Monday, July 16, 2007

Bells in winter

Werner Herzog's film Bells from the Deep opens with an extraordinary, hallucinatory image of people crawling on the surface of a frozen lake, peering through the ice, as though in prayer to some unseen god. In fact, as Herzog narrates, they are looking for a great lost city called Kitezh that lies buried under the ice of this bottomless lake. The city had been sacked long ago by Tartar invaders, but God sent an archangel to redeem the inhabitants by letting them live on in deep underwater bliss, chanting hymns and tolling bells.

The legend exists and the image is hauntingly beautiful. It is also entirely fake. Hertzog rounded up a few drunks at a local village bar and paid them to lie on the ice. As he tells the story: 'One of them has his face right on the ice and looks like he is in very deep meditation. The accountant's truth: he was completely drunk and fell asleep, and we had to wake him at the end of the take.
-- from Herzog and His Heroes by Ian Buruma.

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