterly cinematography and sound designs further immersed me into Chatwin’s world. I experienced the full grandeur of the hills and ruins in Wales to the horrors of the cemeteries in Patagonia. Herzog gave these landscapes character, honoring his friend’s reverence for these civilizations through his filmmaking.
The documentary shows Herzog in a vulnerable place, sometimes on the verge of tears when talking about Chatwin. Since the documentary is so subjective, it’s easy to feel Herzog’s love for his friend, and admiration of his nomadic lifestyle. Herzog totally captured Chatwin’s exploratory nature. Herzog appears to have made the documentary more for himself than us. Herzog seems to have made the documentary to be closer to his late friend, often talking about how the two related to each other through their mutual love of adventure and exploration.
This documentary captures the excitement of a friend talking about their passion, and the fun of getting excited along with them. Herzog’s sensitive tone flows throughout the film, along with his trademark contemplation and dry humor. He majestically represents Chatwin’s nomadic lifestyle and has inspired me to start reading his work. I’m going to start with The Songlines.
Nomad will be playing through Virtual Cinema for the Film Forum on August 26th.