Nomad: In the Footsteps Of Bruce Chatwin

It's about time for a new release, isn't it?  I've been so caught up in all these big boxed sets and fancy imports, I've almost lost sight of the action.  I always want to write about the rare and overlooked discs, but it's been well over a month since we've looked at just a nice, new blu-ray of a fresh, new movie.  So how about Werner Herzog's latest documentary, Nomad: In the Footsteps Of Bruce Chatwin?  The film's been sitting on Herzog's IMDB page, unreleased, marked "post-production" and teasing us for a couple years now; but it's just come out this week from a little label called Music Box Films.  I haven't seen much fanfare for it - I almost missed it entirely.  Someone mention a new Herzog BD on Twitter over the weekend, I looked it up on Amazon, and hey, look at that!  Sucker almost got by me.

Update 11/3/22: Don't mind me.  I'm just adding Music Box's concurrent DVD release for Update Week. ☺
If you haven't read much of the work of travel writer Bruce Chatwin before this, he starts out feeling like an unnecessary step in the process, getting between Herzog and his subjects.  In the chapter where Herzog goes to Australia to ask the Aboriginals about their song lines, for example, I was thinking why doesn't Herzog just document directly them if he wants to?  We don't need to keep hearing that Chatwin found these people interesting; we can see for ourselves how they're interesting when they're finally allowed to get on camera for themselves.  Yes, we see beautiful images of exotic locales shot with steadicam drones and chat with some fascinating locals, all set to Ernst Reijseger's signature Herzogian music.  But Chatwin almost feels like a bureaucratic middle man getting between us and the subject.  Like, we can't just see the fascinating dinosaur caves without a ten minute prologue about how Chatwin had been there first.  Get on with it and let us see the caves!
It takes a turn in the second half, however, as Herzog digs deeper in his personal connection to Chatwin and his later health problems.  Herzog fans have heard before, in films like Portrait: Werner Herzog, how he's traveled for decades with Chatwin's rucksack after his passing.  And when he starts to explore Chatwin's connections to Herzog's body of work (he wrote the book Cobra Verde was based on; he inspired a character in Scream of Stone), we start to understand how Chatwin is more than just an arbitrary conceit to hang this film on.  Nomad was already a pretty solid documentary just by virtue of the impressive footage and interesting stories Herzog was capturing, but it really gels into a more rounded, emotional experience in its final chapters.  A little restructuring might've helped draw the viewers in earlier, but it gets there in the end.
2020 US Music Box DVD top; 2020 US Music Box BD bottom.

This is my first Music Box blu-ray, so I'm happy to find it's pretty high quality.  A little nitpick: the back of the case says this is 1.85:1, while both discs are really 1.78:1; but for whatever reason, many labels routinely get that wrong.  Otherwise, it's a vivid and clear 1080p image, distinctly sharper than its DVD counterpart.  It is single layer, but at only 89 minutes with a single extra, I think they get away with it just fine.  I mean, there is a hint of banding in that second shot and a few other places if you look real close, which would probably be cleared up with some more allotted disc space, but it stays subtle.  The only other distinction is even more subtle: the DVD is slightly pinched, consequently losing tiny slivers of picture along the top and bottom, which the BD corrects.  Far more distracting than those minute quibbles is that Nomad features clips from a few previous Herzog films, and whoa!  There's some fantastic looking HD Scream of Stone footage - can we get that on blu, please?
Both discs offer up the 5.1 audio (in DTS-HD on the blu) with two sets of English subtitles: a default track that just translates the non-English dialogue, and a complete SDH track that subtitles everything.  The primary extra is a Q&A with Herzog from the Sheffield Doc Fest that runs over half an hour, where he's first interviewed by the host about how the film came about, etc. before taking questions from the audience.  Also included is the theatrical trailer and a series of bonus trailers that play on start-up.  So overall, it's not quite a "special edition," but for a little label that doesn't tend to ping on collectors' radars, they've certainly done right by a film worthy of all our shelves.
Every new Herzog day is a happy day, and in a way this one is doubly so.  Before I close out, see, I also wanted to take this opportunity to mention that Herzog has a second new film that just came out: Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds, another collaboration with Into the Inferno's Clive Oppenheimer.  I've already seen it; it's another great one, this time about meteors.  It was just released on Apple+'s streaming channel.  So far they haven't released any of their titles on disc, but they're still rather new.  After all, it took a while for Netflix originals to start dribbling out, so we'll see how physical media-friendly Apple turns out to be.  Fingers crossed!

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