A documentary by Peter Mettler. Unrated. Opens Friday, January 18, at the Vancity Theatre
Peter Mettler’s documentaries do have a distinct following, especially here on Canada’s West Coast. Described as “new age” by those who love it (and “hippie dippy” by those who don’t), his personal aesthetic makes one think of Godfrey Reggio’s Hopi-themed oceanic “symphonies”, Velcrow Ripper’s spiritual-ecological tracts, and the dreamier visions of Werner Herzog (not to mention abstract experimental cinema in general). Like Mettler’s Gambling, Gods and LSD, The End of Time dances to the beat that it seemingly hears from what the ancients knew as “the spheres”.
In some respects, this is quite a traditional documentary. Mettler travels to a Swiss scientific facility, a volcanic Hawaiian island, the postindustrial ruins of Detroit, and a Buddhist religious centre in India. In all of these places, he interviews various people about their attitudes toward time, both its meaning and its passing. Some of the images are quite extraordinary: ants taking care of a fallen “giant”; magma reshaping the surface of the Earth; and a hallucinatory riff on the “star child” conclusion to 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is voice-over commentary plus talking heads plus musical accompaniment. (What would Koyaanisqatsi be without Philip Glass?)
And yet, on closer inspection, it is not traditional at all. Rarely, if ever, are we told who the interview subjects are and what qualifies them as experts (the closing credits do fill in a lot of the blanks). As for the voice-over commentary, it is indirect in the extreme, more aphoristic than illustrative. What’s more, these lines are delivered by deliberately untutored voices, about as far removed from the orotund tones of James Earl Jones as you can get.
Mettler clearly believes that the personal is the universal. This is an attitude you either appreciate or you don’t.