Mr. Movie

'Land of Silence and Darkness' speaks volumes

A couple of pre-review comments..

True confession. A rock and roll radio broadcast career and a passion for playing drums has ruined my hearing. Without my hearing aids, I can hear but understanding is a real challenge. The disability gives me a deep appreciation for documentaries such as Werner Herzog’s 1971 Land of Silence and Darkness — which is being offered by the Battelle Film Club.

We who can hear and see take communication for granted. Utter silence and the void of eternal darkness is the subject of Herzog’s (Grizzly Man) fascinating documentary. I first learned about the difficulty of having both sight and hearing loss in an interview I did as a broadcast reporter in the early 1980s when I interviewed Addie Becht. She had just received her second doctorate at the University of Oregon. Heroin addiction left Addie blind and deaf.

It was a most interesting and revealing conversation. She could talk to me but to communicate with her, a companion did textile signing, a complex series of touches to the hand and palm that — outside of touch — are the only connection a person with Addie’s disability has with the world.

Deafness and blindness is extreme isolation bordering on hell. The interview made that clear. Yet she is able to get two doctorates. The interview changed my life in subtle and profound ways. I never viewed communication the same again. Years later, I cannot just skip or skim an article or video about communication. It truly is 100% ours. All communication stems from the individual’s point of view.

Back in the 1960s a Star Trek episode that had Mr. Spock doing a mind-meld with a Medusan where — as the Medusan — he comments about how alone we are in the universe. That’s the combination of blindness and deafness. Those with the affliction are utterly and completely alone.

Deaf and blind Fini Straubinger — Herzog’s main subject — describes how an artist would paint her disability. In another scene, she explains that deafness does have sound, but it is often horrifying. And there is light and color in blindness, but it is chaotic and distracting.

Straubinger — such as and the quite famous Helen Keller — can speak and proves that determination often overcomes disability. How Herzog tells her story and that of others with her condition is compelling. In subtle, speak-for-themselves scenes, Herzog comes to some of the same conclusions that interview with Addie led me to many years ago. Communication is a quirky, point-of-view, nebulous thing; something difficult to define and even more difficult to master.

He asks how does a person born blind and deaf understand relative concepts such as good and bad? Speech? Danger?

Some in Herzog’s film cannot communicate at all. They are lost completely in a sensory-deprived universe. Long static shots belabor the point. Those shots are very uncomfortable and very profound — as is Herzog’s movie.

Not rated, probably PG-13. It plays Friday, Feb. 26th only at 8 p.m. at the Battelle Auditorium.

Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars

Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It opens today at the Columbia Mall 8 and at Fairchild Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.