Werner Herzog appreciation thread

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German director Werner Herzog has blazed a unique career in film. An incredibly independent filmmaker, he has worked with brilliance in feature narratives and documentaries. His films, fiction or not, are full of powerful and iconic images, and his relentlessness in getting what he wants on screen is legendary. Almost to the point of infamy, though his reputation of being reckless is largely unfair.



His two best-known works probably remain Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982). Both were filmed on trecherous locations in South America, and both star the legendary nutball/thespian Klaus Kinski. Aguirre tells of a Conquistador traveling deeper and deeper into the jungle in search of riches, but as the expedition starts to go out of control Aguirre slips ever more quickly into madness and death comes for them all. Fitzcarraldo is about an enthusiastic Opera promoter who wishes to bring the beauty of that music to the natives far upriver. When they hit an impasse he becomes obsessed with the idea of pulling his large steamboat over a mountain. As great as the films both are, they are equally as known for the amazing behind-the-scenes tales of the productions. The latter is chronicled in Les Blank's great documentary Burden of Dreams (1982). And while it is an astounding exposé, it also cemented Herzog's reputation as an obsessed madman himself.








Werner had already earned that reputation with the most famous of his early documentaries, La Soufriére: Waiting for an Inevitable Catastrophe (1977). In that piece, Herzog and a skeleton crew of two cameramen traveled to the island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies. The large volcano on the island was predicted to erupt, but Herzog was fascinated by the news report of an old man who refused to evacuate with the rest of the population. When Herzog arrived, the city was a ghost town overrun by starving animals left behind. The last of the scientists left too, shortly after Herzog arrived, as their instruments told them the volcano would explode at any minute. Undeterred, Herzog and his crew traversed the peak and found the man, as well as two others who refused to leave. Ultimately the volcano did not erupt, even though there was every seismic indication that it would happen.

Though staying on the volcano truly was risky and dangerous, Herzog claims his other films are very safe, despite the impression created by Burden of Dreams and the infamous legend of Klaus Kinski.



Herzog worked five times with Kinski, an actor most directors found unmanageable for even one entire film. In addition to Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo they also made Woyzeck (1979), Cobra Verde (1987) and a re-make of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1979). Years after the controversial actor's death, Herzog made an autobiographical documentary about their complex and turbulent collaboration called My Best Fiend (1999) revealing Kinski to be a madman and a saint, a lunatic and a genius, both dangerous and gentle.




While Kinski is the best known of Herzog’s actors, he also made two remarkable films with the mysterious Bruno S. The first was Every Man for Himself and God Against All (1974), which was retitled The Enigma of Kasper Hauser in the U.S. It is based on the famous 19th Century German mystery about a grown man who showed up in a town square one day, unable to speak, barely able to stand and baring a cryptic note. For reasons that remain unknown today, this man was raised in near total isolation in a makeshift dungeon and treated like an animal. The question and depiction of how a human being would develop if deprived of both humanity and the natural world is fascinating. Just as mysteriously he was murdered, leaving his tormenter and their motives forever unknown. Bruno S., the man Herzog cast as his Kasper Hauser, believe it or not had a similar background, having been horribly abused as a small child which caused him to regress and lose his speech, then spending all of his formative years and much of his life in institutions for the insane and criminal prisons.

Herzog's second and so-far final film with Bruno is Stroszek (1977). This is a fictional film but follows a character with a backstory and temperament very much like Bruno S.'s. This time he plays Bruno Stroszek, recently released from prison where he has spent most of his life. He has no social skills and delights in playing music on the streets. He befriends a hooker and an older man who is very much like himself, and after brutal run-ins with a local pimp the three characters flee for the freedom of America. But will the Midwestern United States ultimately hold a better fate for these wayward souls?

In both films, Bruno S. is mesmerizing on screen, and in Stroszek especially Herzog mixes in many other non-actors, some of whom also have dark and odd histories similar to their characters. Werner's ability to get documentary-like naturalistic performances from amatures seamlessly melded into fictional narratives is quite a feat. Both Kasper Hauser and Stroszek are every bit equal the masterpieces of Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, though they are lesser known...if only because they don’t have Kinski in them.





Some of Herzog's other career highlights include the surreal Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) with an all Little People cast that rivals and pre-dates any kind of weirdness David Lynch is capable of, the documentary The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner (1974) about a shy but talented ski jumper, Little Dieter Needs to Fly where a German-born American fighter pilot describes his ordeal as a prisoner in the Vietnam War and his miraculous escape and Lessons of Darkness (1992) where Herzog takes his cameras to the burning oil fields of Kuwait in the wake of the first Gulf War.

