Raindrops on the lens

Check out this new post by Scanners’ Jim Emerson, on Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972; one of my all-time favorites); in it he documents a Q&A conducted with Herzog himself after a recent screening of “Aguirre.” I was kinda shocked to read the following passage:

As it turned out, Herzog was expert at making something worthwhile from even the most nonsensical or ill-thought-out questions. Take the one about the long, hypnotic, out-of-focus shot of the muddy river rapids, churning and splashing and bubbling (accompanied by eerie Popol Vuh music Herzog later re-used for “The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner”), which slowly comes into focus. Indeed, it follows a similarly long shot (in focus) of the undulating brown waters. “Stop!” said a member of the audience who observed that the shot was out of focus. “Was that intentional?”

“Probably not,” Herzog said. He likes to go into a location and capture it in many different ways (including shots of the actors just sitting around on the set, not knowing the camera is rolling, that are used in the finished film) — and, in this case, because they were in such a remote part of the jungle they didn’t have the luxury of looking at dailies. Herzog said he probably noticed the shot in the editing room, liked it, and chose to pair it with the other river shot.

Minutes later it happened again. Aguirre is seen in medium close-up, standing in the rain, on a raft floating down an Amazon tributary. A voice in the crowd observes that there are drops of water on the lens: “Was that intentional?” This time, Herzog is perhaps a little irritated, replying simply that they’re on a raft in the middle of a river and it’s raining. It’s fairly likely that water is going to get on the lens in such circumstances.

I say that I was “kinda shocked” because I vividly recall the “raindrops on the lens” shot and the way it stuck out to me on my first viewing of the film as being a very discreet yet utterly crucial (and philosophically significant) moment in film history. Granted, I hadn’t seen nearly as many movies back then as I have now, so my hyperbolic response is understandable. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to see that particular shot discussed somewhere.

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