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Thread: Werner Herzog: greatest living director?

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    Werner Herzog: greatest living director?

    Ever since Stanley Kubrick left us I've been wondering who our greatest living director is.

    There are lots of names that come to *my* mind, such as Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Peter Greenaway, Francis Coppola, Michael Mann, Lars von Trier and on and on and on (apologies if I left out your director- there's too many dammit).

    But one man and one name keeps jumping out at me.

    One guy whose films evoke a reverence in me that I almost can't describe.

    Werner Herzog is almost ethereal, Godlike.
    (cue KMFDM's "GODLIKE")

    I've started work on a piece of writing that will include reviews of his films, appreciation for his astounding films and background/history of this singular genius.

    He deserves to be acknowledged,
    his films must be seen,
    he's something else man...


    www.wernerherzog.com
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    ...Resnais, Rivette, de Oliveira, Erice, Saura, Hou, Kar Wai, Eastwood, Antonioni...but yes, Werner Herzog needs to be acknowledged and his films must be seen. And discussed. Some of his viewpoints are rather controversial or at least worthy of close examination. Besides Aguirre (which I watched when I was very young and remains a source of fascination), my favorite Herzog is Lessons of Darkness. He took footage from the end of the Gulf War and took it out of its human and temporal context, to create a type of poetic sci-fi. There are obvious inherent moral issues, but the experiment worked brilliantly and the images are, in my opinion, the most arresting of any Herzog film. Fata Morgana is another Herzog film I find fascinating.

    Cobra Verde (1987), the last collaboration with Klaus Kinski, was finally released comercially last month. It's been available on dvd since 2000.

    The fictional version of Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) starring Christian Bale is called Rescue Dawn. It will be released next July. It premiered at Toronto 2006. Critical and audience response has been good.

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    There are quite a few Herzog films I haven't seen, especially some in his new documentary box set (see his website for details).

    I want to see Lessons of Darkness so bad you can't believe it- where and when did you see it?

    Rescue Dawn is another one that seems like a can't-miss.

    You cannot talk about Herzog without talking about Kinski. A match made in cinematic heaven. In my top three of documentaries of all-time is Herzog's tribute to this incredible, wild, posessed actor My Best Fiend.
    It's absolutely riveting.
    The final scene had me crying like a baby.
    Thanks for that film, Werner.

    Jon Rosenbaum loves Fata Morgana- he put it on his 1000 best list in his book "Essential Cinema"

    His website has a link to an IFC interview with Henry Rollins, who worships Herzog's films as well. He says something about Los Angeles in there that I agree with. He said what I've been thinking about that city for a long time. (I've been to L.A. on 3 seperate occasions and I loved every trip).

    I'm going through Herzog's films one by one at the Ottawa U and I'll post something lengthy some time later.
    (Consider it an in-progress project)
    Last edited by Johann; 05-19-2007 at 01:22 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Originally posted by Johann
    There are quite a few Herzog films I haven't seen, especialy some in his new documentary box set (see his website for details).
    Excellent. Now one can really become a Herzog connoisseur. I've seen all the fiction features and ten of the docs, but he's directed over 50 films! I found his commentaries on the dvds of six Kinski films very entertaining and revealing. I'll watch How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck? and La Soufriere next.

    I want to see Lessons in Darkness so bad you can't believe it- where and when did you see it?
    I attended public screenings of Fata Morgana, Lessons, W.H. Eats His Shoe and others. I bought the 2-disc dvd with Fata and Lessons as soon as it came out and I've played it several times.

    Jon Rosenbaum loves Fata Morgana- he put it on his 1000 best list in his book "Essential Cinema"
    Indeed. It's an amazing film. I love Lessons even more. Rosenbaum's take on the film is quite interesting and way off the mark, in my opinion. He equates Riefenstahl using her skills to make a Nazi propaganda film and the decontextualizing of postwar landscapes that's the basis of Lessons in Darkness.

    "In his characteristically dreamy Young Werther fashion, Werner Herzog generates a lot of bombastic and beautiful documentary footage out of the post-gulf war oil fires and other forms of devastation in Kuwait, gilds his own high-flown rhetoric by falsely ascribing it to Pascal, and in general treats war as abstractly as CNN, but with classical music on the soundtrack to make sure we know it's "art." This 1992 documentary may be the closest contemporary equivalent to Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, both aesthetically and morally; I found it disgusting, but if you're able to forget about humanity as readily as Herzog there are loads of pretty pictures to contemplate." (JR)


    I'm going through Herzog's films one by one at the Ottawa U and I'll post something lengthy some time later.
    (Consider it an in-progress project)

    Cool

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    The poet must never avert his eyes
    -Werner Herzog




    An excellent primer to read is Between Mirage and History: the films of Werner Herzog, edited by Timothy Corrigan.

