I just read an incendiary article by Lewis Beale for The Reeler accusing Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn for falling into the same trap of racist solipsism that’s befallen many a Vietnam War movie, including The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now.  There have been some thoughtful responses to it, positive and negative on both the original post and on The House Next Door.  I offered my feedback on the original post (with a plug for Ham Tran’s wonderful recent release Journey from the Fall as a proposed corrective to the problems Beale is talking about).

I came away thinking about not just the racism of Hollywood Vietnam War movies but the more pervasive issue of the  Colonialist Romantic streak that makes me groan at so many Herzog movies, even ones I find hypnotically alluring, like Aguirre, the Wrath of God, as well as their Hollywood counterparts like the incredibly vexing Apocalypse Now.  Herzog will do all he can to critique whatever lunatic dreamer Klaus Kinski is playing, as well as real life counterparts like Timothy Treadwell, but the fact is that he is at bottom fascinated with these nutjobs and more interested in what makes them tick than in the collateral damage they inflict on others, particularly indigenous peoples.   The most interest that a Herzog can stir up in the Other is in its innate exoticism, but rarely engage with the Other as an equal human being, just a bystander or accessory on the road to the White man’s extreme self-actualization.   I’ll credit Kubelka in that he actually acknowledges his own similar impulse in the way he regards Africans, without coming up with an alternative.  But it still just isn’t enough…