Tuesday, January 10, 2012


attended True/False and Full Frame this year. while i can imagine a world without T/F making FF a fantastic option, T/F is such a ridiculous gem - incredible programming of films, discussion, events - amazing staff from top to volunteers, the venues. kind of a mind bomb of incredible, barely room for improvement here. unfortunately, i missed a few T/F films i was most looking forward to, though, of course, caught some great ones. it'll kill me if i don't make it this year, which seems likely.

FF had a fabulous curated program from Rick Prelinger on archival material. the discussions i attended left me wanting, perhaps too meandering, the not-unusual lacking audience input, still pleased as punch to have participated. caught three of my fave films of the year here: NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT, tim hetherington's short DIARY, and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU, plus a few other ab solid offerings.

another high-point of the year included a weekend seminar on A FILM UNFINISHED at the University of Chicago, the model for rich inquiry into a film: a thursday night screening followed by friday morning discussion and a saturday evening roundtable, including director. much of the value of the roundtable was due to there being criticisms richly offered, a rarity in documentary it seems, but doubly-so with the director present. i suspect this was largely due to academics present, instead of participants being establishment critics or other documentarians.

doc programming in chicago is solid, though, of course, with plenty of room to improve. the music box and siskel will likely play the critically juiced and hybrid offerings such as THE ARBOR or LE QUATTRO VOLTE. i'll aside that siskel's annual doc spotlight Stranger Than Fiction is an odd disappointment. while i'm glad they program the month, the offerings are by and large not worth thinking about critically and seem to define milquetoast. you can count on facets to play a few dozen low-radar solid offerings over the course of the year. doc films will give a handful of recent popular docs, another handful of experimental and avant-garde offerings, and another handful of classics; along with UChicago's Film Studies Center, this is probably the most interesting aspect of chicago's doc programming. chicago filmmakers offers up an excellent year of programming as well as classes and networking events. white light cinema, block, southside projections, and assuredly others, add nicely. landmark provides the screens for the mainstream and market-geared docs such as CONAN, SENNA, NIM - somebody has to do it.

doc writing continues to flutter on life support. the only committed doc writer seems to be Christopher Campbell, writing most notably for the Doc Channel's blog. the handful of other doc-centric writers offer so little, with so little value, that they are hardly worth noting. i was teased with Chris Boeckmann's announcement of a non-fiction blog - nonfictioncinema - mid-2011, now promised for mid-february - still expecting greatness here. hoping this is the year for rich doc discussion and community online.

with the typical disclaimer that i assuredly missed a ton of excellent offerings, from 2011 and before, my standouts of the year:

NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT - the only film i think will stand-up 20+ years from now. a rich contemplation on public and private memory - thus documenting and life.

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU - though a bit of a bear for holding attention, this compilation of material of Ceausescu from state archives points to both the folly of master narratives and the possibilities of tapping such public archives. similarly,

SCENES OF A CRIME - culls recordings of a local police interrogation room to tell the story of state tactics in cultivating guilty subjects. the archival material is nicely woven into the film's narrative, and the "eye-of-god" POV is usefully deconstructed.

BETTER THIS WORLD - not only interestingly culls the state's street "security cameras" for their story but patches together interview material to construct dialogues between characters not spatially-temporally together. also, the commentary on the state's war on terror is timely and not-surprisingly chilling

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK - a charming gem that has inexplicably stuck with me - portrait of a life lived ethically.

CINCINNATI TO NEW ORLEANS BY WATER - these Ross Brothers fuckers masterfully create the impression that anyone can make a brilliant film.

FOREIGN PARTS - pretty great portrait of an interstitial space, here making my list for its scene of the year - the camera dancing with birthday girl.

a half-dozen or so others i liked for various reasons: DIARY, PROJECT NIM, THE BLACK POWER MIX TAPE 1967-1975, THE ARBOR, BUCK, RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES, WHO TOOK THE BOMP? LE TIGRE ON TOUR, others . flipside,

