Home Video Hovel- Dust
The German documentary Dust (aka Staub), is one parts Werner Herzog, two parts public television, and just a sprinkle of Godfrey Reggio. For 90 minutes we look at what is potentially the most banal of all topics. Yet, documentarian Hartmut Bitomsky does an earnest job tackling the titular subject. He goes from the practical to the scientific, and ultimately to the metaphysical. As a DVD its features are as insubstantial as the subject matter, but as a documentary it’s fairly engaging.
Cards on the table: this is an hour and half of Germans talking about dust. It will take a truly curious person with a thirst for the quirky to enjoy this film. It’s well done on many levels, but I can’t say that it transcends its subject matter.
Dust begins with a straightforward look at the most basic definition of what dust is. It’s a tiny particle; the smallest piece of something that people can interact with. Humans manage, collect and push it around. We also see its effects in clouds, rainbows, and rain. Ultimately humanity spends a lot of time, energy, and resources dealing with dust, perhaps more than we realize.
We combat it, we categorize it, we analyze it, and Bitomsky tries to touch on every part of this. In the course of the documentary we follow a museum team that works with things like artificial saliva to remove dust from statues of the saints. We meet a housewife who battles it in her home once a week. We even take a trip to a factory that makes vacuum cleaners. We meet weather scientists, environmental scientists, historians, artists and more. We meet a lot of people from many different walks of life, and the thing that binds them all together is dust.
Our documentarian lends limited Herzogian style poetic commentary through voice over. It doesn’t seem as intrusive as Herzog, but that may be because the documentarian and his subjects all speak the same language. The true poetry of this documentary comes from its camera work. Many of the interviews take place while the subjects are doing their jobs. The camera floats and gently settles around as if pushed by a breeze. We see the world of dust as if riding the subject matter itself.
Dust spends it’s second half branching off from the more metaphysical question, and becomes more of an examination of things environmental. 9/11 is touched on briefly, as is the American dust bowl, and there’s even an alarming look at the effects of radioactive dust left behind by US forces in Sarajevo. This documentary isn’t a political diatribe, the science is given “uncolored,” but also unchallenged. This documentary shows dust as dust. Value judgments are left up to the viewer.
The DVD itself is nothing more than the film and chapter selections — but really what more could you say about dust? Watch this film if you’re at all curious about the answer. I imagine you’ll leave satisfied.