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Reeling through the weekend

Posted at 4:20 PM on April 30, 2006 by Euan Kerr

The opportunity to see Werner Herzog's "The Wild Blue Yonder" on the big screen at 2006 Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival was just too much of an enticement on Saturday evening. So, having made all the familial arrangements and completed my teen transportation duties, I headed to the Oak Street for the 7.15 screening. I was concerned the show might sell out, but, as I got there at 7 the line wasn't too long and I squashed into the tiny theater lobby with all the other folk sheltering from the spring deluge.

The movie before hadn't got out yet and the lobby got tighter and tighter, until eventually the house manager told us the earlier screening had started late, and so it was going to be at least another 20 minutes. He then asked us to huddle outside under the marquee so more people could come in for tickets, and also to let the other audience out.

So there we stood, watching the drips coming through a rusted hole in the marquee. The crowd was good natured, and those of us who were there early enough felt slightly smug as we watched the line grow and snake out into the open, rain-filled, air.

For once a time estimate was overly long, and after 15 minutes we trooped inside to watch the Herzog genius unfold on screen. The place wasn't completely sold out, but there were only a few seats empty here and there.

The lights went down and the film began - and what a strange one it was too. The screen was filled with scuba divers swimming under thick layer of ice, watching their bubbles bumping against the opaque ceiling. They stopped to poke at unfortunate creatures swirling by in the current. A disembodied voice began intoning about how these astronauts (hunh?) were looking for ways to colonize this new inhospitable planet. It was quite beautiful, but unsettling especially when a whining, incomprehensible, song ran underneath the pictures.

Suddenly we were confronted by a scientist talking about chaos theory and then a really angry looking man talking about how he could have warned the explorers about how intergalactic shopping malls don't work. Confusion mounted in the audience, and then the film slowed down and stopped.

The manager went down front to admit there was a problem. The film reels had arrived at the festival unmarked, and now it was running the staff realized they'd made it up in the wrong order. He asked for patience as they spent 10 minutes re-ordering the film. He offered comps and refunds, and a few people left, but surprisingly few. The 10 minutes turned into 20, and then 30.

Eventually the manager came down and said they couldn't work it out fast enough, as some of the reels may not have been rewound either. So after apologizing profusely, he announced another two screenings, and handed out comps good for the Best of the Fest. We all upped and left.

It was only then I recalled we hadn't seen any opening titles, nor much explanation about the film. The film had pretty much made sense for about 15 minutes until suddenly it didn't. What did that say about Herzog's skill? What did it say about the gullibility of the audience?

So again after more familial organization and teen transportation I headed this morning to the Bell. The crowd was much thinner, 20 souls maybe. The film started only a few minutes late, and this time there were titles at the beginning, and we met the angry man again, who turned out to be an alien from Andromeda. Herzog creates what he calls a science fiction fantasy from what turn out to be very funny monologues from the angry Andromedan, interspersed with images from a space shuttle mission, and the ice divers.

There was still one reel in the wrong place, which turned out to be the one we had already seen. I heard a number ofsighs in the audience, but everyone struggled through.

It works pretty well, although there are moments when the suspension of disbelief fails, and you begin wondering what is really going on in the shuttle or underwater, rather than concentrating on the story.

But even a flawed Herzog film makes better viewing than most other directors best efforts. There was talk of it being shown at the Best of the Fest but it's not on the list at present. It may be worth checking back for updates.

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