    It was published in 1986, and the chapters are written by various authors, with only a handful of films discussed in depth. But it's a great primer.

    Here's some tidbits I jotted down from it:

    Timothy Corrigan:
    The most demanding challenge of these films is not their purported density or idiosyncracies but the difficulty of negotiating and mediating the extremities that they provoke.

    The films: startling rebellion by a romantic artist, a totally contemporary filmmaker, ALL IS IMAGE, and the density and flamboyancy of those images have established themselves as the only vehicle for significance.

    Born Werner Stipetic on Sept. 5th, 1942, Herzog had a "mystical Bavarian childhood", he wrote his first script at age 15, made his first film at 17, worked as a steelworker in Munich, had exotic travels in his teens, lived and worked in Pittsburgh, USA, did TV work under the auspices of NASA in 1966, he stole his first 35mm camera to use for his shorts and has had a variety of strange and violent adventures and misadventures with governments and actors as he struggled to make his movies.

    We have to articulate ourselves, otherwise we would be cows in the field
    -W. Herzog

    Timothy Corrigan again:

    A key difficulty here, as with the films, is where to locate such an intentionally chimerical and contrary figure whose character has come to depend more on the substance of the images he projects than on any so-called factual substance. His claim that I Am My Films -the title of
    a documentary-interview about him is an indicative irony. For Herzog, he is his films only as a medieval artisan, the figure who disappears into that work and is ultimately dwarfed by the larger weights and energies it testifies to.


    With Herzog's films, the genres, the characters and images seem to present and contradict themselves with such a seemingly unmotivated opacity or naivite, developing and taking their form from geography or physical coincidence, that viewers have difficulty pinpointing stable ideas or perspectives on which to base expectations. Herzog's films display themselves like a dense microcosm presented by a master of ceremonies who, with each new show, forces the audience to stand back.

    These films stand agressively innocent, taunting audiences to attempt to appropriate them. In nearly all Herzog feature films there is only the phantom of narrative and character. Audiences expecting more conventional direction often find themselves abandoned. Herzog has been under fire from various groups who have accused him of ruthlessly exploiting his subjects, of sanctimoniously hiding behind a poet's cape while using and discarding people and cultures as carelessly as a Hollywood production.

    Me, Johann:

    Is his work quioxtic megalomania? Myself, I don't really think it's exactly that. It's an enigmatic drive and realization by, yes, a poet.

    I really like this quote from Corrigan:

    His films are exotic flowers, the cinema is a circus, the spectators all children, the politics fundamentally a function of narcissim
    Last edited by Johann; 11-21-2007 at 06:51 AM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    *Corrigan's book collects some very worthy essays and I like the quotes you provide. Like you state, it was published in 1986. Here's an updated primer I found particularly useful: Werner Herzog

    *I think that characterizing Herzog as a "megalomaniac" is a waste of time although, at its most benign, a "megalomaniac" is defined as a person with a passion for doing big things. Pushing a boat up a mountain certainly qualifies. The Herzog "persona" is worthy of discussion, he's led a most interesting and eventful life, but I'm more interested in the films. To give you an example: I'd rather discuss whether Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) has a fascist or anarchic viewpoint than discuss whether Herzog himself is a fascist (as he was called after the release of that film). Two other films of his have been criticized by leftist intellectuals on ideological grounds: Ballad of the Little Soldier (1984) and Lessons of Darkness (1992).

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    I just watched three mid-70s Herzog docs:

    The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner (1974)
    Walter Steiner's great ecstasy is derived from flying on skis. The Swiss Steiner simply had no competition in this sport, which is much more dangerous than it looks. As great as Steiner looks jumping 175 meters in the air while traveling at about 100 m/h, what I found most captivating was his handling of the pressures created by fans and media.

    How Much Wood Would A Woodchuck Chuck (1976)
    A precursor to Spellbound and other competition documentaries. Herzog travels to Amish country in Pennsylvania to cover the 1976 World Livestock Auctioneer Contest. Title refers to a tongue-twister the eventual winner uses to warm up for the event, which requires clear and extremely rapid speech. Since there's not enough background on the contestants to foster favoritism on the viewer's part, it's hard to care who wins. I lost interest around the mid-point of the 44-minute duration.

