Burden Of Dreams – The Harmony Of Overwhelming And Collective Murder

Thoughts On: The Burden Of Dreams

The documentary depicting the monumental struggle that was the production of Fitzcarraldo.

The Burden Of Dreams

I toil over a question of, what is better: Fitzcarraldo or Burden of Dreams? Which is the expression the other? Which stands taller and says more? Ultimately, I’d take Fitzcarraldo as the more poignant piece, the film imbued with a narrative drive and cinematic illusion of the dream so desperately clambered after through this documentary. Nonetheless, Burden of Dreams is an astounding documentary, one that speaks directly to its audience with little more than questioning intent. Whilst neither this nor Fitzcarraldo present answers, imply some kind of solidified reason for why people do insane things, Burden of Dreams not only conveys its metaphors, guides the emotions (though, not nearly as well as Fitzcarraldo) but contextualises them in a fourth-wall-breaking glance behind what ends up to be the the inner eyelids of our closed perception. This is then a film that asks: why do we make movies? In doing such, I see a strong link between this documentary and one of Dziga Vertov’s – Man With A Movie Camera. It’s Man With A Movie Camera that serves as a powerful outlet for an idea of the audience, us, in respect to cinema. It cites our importance in the creative art and demonstrates the flaw in human perception that it fills. We watch films because we crave the control of humanity, the replication of our perception, a tangible copy of our human complex as to provide some kind of comforting implimence that others like us exist–despite being hidden from us by their bodily shells. It’s the focus on sequence, time and movement in Man With A Movie Camera that implies this mechanical yearning in people. Through Vertov’s eye we are suspended in the imagination of humanity, one which takes the world, takes our numbed pining, languish and discontent at the experience of it, and paints it the shades of euphoria. But, steeping into this pretentious lyricism, I drift further away from Burden Of Dreams tonally and philosophically. They key distinction between the narrative textures of Man With A Movie Camera and Burden Of Dreams is of an inherent physicality. Quite simply, Man With A Movie Camera is closer to a movie than it is a documentary – unlike Burden Of Dreams. Through Herzog’s presented ordeal to get this film made we aren’t told of people and ‘modern society’, much rather the spiteful nature of organic life. It’s Herzog who I quote with the title as he talks about the irrational love he has for the Amazonian rain forests:

“… there is some sort of harmony… it is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder”

It’s this disconnect between people and reality that is picked up on by an idea that our perception is flawed, is poked full of holes. In other words: why, if we were created by this world, by the laws of nature and the universe, must we experience such dire constraint living in it? This is a funny idea to pick up on in a blog – the irony itself painfully self-evident. However, whilst this idea is one easily criticised for fear or discomfort in one’s ability to empathise, to relatively decipher and compare situations; see that others have it worse than us, I see something worse than irony in denying the idea that all people suffer – I see a disingenuous lie, one that means to do nothing more than quash conversation, thought, contemplation – sublime wastes of time. Trudging into miresome ground, there is pragmatic (completely unscientific) reasoning in assuming that we are all somewhat the same, that we experience the world with similar presets. These presets, our bodies and the minds they conjure, seem to perceive the world in context of themselves. This was touched on in an early talk about Grizzly Man. We all have our 100%s. We all have an emotional maximal, something that ranks as the scariest, hardest – something-est – thing we’ve ever experienced. This something-est, if we all are founded upon the same presets, is equal amongst us all. You’re 100% as it feels to you is completely equal to how my 100% feels to me. In other words, you may have been stabbed – the most pain you’ve ever felt. The worst I may have ever experienced may have been a sharp stubbing of the toe. Our minds perceive each injury as the same thing; equally painful. This, without clarification, is of course utter bullshit. You could test the amount of stress, the severity of wounds, how the brain lights up in these two different people to scientifically prove that the pain felt is different (I assume so, no real research goes into these things). However, there’s a catch 22 I get to lean back on: the mind. How does the mind know pain it has not experience? How can it judge its experienced 100% in respect to another’s? It simply can’t. In such we see the reason why we all suffer. We all live under the chemical illusion that we have experienced the most something-est of everything. And whilst, put down in words, this idea seems absurd, there is a clear and inherent understanding of this in all people. We all moan, we all feel some kind of suffering, and we rarely deny ourselves those outlets on the grounds that there is worse to be had because our bodies feel they are snowflakes at the centre of the universe. With hope, to comprehensively convey this point, I’ll round it off with a song:

In moving away from this idea that we are selfish, utterly self-centric with our suffering and 100%s, we have to see that there is often a recognition within us all that there is worse out there. Whilst our minds and bodies conjure the illusion that our something-ests are equal, fear dares us to live as such – essentially keeping us in check with an idea of ‘reality’. Having traversed the distance from the Amazon to the self-absorbed individual, it’s best to reprise Herzog’s quote as to delve into Burden Of Dreams…

“… there is some sort of harmony… it is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder”

This idea of universal evil, a prescripted spite in the world around us, expressed through nature, death, competition, perpetual forward momentum driven by the engines of time itself, contextualised by an idea of film, of Herzog trudging through rainforests to haul a boat over a small mountain, draws us to the individual. We see the physical world through a cinematic veneer in this shot:

We thus see a complex interaction between something that struggles for relativity and a self-defining reality, we see the mind trying both contain and transcend itself by attempting to comprehend its place in this world. It’s this that marks the importance of recognising people and their 100%s, but also fear, our incredulous attempts to not live by the seemingly fatal illusion that we exist on the edges of human capability, to not assume we are alone in this emotional plummet away and toward unknown, but maybe different, voids. This then leaves people in a existential scramble to comprehend the world, but guided by pessimism, by an idea of malice; things around us constantly trying to hurt, destroy, take us out of this world. This is a simple evolutionary consideration of the human psyche. We are animals, and thus we are organic packages of food, free-range, roaming the aisles of the world as predacious monsters stalk the peripheries of our anxious perception. With our species having physically and very literally been this for thousands of years – hunter-gathers duking it out amongst the rest of the food chain – the sudden turn towards relative safety, a utopian reprieve that is modern society, we find ourselves without time to change. We are, as the cliche goes, monkeys in shoes. Genetically, with our presets, such and so on, we face the world expecting the lion to jump out of the bushes because this, quite simply, makes sense for us to do. It makes sense to be on edge when there is so much at stake and your life inherently perceived to be precious–something you kind of want to cling to. And because we are monkeys in shoes, out physical meerkat-isms…

… have turned social. In other words, our concentration on the external world as to protect the human shell encapsulating our will to survive has turned in on itself – has been given that luxury. This is what cinema is the expression of. Cinema is human exploration and the dangers that come along with it confined to a screen. The metaphorical human meerkat is looking out into the world in search of peril and threat, in search of answers to a question of: when and how are are they going to die? In other words, is it hyenas or lions that attack us today? This is a question asked for incomprehensible reasonings – we just do, we want to live and so we try to ensure that by looking out for when death is coming. What this means is that this…

… us watching a screen is irrevocably no different than the meerkats watching the horizon. Whilst this idea sounds like it makes sense for horror films, action pictures, films where there are dire constraints that force a physical reaction from the audience, it is not that simple. Higher, more complex, art in cinematic form is also people asking the question: when and how am I going to die? We look to stories of humanity, everything from Taxi Driver to Paths Of Glory to Some Like It Hot, because there is an ape-like drive within us that wants to peer over the rocks, see what’s on the other side and whether it’s going to pounce. Good films are pictures that show us life as we don’t know it – to varying degrees. Good films express to us in succinct and poignant terms ideas and experiences. Taxi Driver tells us of the torrential upturning, the brewing storm, that can develop in a conflicted individual. Paths Of Glory presents a wider idea of society under constraint, of people as objects of war and manipulation exeunt of morality. Some Like It Hot shows us the comedy of desperation, desperation that forces us toward the alien in social terms. With these movies we can see how all film is there to teach us of experience. Cinema as a concept is essentially a form by which any perception of any reality can be shown to us through our personal perception, our personal shade of reality. Cinema is a window pointing out to a variable void. This void is filled by Kubricks, Wilders, Scorseses, Herzogs. Filmmakers, artists, are the architects of dreams spaces that we may gaze into as to engage our ape-brains in productive activity.

In this, we see the link between chaos and destruction and film. Cinema captures the harsh nature of the world, the idea of a food chain, of living in a forest, a toad on a tree, waiting to be pounced on and devoured, preparing for that moment by mating with everything you can, possible seeking some kind of higher existential pursuit (what toads think of, I won’t speculate). Cinema is then the expression of the monkey given his shoes. He no longer has to physically worry about his feet being cut on the rocks, but, his body is built for that fear and so dreams of it nonetheless. It’s exactly this that Herzog is referencing when he talks of himself as a person who creates films for the sake of our dreams. Herzog understands that dragging a boat over a mountain is an extreme dream, maybe nightmare, of the collective human psyche. It represents technology having to be supported by raw human physicality. It represents, for those in the 70s and beyond, a dream space where we don’t have the homes we do, the incredible standards of living – instead, just a will to fight to realise that dream of comfort, success and happiness. This is why Herzog made Fitzcarraldo, why so many have seen it. Because of how effective it is at translating this idea of lost struggle to a modern world it is a great film.

It’s now that we can see Burden Of Dreams for what is truly is. Burden Of Dreams is itself a cinematic look at pain and suffering; a struggle to create a cinematic look at pain and suffering. It’s a film about making a film. In being such it asks: why do we film things? The answer is inherent to all we’ve discussed as summed up by this quote:

“… there is some sort of harmony… it is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder”

Because the world is harsh, Herzog has to capture it for us. The harmony he is facilitating is the connection, through film, between us and the painful physical world; the Amazonian rain forest that, by human attribution, looks like it wants to consume, torture and slowly destroy us. This harmony is beautiful, just as Herzog tells us the rain forest is, because it expresses an overwhelming truth – the spite and collective murder of the universe. Film, just as going to the rain forest, has us see the world as beautiful because we concede to its power, we bow down in its looming shadow. It this interaction between the world and humanity that implies a connection, that implies some kind of universal purpose. Because we are apart of the natural machine, we see ourselves as driving time itself along, we see ourselves as forcing the expansion, the perpetuation, of the literal universe. By being a cog in the machine, we know our place in this world – and it feels good. We have thus come full circle. It’s because there are 100%s, an idea of suffering inherent to how we perceive the world, that films exist. There is only a need to contextualise this suffering, to rationalise the idea of 100%s, because that is how we know we are apart of things – something we are driven to do by undefined reasoning. In the end, it’s Burden Of Dreams that presents a evolutionary and physical reasoning behind why cinema exists.



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