Kartemquin named me President of the backlash committee for THE INTERRUPTERS. unfortunately, having an opinion outside the slavishly adoring critical establishment merits this seemingly non-condoning pressure. though i guess i was kinda bratty, their twitter feed should be expected to be more marketing than serious or informational. while the film has its merits, and weaknesses, i simply don't think it exemplary. likewise for the under-the-radar, though critically praised, THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH, which i wrote on earlier in the year, to the ire of two [!] commenters. i suspect my manner of critical engagement earned some of the ill-will, but i think it also speaks to the delicacy of publicly criticizing and challenging documentaries, which seems a crying shame. while i didn't dislike TI, i would say PRUITT got under my skin like no other. worst of the year honors go the the worthlessly hagiographic CONAN. similarly, it is beyond me how a documentary clique latched onto the BIEBER drivel - evidence that the "taste-makers" are competing with the documentary branch in some perverse contest.

that said, looking forward to a great year

Monday, November 21, 2011

Doc "Snubs": 2012 Oscars Version

Christopher Campbell of The Documentary Channel's blog said it. S.T. VanAirsdale of movieline said it. Adam Benzine of realscreen has said it; he said Asif Kapadia said it. Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago said it. Steve Pond for The Wrap said it. [Edit to add] And now Jay Cheel at The Documentary Blog has said it (even though he tries to say he doesn't care). Some of them said hundreds of others said it via Twitter, and I'm sure there are others out there who have said it - THE INTERRUPTERS was snubbed. (Some said others were snubbed, notably SENNA.)

What they didn't say is why or how it was snubbed.

Sure, Campbell tautologically called it a "great film", adding it has "a great message". Benzine cites THE INTERRUPTERS as "highly lauded" while "hold[ing] a 99% 'fresh' rating on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes". Kenigsberg calls TI "an extraordinary achievement" and that none of the other films on the shortlist "are on the same level [as TI]", adding that TI "features personalities and stories more memorable than any you'd find in 2011's feature films". Pond echoes Benzine stating TI is "one of the most acclaimed docs of 2011 and a film that most observers put at the top of the list for films most likely to be honored by the academy this year".  All to say that writing for documentary is as sorry as documentary critics' opinion of the Documentary Branch Screening Committee, though that isn't my battle.

In addition to the lack of writing in reasoned defense of THE INTERRUPTERS and its kin, there is little to no writing on the process of selection these writers seem so up-in-arms about. A couple of sources cite the 124 films that were in consideration, though I haven't seen mention of what these films might be - aside this handful of "snubbed", "shafted", and otherwise "over-looked". At least one critic notes the Academy's shift in process post-HOOP DREAMS outrage, and another makes the suggestion that an Executive Committee ought to take over the process. From a handful of rudimentary searches online I couldn't find information on the process, so perhaps it is intentionally opaque, but I have to believe there are folks in the doc community that have (insider?) knowledge but just aren't talking. This, too, is not my concern.

I'd rather return us to the critical outrage regarding the snubbings. The claims of snubbing seem situated in two contexts. First, James' HOOP DREAMS was denied a "Best" (non-editing) Oscar in 1995 - he is owed. Second, THE INTERRUPTERS is something "the Academy tends to like". On being owed, it should be obvious that the idea of a Best Anything of the Year award runs entirely counter to "being owed". Of course, the conversation that engages this quantifying endeavor measuring bestness is a fool's game, leading us to the reality that these awards are about what we know they are about - politicized popularity contests. Who is voting, who do they know, what do they owe, what do they get, how hard are various film's teams lobbying, etc. The ugly underbelly of "Oscar-grade" film. If this was merely about some other kind of best, we would find some diversity of product. It's like that guy in that movie with the gambling, right? The question is why do so many want to put their blinders on and make this about what it isn't about? Which gets us to the second point, that THE INTERRUPTERS is the kind of film we expect to see do well at a place like the Oscars.

I'd rather elide that conversation for now and instead open the space to celebrate that even films like THE INTERRUPTERS, INTO THE ABYSS, TABLOID, maybe even NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (that I call a 2010 film), and (though probably never) THE ARBOR - among countless others - are "the type of films" that we might expect to find embraced by the Oscars, but for whatever reason are saved from that milquetoast abyss of commodified praise, instead praised as snubbed.

To all the films that didn't make the cut.

And to those of you that did, congratulations are, of course, still in order (BUCK, BILL CUNNINGHAM, and PROJECT NIM are three of my favorite films of the year, and I'm sure several that I haven't seen are also very good).