    La Soufriere: Waiting for an Inevitable Catastrophe (1976)
    Only a handful of residents of the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe refused to evacuate when experts predicted the titular volcano would erupt "with the force of 5 or 6 atomic bombs" (according to the auteur). Herzog and two cameramen arrive by helicopter and find the island eerily deserted. They wander about and interview three men who state they've put their faith in God. They find one of them not far from La Soufriere's crater! We learn via photographs of the tragedy caused by a volcanic eruption in nearby Monserrate in 1902 when thousands died because the mayor refused to order an evacuation. But the "inevitable" tragedy in Guadaloupe never happened. And film buffs worldwide should be thankful. Compelling doc would be even better if it was more self-reflexive and dealt with Herzog's death-defying and his cameramen's willingness to follow him.

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    Great stuff- haven't seen any of these.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Little Dieter Needs To Fly



    If you want to be reminded of how lucky you are to be alive, with fresh food at your disposal and a nice comfortable bed to climb into at night, then watch this film.

    During parts of it I was saying to myself "No, there's no way that this guy would be alive- he's lying, he's exaggerating- this sounds too outrageous to have actually happened".
    But it did. It's all true, and Werner Herzog presents the story of Dieter Dengler with plenty of archive footage.
    Herzog weaves interviews, stock footage, newly shot recreations, drawings, sketches with testimony & guidance from the man himself to give us an incredible tale of courage and survival that is more harrowing than any war story I've ever heard.

    Dengler was born in Germany and wanted to be a pilot ever since he was a kid watching his town being bombed with his little brother from their living-room window.

    After WWII Germany had no Air Force, so he decided to immigrate with his pilot's dreams to the USA to make a better life for himself.
    He arrived in New York by ship and after struggling for a few years doing various jobs and trades in the military he finally learned what he had to do to become a pilot.
    He ended up in California in the Navy, and was quickly sent to serve as a pilot on an aircraft carrier during the early chaos of the Vietnam War, doing bombing raids.
    The slo-mo archive footage of the raids are surreal- like poetic destruction. With each explosion I was wondering "how many just bit the dust there? and there? and there?". Villages napalmed, rice paddies going boom,
    jungles exploding in seas of phosphorous...

    He was shot down over Laos- you gotta hear his description of the crash- simply unreal.
    But the real *rotten* meat of this story is his capture and torture. I won't ruin it for you, but this guy survived sheer fucking hell.
    Utter living breathing HELL.
    I can see why Herzog would be attracted to this. His last film which premiered at Toronto last year, RESCUE DAWN is the fictional recreation of the escape and rescue starring Christian Bale as Dieter. I haven't seen it, but I hear it's amazing.

    Death is the centrepiece of the film, and Herzog narrates how Dengler managed to escape it repeatedly. There is humour among the horrors- you gotta see the 1967 U.S. Army training video on survival- laughed my ass off, with help from Herzog's sarcastic comments.

    Dengler was dancing with death on a constant basis- like I said, there were times when watching this film where I just could not believe that he survived. It almost seems to be too much. There's a photo of him where he looks absolutely emaciated, like a holocaust survivor, where he weighed 85 pounds. You won't believe what he goes through.

    His rescue is a miracle story, because where he was found- in Thailand- was an area that the friendlies said no pilots would've been lost.
    He ended up there after a long escape with his close friend who died a horrible death that Dieter witnessed. Again- I couldn't believe he survived. That would be a question for Herzog, because he didn't tell us how Dieter got away from the fate his friend suffered. By my account, he should've been killed in the same manner. He always escapes death!
    Indeed, Dieter says a few times that death just didn't want him.

    This is riveting stuff, very powerful testimony to the power of the human spirit & also to the validity of miracles- they do occur to some people.
    How this man survived what he went through is astounding.
    It opens with a quote from Revelations 9:6:

    And in those days shall men seek death
    And shall not find it
    And shall desire to die
    And death shall flee from them
    Last edited by Johann; 05-08-2007 at 02:45 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Simply brilliant review, Johann. This is one of Herzog's most popular films for reasons you convey with passion and acuity. I would only add that the doc includes on-location recreations (which I found quite valuable). Early reviews of Rescue Dawn are very good, particularly Bale's performance. It's one of my most anticipated movies of the summer

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    Fitzcarraldo

    I am the spectacle in the forest. That slope may look insignificant, but it's gonna be my destiny. -Brian Sweeney-Fitzgerald





    The tag-line was "dare to dream the impossible"
    and this film is Werner Herzog's masterpiece of faith, inspiration and Operatic dreams.

    Herzog calls it his best documentary, and you will get the distinct impression that this is far too real to be "fiction". And it IS real, daddy-O:
    as real as you can only imagine hauling a huge steamship over a Peruvian mountain can be.
    If you thought Apocalypse Now was an intense journey "up river", brace yourself for a cinematic experience like no other.
    Klaus Kinski plays Brian (Don) Sweeney Fitzgerald, a crazed posessed dreamer who wants to strike it rich among the rubber trees that grow in legion and ultimately mount an epic showcase for the Opera of Enrico Caruso.