Last year Herzog achieved mainstream attention with his Grizzly Man (2005) where he assembled years and years of self-shot footage of Timothy Treadwell, an activist/nutball who felt a kinship with the bears in an Alaskan refuge, only to be mauled and killed by them after over a decade of cohabitation. Wheather or not you find Treadwell's actions insane and the conclusion inevitable, the portrait Werner paints is fascinating and fits in perfectly with the Herzogian themes of the beauty and oblivion of the natural world.


This year has seen a sadly limited release of a project called The Wild Blue Yonder (2006) which is an almost impossible-to-define mix of satire and stock footage, tied together by scenes of Brad Dourif as a depressed fellow from a race of incompetent intergalactic space aliens (see my review HERE). His next film is Rescue Dawn, which is a dramatic recreation of the events in Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Christain Bale stars as Dieter, and the cast also includes Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies as fellow P.O.W.'s.



Herzog is one of my very favorite filmmakers. If he's working in fiction, documentary or blending the two I'm always interested in seeing what he has put on the screen.
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I haven't seen all the documentaries and the pieces he's done for television (many are scarce if not impossible to find in the U.S.), but this is how I'd rate his stuff from what I've seen so far...



1. Aguirre, the Wrath of God, A+
2. Stroszek, A+
3. Grizzly Man, A
4. Fitzcarraldo, A
5. The Wild Blue Yonder, A-
6. Little Dieter Needs to Fly, A-
7. La Soufrière: Waiting for an Inevitable Catastrophe, A-
8. The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, A-
a.k.a. Every Man for Himself and God Against All
9. My Best Fiend, B+
10. Woyzeck, B+
11. Fata Morgana, B
12. Nosferatu the Vampyre, B
13. Lessons of Darkness, B
14. Invincible, B
15. The Great Ecstasy of the Sculptor Steiner, B
16. Wheel of Time, B
17. Even Dwarfs Started Small, B-
18. Scream of Stone, B-
19. Rescue Dawn, B-
20. The White Diamond, B-
21. The Flying Doctors of East Africa, B-
22. How Much Wood Could a Woochuck Chuck, B-
23. Cobra Verde, C+



And of course every Herzog fan needs to see Les Blank's documentaries Burden of Dreams and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe and Zak Penn's Incident at Loch Ness, too.




great post!!
i've only seen Aguirre, and was very impressed. the movie seemed to me ( from what i recall ) a slow builder, but the finale is quite mind blowing. i also remember seeing the documentary about it's production, which sent shivers down my spine...the man has...well to say nerves of steel would be an understatement...most people would have gone insane filming that film, but then again, they probably wouldn't have tried to film it in the first place...

it's a real shame i don't have access to his other works, especially documentaries as that's a form i haven't seen him in at all and would love to see what he has to offer....



Standing in the Sunlight, Laughing
Originally Posted by Holden Pike
This year has seen a sadly limited release of a project called The Wild Blue Yonder (2006) which is an almost impossible-to-define mix of satire and stock footage, tied together by scenes of Brad Dourif as a depressed fellow from a race of incompetent intergalactic space aliens (see my review HERE).
....so.... it's a documentary?

His next film is Rescue Dawn, which is a dramatic recreation of the events in Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Christain Bale stars ...
Oh YES!!!
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One of the many things I find so refreshing and remarkable about Herzog is that he never takes the easy way out. I know it can seem like insanity, but the cinematic results are unforgettable. I mean he certainly could have made Fitzcarraldo on a set in Southern California and instead of actually pulling an actual boat over an actual mountain they could have used mock-ups and models and effects shots...not to mention what a Studio would say to the idea now that we're entrenched in the age of CGI! Herzog's vision may border on madness at times, but you have to say the results on the screen are worth it. It isn't crazy and it isn't a gimmick, it's filmmaking.




Standing in the Sunlight, Laughing
Someone asked me the other day, if I could have been in any movie, which would it be. I said Aguirre, because you know... what a ride! Probably would have hated every second of it, but what an amazing experience to have had. That's the value of Herzog's willingness to make films the way he does. We see the true experience of what's in the film, without the mosquitoes, rats, leeches, bruises, cuts, scrapes, scary infections, frightening critters, scarier people and living in a tent for weeks on end.



Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Stroszek happen to be my favorites. Great thread!