Friday, June 24, 2011

chicago doc screening highlights, week of June 24

quick (and incomplete) recap of some chicagoland doc highlights this week, several week-long runs:

- @ChiFilmmakers has Onion City Experimental throught the weekend.
- @filmcenter opens PIANOMANIA;
- @facetschicago has MAKE BELIEVE returning;
- @musicboxtheatre opens TROLLHUNTER, continues MY PERESTROIKA, and returns BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK for the weekend only.

- many great one-offs, most noteworthy is the kick-off of Propeller Fund-ed Southside Projects' screening at South Side Community Arts Center (th), two chicago gang pics LORD THING (70) and THE CORNER (62), discussion follows.
- @docfilmschicago has ZORN'S LEMMA (th) and CLIMATE REFUGEES (wed).

plenty more

Monday, June 20, 2011

Black & White and Red All Over: the PAGE ONE Kerfuffle

  Thom Powers NYT assigns  to non-film critic. Most unbalanced neg review of the year. Surely paper could have found real critic.

Thick tweet. The New York Times makes a choice about who is to review a film about itself. The paper chooses a "non-film critic". The review is unbalanced. The review is negative. The "non-film critic" has, about 80 characters later, turned into a not-real critic. There is a lot unsettling Mr. Powers; the next day Mr. Powers again tweets on the topic:

 Thom Powers Real film critics on  at NPR Village Voice  Daily News  But not 18 Jun 
 Here, it would seem, the emphasis has focused onto the realness of the critics writing on PAGE ONE, except for the fact that all the reviews linked are positive, so the germ of negativity within the initial complaint remains active. And it isn't as if there are no "real film critics" to draw upon for a negative reviewChristoper Campbell's January 26 Cinematical review:

Ultimately, the otherwise likable 'Page One' only really fails in its attempt to say something. Rossi spreads the film over too many areas, not knowing whether to simply observe with a direct cinema approach or to tie together a greater examination and contemplation of the times of the Times.
Or, more robustly critical, Armond White's June 15 New York Press piece:

It doesn't occur to Rossi that the Times has always absorbed technological changes and still remains the same institution fully conscious of exercising its power. Rossi doesn't examine the Times' own ethics. Rather than sticking to the distinct manner of print journalism, Rossi himself gets distracted by the fashion of technological transition, and clutters Page One with TV broadcast clips about trends in the journalism industry. These serve as further distraction from the fact that Rossi goes inside the Times' sanctum and looks right past it.

While Mr. Campbell or Mr. White's reviews don't meet Mr. Powers' "most unbalanced neg review of the year" level of complaint, they share opinion in final analysis.  On this point, it is worth noting that Mr. Kinsley's review appreciates the general thrust of PAGE ONE of "how dreadful it would be if The Times did not survive. True, of course, but" adding, and here I agree completely "boring to the point of irritation after five or six repetitions." In a multi-tweet response of my own, I write that I'd "love to read why this complaint is so important to Thom"; he graciously responds:

 Thom Powers @
doccritic well, yes, I'm against non-film critics taking the place of real film critics and doing such a botch job so prominently
 Thom Powers @
doccritic btw, I'm hardly alone.  called it appalling and that's the unanimous tone of reader comments on site
 Thom Powers @
doccritic here's a list of over 50 critics more appropriate to review  than the  choice 23 hours ago 

Again, thickness. There is a weakened complaint against non-film critics, this time the issue is taking the place of "real film critics" (how would any criticism by a "non-film critic" not take the place of a "real critic"? I'm not sure). There is the added complaint that Michael Kinsley's review is "botched", and "so prominently [visible, I suspect, this is The Times, and not meaning 'so prominently botched']". Mr. Powers goes on to grow the chorus of discontent, citing not only the appalled David Nugent:

 David Nugent appalled  review of  . How on earth is Kingsley best person 2  review. Shoddy writing frm great company.

