Thursday, January 18, 2018

Nikolaus Geyrhalter's CERN finally gets an American release -- from Icarus on DVD

Made back in 2013, prior to Nikolaus Geyrhalter's later and better documentary, Homo Sapiens, but only now getting a release (on DVD) here in the USA, his eponymously-titled film about that famous research center in Switzerland where they are trying to understand and/or maybe re-create the Big Bang, CERN is interesting enough but it also seems lacking when compared to the terrific documen-tary, also made in and about that research center, entitled Particle Fever.

Herr Geyrhalter, pictured at left, has made a number of first-rate films I would not under any circumstance have wanted to miss, and while I am glad to have seen CERN, I would call it one of his lesser works in that it does not possess the depth, surprise or subtlety of his others. It is what it is -- a 75-minute exploration of the research center and some of the very smart scientists who labor there --  and that's perfectly OK. Perhaps because this documen-tary (according to the IMDB at least) was made for television, it seems an unusually simplistic example of Geyrhalter's oeuvre.

The filmmaker inter-cuts between scenes of physicists, engineers and researchers (as above) explaining to us non-scientists what they do and shots of what we might call the grunt workers (as below) doing the physical labor at CERN, who for whatever reason don't get the chance to speak with us. The higher-level speakers do the best they can explaining to folk like us who haven't much of a clue to this kind of science or research. (One fellow here almost continually chuckles and laughs as he talks, probably because trying to give us a elementary-school level understanding of his job is so ridiculous).

The film is full of Geyrhalter's usual gorgeous cinematography which is always a pleasure to view, and although the speakers here seem to come from all over the globe -- Italy, Germany, Africa, France, the USA and more -- English (being the one clear international language) is constantly spoken, albeit as the first speaker we hear tells us, it is very broken English because everyone speaks it with a different accent. English subtitles would have helped the film tremendously, given that, by the time you have managed to decipher a new and different accent, you've also missed half of what was being said.

Still, and aside from what you might be able to learn about what's going on at CERN, there is also some fun to be had hearing the little bits of gossip you'll pick up. There are lots of divorces here, one woman explains, probably because of how dedicated these scientists are to their work above all else.

After spending much of the film underground we at last see the natural light of day for a bit before returning below. CERN, it turns out, is like a small city with literally thousand of "citizens" to be governed. The place has its own fire department and police force, too. You'll learn this and a lot more, and even if you can't quite perhaps understand all of what you're being told, you'll come away from this relatively short documentary feeling, I suspect, that CERN is probably the absolutely smartest spot on earth.

The film concludes with one of Geryhalter's marvelous tracking shots in which we glide down a corridor for what seems like forever until... yes, the film simply ends. From Icarus Films, running 78 minutes, in broken English and featuring about one dozen interviews, CERN is available now on DVD for purchase and (I hope) rental.

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