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Sunday, November 25, 2007: Werner Herzog Review
Sunday night at the end of Thanksgiving weekend McMurdo station got a screening of Werner Herzog's new documentary Encounters at the End of the World, which he shot last year in Antarctica as part of the NSF's writers and artists program. Many of the individuals interview in the film were present, and it was interesting to get an outsider's (warped?) perspective on life on the ice.


The first thing to say about any Herzog movie is of course that many of his victims/subjects have been somewhat misrepresented and represent caricatures from the director's unique world view. Given that the real world characters need little embellishment or spin, and that Herzog's technique is to draw out the excitement and passion in people only to trip them up with awkward pauses, a few scenes were painful and frustrating. I have seen a few other Herzog documentaries and knew what to expect but the effect is a little different when you know the person squirming under his strange celluloid stare.

Excusing a few half baked interviews, I think the film did a great job portraying the side of McMurdo that attracts many of us: incredible people, fantastic and surreal locations, fresh research, and a constant energy for exploration and discovery. The portion about the vulcanologist on Mount Erebus at the end made me wish I could get such an introduction to every research group; I had no idea just how active our island is nor had heard of the natural steam tunnels underneath the ice up there.

The portion on benthic ecology diving at New Harbor was a surprise to me, it's hard to belive we were just there at the beginning of the month. Much nostalgia over the drilling, dive tending, and a movie on the last night before flying out; we missed the rooftop concert and blasting.

The production could have been a bit higher quality, especially the video from under the sea ice, but I do appreciate what I assume was a more frugal use of resources than some film makers on the continent. This isn't the place for even a 4 person film crew when every individual is a mouth to feed, a body to clothe, a bed to reserve, a helicopter spot, and gallons of fuel and water to be transported and purified. I'd much prefer 5 Encounters at the End of the World than a single larger budget, more resource intensive production.

In other news, earlier in the day I took a walk out on the Cape Armitage loop, which goes around Observation Hill to the New Zealand Scott Base. It was so warm I could lie in the snow barechested and feel my skin fry in the high-UV light. I've never felt so strongly that I'm exposing myself to the raw radiation from a thermonuclear reaction millions of times more massive than the entire planet as I have down here... psychosomatic or otherwise, the light feels completely unfiltered.


thats so beautiful! was it cool up in the mountain! how could u tell if which way its north with out having a compass!

hey juan, the mountains are pretty beautiful... you tend to think of this continent as a huge flat wasteland, but there are plenty of amazing vertical geological formations as well.

the easy answer is every direction is north... another way is to walk in the direction of the sun at noon (when it is highest). a lot of polar trekers who walk or ski for hundreds of miles use the sun for navigation by walking at a precise angle to their shadow because sometimes there are no landmarks or visible stars at all; of course you have to change the angle as the day goes by or you end up walking in circles!

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.