who, it should be noted, misattributes the "shoddy writing" to some "Kingsley". Beyond Mr. Nugent's dismissal we can visit the balance of the outraged masses in "reader comments" offering a "unanimous tone" of appalled. Here, the irony is difficult to miss. Mr. Powers is criticizing the critical abilities of a "non-film critic" and drawing upon seven (!) online commenters to bolster his position that the review in question is misguided. Unless he knows something about these commenters that I don't, I suspect they are also "non-film critics" (if they are "real film critics", I suggest the Critic Police be sent). Or, does this once again get to Mr. Powers' main issue, that he simply disagrees with Mr. Kinsley's "botched" review? Part of the difficulty in understanding Mr. Powers' complaint against "non-film critics" is not knowing how it is that Mr. Kinsley's review is inferior to the three linked pieces of Joe Neumaier, Bob Mondello, or J. Hoberman - and the seven commenters, for that matter. Mr. Neumaier's 150-word capsule provides only token plot points (150-words is no excuse for lack of content, see Kevin Lee capsules, for example), hardly an exemplary work of criticism. Mr. Mondello gives just as little in his 500ish-word piece, offering a couple of quotes as well as his personal connection to the film's "star", David Carr, the popular platform of NPR is no excuse, as we are all familiar with Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's work on Ebert Presents. Mr. Hoberman's piece is typical Hoberman - well written, firmly rooted in a sense of film, culturally connected - this is inarguably film criticism, right? As judged against one another, it would seem that Mr. Kinsley's piece is similarly observant to Mr. Hoberman's piece, not as rich, not as clearly film, but certainly more informative and better written than offerings from Mr. Mondello or Mr. Neumaier, and arguably more playfully written than Mr. Hoberman's polite offering.

This, of course, is the rub. What is the work of the critic? What makes the work of Mr. Powers' triumvirate more valuable than the work of Mr. Kinsley? The assumption is that those that have held the paid position of film critic have better film insight:

 Thom Powers doccritic here's a list of over 50 critics more appropriate to review  than the  choice 23 hours ago @

a list of film critics who have lost their paid positions. Why should this be a marker of "real film criticism"? If we assume that two of the three "real film critics" have indeed written inferior reviews to Mr. Kinsley, why should the inferior criticism be preferred as "real"? I am of course not wanting folks to lose their jobs, but just holding a title or job does not determine the quality of one's work. The richness of Mr. Powers' anxiety of the fading institutional relevance of film critics is, of course, perfectly matched to this PAGE ONE kerfuffle, as the film is about an institution in decline. As other non-adoring critics of PAGE ONE have noted, the film does not do a good job of making its case. Further, as other reviewers have noted in various degree, the film's NYT landscape is inescapably white and male. So just as this is a film about the decline of relevance of "the paper of record", it is also a film about the decline of "the subjectivity of record". Is some of this discomfort with the negative review about more than the institutional slide of print media and paid film critic? As David Bordwell has summarized lately, claims that film criticism is dying are simply overstated. 

This raises the question of these "50 critics more appropriate to review" PAGE ONE, or Mr. Nugent's query "how is Kingsley best person 2 #write review", the first point raised by Mr. Powers - and seemingly most understudied: how is it that The Times decided upon Mr. Kinsley to write this review? It seems venom is being passed to Mr. Kinsley for his "botch job" and "shoddy writing" and being both a "non-film critic" and more dismissively, a non-critic, aside my disagreement that he botched the job or wrote shoddily, what obligation does The Times have to use a "film critic" that either works for The Company the review is based on or a "film critic" that would likely jump at the chance to write for The Times? While the critic is clearly not reviewing the institution but the film, doesn't it still make some sense to have a very removed individual review the film?  Is it possible this is why folks at The Times went with Mr. Kinsley?

In returning to Mr. Nugent's tweet charging "sloppy writing", I echo the astute Chris "@tapestore" Boeckmann's sentiment:

 Chris Boeckmann MattDentler Pretty confident that the NY Times review is purposefully "lazy."

though not clear what exactly Mr. Boeckmann means here, it suggested to me that Mr. Kinsley was mimicking the mundane content of PAGE ONE in his review, not a bad way to review something, really.  Beyond this playful formal exercise, Mr. Kinsley's criticisms of PAGE ONE resonated with me as true and valid. Does the critic have any obligation to "balance"? Is it my obligation, or Mr. Kinsley's obligation, to dig for positive remarks to be made on a film if the fundamental response is not positive? I can't imagine such an obligation exists. A friend of mine wrote:

In as much as user-generated reviews on Amazon don't undermine the integrity of the critical endeavor, neither do the iPad or the ebook. Write for new platforms, yes, but remember that the pleasure, the value, and the relevance of reviewing remains vested in the exercise of our pre-modern minds.The sizzle shall always remain quite distinct from the steak, and one will always leave you hungry.

Perhaps an engagement with Mr. Kinsley's ideas and criticisms of PAGE ONE would be more beneficial than name-calling dismissals that villainize him for not being a card-carrying film critic. And, perhaps more to the point, if folks are so offended that a "non-film critic" got the assignment, it seems some questions should be addressed to The Times.

