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The White Diamond

Once there was a man who dreamed of flying, but not just any old flying. He dreamed of floating over a jungle canopy and exploring there what some experts say is an extraordinary biodiversity.

So the man built an airship and took it to the jungles of Sumatra. Another man attached a camera to the airship, climbed in and the airship was released into the sky. He floated above a river, following it into a deep forest.

But the airship was not precisely maneuverable and after a while the cameraman and the ship drifted into the upper branches of a very tall tree. The other members of the expedition raced to help him. Meanwhile, the leading edge of a storm crept into the river valley and began to beat at the branches where the airship was stuck.

The cameraman struggled to free the ship, but eventually the frame he was riding in broke and he nearly fell. The rest of his party arrived at the base of the tree. One of them scaled the tree next to the one that had trapped the ship, over 100 feet up, and tried to reach across the space between the two trees to help the man free himself. The movement caused the frame of the airship to shift. The cameraman lost his grip, fell, and landed at the feet of the man who had dreamed of flying.

The human body when it falls from above a certain height transubstantiates as it falls into a 200 pound water balloon. When it hits the ground it generally hangs together better than your standard dime-store water balloon, but there are weak points, chinks in the fleshy armor, so to speak. Take the eyes, for example, which can act as release valves for the fluid pressures generated inside the body at impact. Sometimes the eyes will pop out of their sockets. Occasionally, nails will shoot off the tips of the fingers.

But assuming your dream of floating above the jungle canopy eventually comes true in the guise of a redesigned airship, maybe you can get away with not thinking about any of that for a while. Or, maybe you think about those things everyday, sometimes even twice a day, for the 11 long years it's been since the cameraman fell to his death at your feet.

A rastaman, lounging on a clear plastic inflatable armchair at the edge of a jungle clearing in Guyana and smoking a little something the exact nature of which we cannot precisely determine, gazes up at a sideways-teardrop-shaped airship and pronounces it beautiful. He works at a mining operation nearby and he observes that the airship reminds him of a giant white diamond, floating there in the sky. He dreams of riding the airship to Spain where his mother and 8 siblings moved twenty some years ago. He misses them terribly.

Maybe the trip across the ocean would take a whole year. No matter. The rastaman grins when he imagines himself landing the airship on the roof of his mother's house in Spain, knocking on her door, and then introducing himself as her lonely, long-lost son. A slightly scaled-back version of the dream is that his mother and lost siblings will see this movie he's in and will be inspired to come to Guyana to find him.

Nobody does dreamers, warts and all, better than Werner Herzog -- probably because he is a dreamer himself, one whose dreams are preserved as films, the (more or less) aforementioned documentary "The White Diamond" being one of them.

Try to watch it on a high-definition TV, and make a stab at a surround-sound system too. I am not a rich man, but I have slowly and surely and without spending too much money put together a system worthy of movies like this one. If I can do it, you can do too.

A endless current of swifts, aeronauts in the local lingo, streaming behind a waterfall and disappearing into a mysterious cavern. The shot goes on for what must be nearly a minute -- a decade in film terms -- and the more you look at it, the more you know you want to go on looking at it.

A long shot of the river bending away from you, disappearing into the jungle -- slowly the pure white Gilliamesque airship emerges from around the bend, floating just a few feet above the water. Wait, is it floating on air or on the water? I'm certain I had a dream with that image in it once, even if I know I really didn't.

A beautiful young rastaman moonwalks backward on a rock hanging over the abyss. Mist from the nearby waterfall darkens and wets the rock -- beauty and danger in one.

Some documentaries shot in exotic locations persuade us we've actually been there, even as we sit there in our living rooms on our fat and tremulous asses. Other documentaries remind us that we don't live on just one planet -- we live in many worlds and it's good to be reminded of that because it's so easy to forget. One sort of documentary broadens the mind and widens the soul; the other sort just, you know, widens your ass.

So I'm not kidding. Some movies do fine on a regular TV. Some movies are dreams, though, or have elements in them worthy of being remembered as dreams, and "The White Diamond" is one of those. You wouldn't want your dreams to have scan lines and clumpy pixels and cheesy sound coming from tinny speakers, would you?

But maybe you don't need movies like this one to remember you live in many worlds. Me, I get stuck on this planet sometimes and I forget. I need these Herzogian dream expeditions. Properly gearing up is a necessity.

[Netflix, B & N, ]


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Thanks for the heads up on "The White Diamond"; it's now in my Netflix queue.

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