Opening with a brief history of human flight, Werner Herzog’s The White Diamond follows the adventures of Graham Dorrington, a zealous British engineer sharing much of the passion and drive of Herzog’s other documentary subjects. Dorrington has spent many years and a lot of money creating a streamlined, teardrop-shaped airship, and is now preparing its maiden voyage over a waterfall in Guyana. As he prepares his craft for flight, intrigue grows around the cave behind the falls, and Herzog takes his camera round to the locals to learn more about the legends surrounding it.
All in all, though it loses focus a little, the film is about the successes of human endeavour, whether it be the tribe leader who supposedly paddled his canoe over the falls a century prior, or the sparky part-time waiter, full-time moonwalker who comes to the breathtaking overlook to practise his moves. It also helps that our hero is passionate and charming, even when recounting the story of how he lost two fingers, subsequently disqualifying him from becoming an astronaut.
Frequently, it feels like Herzog has been probing too much for eccentric ‘moments’ in spite of the innate quirkiness of his subjects. Dorrington’s touching reflections on deceased associates and failed experiments make the film a touching experience, but it is not always appropriate to hear. On the other hand, the poetic musings of “Red Beard”, the contemplative diamond miner, sound completely natural, and effectively summarise the entire theme of the film in a few short sentences.