Friday, May 20, 2011

CHAIN, Jem Cohen, 2004

I bet you made it somewhere nice, with a real job. Maybe you live in a condominium like you always wanted to, with wall-to-wall carpeting, ice-maker in the fridge, big teevee.

Of course, this is an address to you, dear reader, just as it was addressed to me, as Cohen's audience for CHAIN.  How is your life, materially? What is your job? What do you make, or what services do you provide? Where did your job come from? How did you get it? What do you spend your earnings on? Do you actually need what you buy? (We doubt it.) What would you do with your time if you weren't working (or, were working less)? So goes Jem Cohen's 2004 CHAIN.

Through a stuttering landscape of diluted and bland, Cohen suggests we are trapped in a deadening cycle of consumerism via often stationary shots of chain storefronts, malls, and parking lots. When the camera actually moves, Cohen maintains the appearance of stagnation through the repetition of these bland chain-store landscapes. Again, again, again, again, again.  This deadened rhythm frighteningly brings to light daily horrors overlooked:

The dually noteworthy chid-in-grocery-cart, above [pardon the photo of screen, frame as parallelogram and assuredly inaccurate color] , suggests child/person as commodity as well as passive student with a front-row-seat to learning consumption. Another brutally resonating throw-away is one of homeless "protagonist" Amanda's (Mira Billotte) monologues paired with images from a Home Depot-esque parking lot:

there are these little sheds, sometimes I wish I could just drag one into the woods and live in it
The statement just lays there. Both characters - here Amanda, also Tamiko (Miho Nikaida) - share flat, expressionless, emotionless speaking tones. Here though, Amanda notes these tiny homes as potential shelters for people in such an off-handed way that perfectly resonates the social status these sheds play - their existence isn't even allowed to conjure the question of whether or not they could house people. They just don't. Her line comes and goes. The thought not completed. Delivery emotionless.

It's actually kinda spooky [chuckle]. But after a while I got used to it. I like it.
While not filmically referencing the sheds, this seeming throw-away line, again, suggests the stupor we live in. If we pause to think about the choices we make, the lives we lead, we should find it 'kinda spooky', but we get used to it. Think we like it.

As noted, two characters - Amanda and Tamiko - populate Cohen's narrative, though the film is speckled with the incidental "extras" caught on tape, everyone floats ghost-like through the sterile-y dingy landscape. Though we learn in the end credits the chain locations are taken from all over the world, the film is set in America, the language is English. Tamiko is from Japan, doing research in America on amusement parks; Amanda is American. The labor of these women is service-oriented. Amanda is first shown as a motel maid, then also working as a general shop employee, last seen sweeping a sidewalk; Tamiko, though business class, works the service industry of amusement parks. Importantly, the point is made that the company Tamiko works for is looking to build a park in an abandoned steel factory. Cohen here seems to posit the vapid landscape we see here is the result of lost industry, the lost real work of tangible value. Further, and perhaps dangerously, there might also be the implication that the cultural outsider, the Japanese developer, is part of the problem. Cohen cleverly writes Tamkio's stilted-English dialogue to suggest economic warfare
Someday we will bring an amusement park to America, just as they came to Japan with Disneyland.
Not only does this suggest the decline of America to the ascendence of Japan, but it slyly makes the audience aware of the circulation of junk-culture. How do you like that, America? (Yeah, unfortunately, you probably do like it.)

While this might not be a thorough explanation of the characters' racial identities, it seems an important component. Likewise, the fact that both characters are female seems an obvious acknowledgement of the common perception that service industry labor is feminine. The film's world is almost entirely within this consumer death-trap. One noteworthy break from the emotionless tone of the film comes from Amanda's visit to a piano store, in her penultimate scene, she sits at a piano and eases into an expressive composition. Cohen's camera leaves Amanda in the store to play with the two employees, filming now from the parking lot, we see one of the employees go to speak to Amanda. Though we had heard her playing, we do not hear the dialogue. She quits playing. The suggestion seems to be that she has been kicked out. That she has finally "found voice" and been put back into her place. The next time we see her she tells us, in voice-over, that she now has two jobs and no time to live her life.