I am having a nervous breakdance
I've seen far too few Herzog films to say anything valuable about him. I saw Aguirre recently though and thought it was an amazing and remarkable film. I love visual directors and I need to see more films by Herzog a.s.a.p. About Aguirre, I think it tells the story about how human beings constantly seem to take the wrong turns in life followed by devestating consequences in a crystal clear way. Doesn't humanity go for rides like that constantly? And always with a madman at the rudder.
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Originally Posted by NewDawnFades
Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Stroszek happen to be my favorites.

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The People's Republic of Clogher
Stroszek was one of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis' favourite films.

Days before the band's debut US tour he informed his friends that Stroszek was on the TV and walked home to watch the film, alone.

Curtis committed suicide later that night. He was 23...



Strange how life and art intertwine, innit?
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Holden, have you seen Heart of Glass? I just saw that the other day and liked it a lot; slow but excellent. It's one of his weirdest films I've seen, which is certainly saying something.

I had no idea there were people here who liked Stroszeck so much. It's not one of my favorites but man, it has one of the best endings (the whole last leg of the movie from before the "robbery" on through to the chicken) in cinema.

I had a chance to see Wild Blue Yonder in N.Y. last year, but chose Grizzly Man (which was winding up it's theatrical run at the time) instead. Boy do I regret that now.



Originally Posted by linespalsy
Holden, have you seen Heart of Glass? I just saw that the other day and liked it a lot; slow but excellent. It's one of his weirdest films I've seen, which is certainly saying something.
No, I've never gotten around to Heart of Glass. I'll catch up to it soon, though.


Originally Posted by linespalsy
I had no idea there were people here who liked Stroszeck so much. It's not one of my favorites but man, it has one of the best endings (the whole last leg of the movie from before the "robbery" on through to the chicken) in cinema.
It's definitely not an ending (or movie) you'll forget easily. And which ones are your favorites, Lines?


Originally Posted by linespalsy
I had a chance to see Wild Blue Yonder in N.Y. last year, but chose Grizzly Man (which was winding up it's theatrical run at the time) instead. Boy do I regret that now.
I saw it at the Portland International Film Festival earlier this year, with Brad Dourif in attendance, then again about a month ago. I really love that movie, but it's such an overwhelming experience of music and image that I'm not sure how it'll play on television. It was certainly hypnotic on the big screen.



Whoops, forgot to list my favorites, though I've honestly not given it a whole lot of thought which are the best, besides Aguirre. Plus Herzog's one of those rare directors where the more films you see by him, the more brightly each one shines individually.

Aguirre
Fitzcarraldo
The Mystery of Kasper Hauser
Grizzly Man
Cobra Verde
Heart of Glass
Woyzeck
Mein Liebster Freund
Stroszeck
Where the Green Ants Dream
Even Dwarves Started Small
Nosferatu
Invincible

And really, to get a good sense of just what a weird guy Herzog is, I think Julien Donkey Boy should be on there too. We have Little Dieter Needs to Fly



Obviously, Aguirre is a work of transcendent genius, and his other films are pretty consistently excellent.

I love, love, love Fata Morgana, but the print used for the Anchor Bay boxset desperately needs to be restored/remastered.



I bought the Klaus Kinski/Werner Herzog collection on eBay, when it didn't turn up I contacted the seller, She said my address was wrong so it was returned to them she then said I had to pay postage again because it was the wrong address I said ok as I wanted it, but joy of joys she contacted me again to say she would pay the posage as the package had gone to my work address when the recepionist was asked if Klaus Kinski works here she said no, it was sent back the people who sent it had addressed it to Klaus Kinski
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Originally Posted by nebbit
I bought the Klaus Kinski/Werner Herzog collection on eBay, when it didn't turn up I contacted the seller, She said my address was wrong so it was returned to them she then said I had to pay postage again because it was the wrong address I said ok as I wanted it, but joy of joys she contacted me again to say she would pay the posage as the package had gone to my work address when the recepionist was asked if Klaus Kinski works here she said no, it was sent back the people who sent it had addressed it to Klaus Kinski
That collection is outstanding. Enjoy!



there's a frog in my snake oil
Originally Posted by linespalsy
And really, to get a good sense of just what a weird guy Herzog is, I think Julien Donkey Boy should be on there too. We have Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Blimey, i had no idea he was the dad. That man certainly gets around.
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Originally Posted by Golgot
Blimey, i had no idea he was the dad. That man certainly gets around.
He was; supposedly Herzog is working on a current project with Harmony Korine. I believe it's called Mister Lonely.

http://imdb.com/title/tt0475984/



Rescue Dawn has received rave reviews at TIFF, although it did not take any awards from the prestigious festival.
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