SFMOMA and the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) present Modern Cinema, a film series exploring the dynamic forces interacting between cinema’s past and present.
Do documentaries traffic in truth, or in something else? In his 2010 essay “On the Absolute, the Sublime, and Ecstatic Truth,” Werner Herzog put forth his feelings about veracity in life and documentary filmmaking, stating that he “can only very vaguely begin to fathom the Absolute; I am in no position to define the concept.” Distinguishing between the factual and what he calls the “ecstatic flash” of truth, he writes, “What moves me has never been reality, but a question that lies behind it: the question of truth.”
Taking Herzog’s idea of the Ecstatic Truth as its organizing principle, the second season of Modern Cinema combines a vast range of this master filmmaker’s documentaries with complementary works that operate along similar lines. A number of the films presented are seminal works from early in Herzog’s career. Whether it’s the unforgettable landscapes and nightmarish visions of Fata Morgana and Lessons of Darkness; the probing looks at preaching and spirituality in Huie’s Sermon, Wheel of Time, and Pilgrimage; or some of his more recent investigations into the natural world, Herzog’s films almost always surprise and provoke in how they approach their topics.
The films by other directors presented alongside Herzog’s work share some of his interests while reflecting their creators’ own particular styles. From idiosyncratic portraits of unique individuals (Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason and Herzog’s Little Dieter Needs to Fly) to unforgettable depictions about spirituality (Philip Gröning’s Into Great Silence and Herzog’s Bells from the Deep) to behind-the-scenes stories of filmmaking itself (Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams and Herzog’s My Best Fiend), the subjects presented in season two offer visionary realizations of nonfiction work.
Modern Cinema’s Founding Supporters are Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. Generous support is provided by Nion T. McEvoy and the Susan Wildberg Morgenstein Fund. Additional support is provided by Becky Draper.