Likewise, Tamiko spirals into quietude as she stops hearing from her company back in Japan, also reading US accounts in the papers that the company is having difficulties. We see Tamiko becoming lifeless and depressed sitting in her hotel room, eventually needing to switch payment onto what we are led to believe is her personal credit card away from a company card. In her penultimate scene, while sitting in the hotel chair she has been lethargically fixed to, she begins lifting up her skirt with one hand. Cut to her head tilting back, eyes closed. Possibly, she is finding momentary pleasure from her glumming world. After a few moments of the camera lingering on her seemingly escaped self, she returns to the lanscape Cohen has created for us, cutting her onto the rooftop of a parking ramp, hotel in background.

Depeople-ing the film, Cohen leaves Tamiko behind with a dolly shot across the parking lot, cutting to another, equivalent parking lot rooftop with a hotel background. And then another. And probably another. Re-entering the documentary chain landscapes to close out the final several minutes of the film.

Just as Cohen suggests moments of hope in the penultimate scenes of his two characters, he could be said to do the same thing with out expectations closing out the film. After the just mentioned return to chain landscapes, Cohen returns us to the "world-changing" moment of an airplane flying into a building. Except here, we see the airplane moving across the frame toward a shopping mall. Clearly, it seems, we are to conjure 9/11, we are to wonder if the plane is going to hit the shopping mall, thus punctuating the film's anti-consumer message

But, of course, like the disappointments of our two characters, the plane flies behind the horizon of the shopping mall. The shopping mall still stands. Cut to black. Credits.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Interesting that Herzog proudly states the limitations he is working under - on this path, for limited time, etc. - wouldn't it be interesting if documentarians often spoke of their limitations - ethical, financial, etc. Here it seems rather meaningless.

Herzog states the paintings look as if they had been done yesterday though "they are not a forgery". Odd that he here defends their "truth"/facticity, when he seems otherwise unconcerned with the issue, as he later makes his typical 'names in a telephone book' analogy pointing to the belief that it is the stories behind the (alleged) facts that are of interest/importance.

A claim is made about a "powerful and deep" way of understanding the paintings - a different, more human?, way of understanding?

Herzog names the cave painters as "artists". Seemingly giving value to art-making as a human attribute, or a defining attribute? But also, interestingly, he asks if we "can ever understand the vision of the artists over such an expanse of time". I think he believes we can - go back to the "deep understanding" - but this does beg the question of whether or not we can ever understand the vision of the artist (over expanses of culture, place, etc.).

This popped for me during a conversation between the two female archeologists (I think they were archeologists), where one, who is otherwise hardly speaking, corrects the main speaker to state that they did not know the gender of these cave painters. The main speaker goes on with her masculine generics. After this point, it becomes painfully obvious that Herzog et alia are using masculine generics for all references to the painters, in fact, for all human existence. This becomes more painful and obvious when they begin their segment on the only human representation painted in the cave as a female one. So all the action/painting/being/"cultural creation" is male, even though only a female is present. There is also the odd moment in the film when two archeologist-types are talking about the flute discovery made by the woman, Maria, I believe, but Herzog allows the older male to do most of the speaking, and then introduces Maria, allowing her to give a basic recap of her discovery. Lastly, Herzog's imaginary of the "Eight year-old boy" with the wolf in "the forbidden part of the cave" - the story he wants to tell is clearly a very male one.

In the Postscript, Herzog tosses out some typically herzogian moments with the statement "nothing is real, nothing is certain" as he shows us the alligators. The albino alligator (of course attributed to the nearby nuclear power plant) "meets" another albino - "do they really meet or is this their imaginary reflection?" Moments later, Herzog closes the film on us with the same albino alligator staring at us in the audience, presumably we are being asked the same question - are we also this? Though an interesting question in itself, big-picture-wise, which I think Herzog loves to operate in, it is ridiculously out of place with the balance of the film. Herzog has spent the entire film caressing the cave walls, rhapsodizing about the artistic value of these paintings, the humanity on display. If Herzog wanted to reduce the importance of these cave paintings he merely would have suggested an equivalence (I guess there is an implied suggestion, but I mean that he would have made this explicit, which would have surprised no-one familiar with Herzog) to the alleged bear-claw markings on the same cave walls that laid underneath the paintings. What are the differences between such representations? he could have asked, just as he asks if we are that albino alligator. I think these seemingly more absurd questions are actually a bit more interesting, but here, their elision more telling.