    He takes a rotting old steamboat and transforms it with new paint and a new crew and chugs up the Pachitea River to make his fortune. His crew are rag-tags: a drunk cook, a large native imposing engine room guy, and a grey-bearded captain who knows the Amazon like the back of his hand (he knows the "tastes" of South American rivers). The rest of the crew are various other exotic "deckhands".

    They're headed in the wrong direction intentionally, into unknown areas, and you have to stand back in amazement that Herzog emerged from this process of "planning" and "discovery" with a mind-blowing film in the can and the lives of his cast intact.

    The film ratchets up the tension when the ship is suddenly blocked from going back by the native Jivaros- they fell gigantic trees across the river from both banks- unreal stuff, brother.
    The crew wonders what the hell is going on.
    Their cook can actually translate their language- he says they have been waiting for the White God to come and they think this ship might just be it- no ship like that has ever been on that part of the river.
    Indeed, they worship the ship. Things get really really weird when they board from their canoes- every crew member thinks they're gonna end up as shrunken heads.

    But the Jivaros are actually in a position to help them. And that's when the unbelievable part of this film begins: they are willing to help do what Fitz needs them to do (but not for the reasons he thinks!)
    They level the rainforest with machetes and axes and plain-old human fortitude- just like the Egyptian slaves when they built the pyramids.
    This "White God" is going over the mountain!
    Hundreds of natives using giant logs, a system of winching and pullying and basic primal ingenuity help to drag this bohemoth up the mud caked hillside.
    Tragedy occurs but they press on, the ship must get to the other side, to the other river.
    Mission gets accomplished, but the reasons for the natives helping to do it becomes clear once the ship gets to the other side.

    The shots in this film are achingly beautiful all around- Herzog takes us right there, with very conscious, brimming-with-life immediacy. His Kameraman is Thomas Mauch and he deserves all the credit in the world for achieving some of the most sublime shots in cinema history- like the "platform canopy shot" of the crew above the rainforest- simply stunning.

    This production is legendary, which was well documented by Les Blank: Burden of Dreams and I'll review that one soon enough.
    Kinski wasn't the first choice to play Fitz- Jason Robards was. Listen to the audio commentary on the DVD to get the whole skinny on why he dropped out. After Robards, Herzog had Jack Nicholson in mind, but Jack was too busy (even though he really loved the script and wanted to be in one of Herzog's films) plus money was a big problem: in the commentary Herzog says money has 2 qualities only: Stupid and Cowardly.
    He also didn't think Jack could sustain living in the Peruvian jungle for months, so it was no go for Jack. Warren Oates was the other choice, but he died just when they were preparing! Another wild casting choice was Mick Jagger, who was gonna play a "retarded British sidekick" to Fitz- but again, Mick in the Peruvian jungle for months? Fuck no. Jagger was really pumped to star in a Herzog film tho- Herzog says he was willing to even chip in some money.

    I could write a hell of a lot about this insane masterpiece of a film that has Holy status among film buffs. Just see it and stand back in absolute awe of the vision and FEARLESSNESS of Werner Herzog, filmmaker.
    Last edited by Johann; 05-14-2007 at 11:29 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Herzog's Wheel of Time has been reviewed beautifully already on this site by Howard Schumann and readers of this thread who love Herzog should read it- he reviews it better than I could. He understands Herzog and his review is just great.

    The Wild Blue Yonder has been reviewed already as well, by Trevor, and I'll add my two cents. I'm buying the DVD tomorrow at HMV. I've read great things about it. It deals with aliens & us humans destroying this fantastic planet.

    Herzog's films are simply amazing.
    Last edited by Johann; 05-28-2007 at 08:11 AM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Grizzly Man


    Werner Herzog's name got a lot of well-deserved attention for this doc on Timothy Treadwell, a man who lived with grizzly bears in Katmai National Park for 13 summers.

    The only defence of Treadwell that I have is the exact same as Herzogs': the images he captured with his camera are worth their weight in gold. Some shots Treadwell achieved are so rare and beautiful that you can almost forgive his actions around the bears.

    "ALMOST" is the key word.
    My immediate impressions of Treadwell were that of annoyance.
    He seems flaming gay yet he's not. (but wishes he was at one point).
    He declares himself a "kind warrior" and makes stupid statements to his camera like "I will be the Master" around the bears. Treadwell would get on my nerves in short order in the bush, with his ridiculous pontifications and crazy-brave behavior.
    He says he respects the bears, he says he knows he can be eaten or mutilated at any time yet he seems to throw caution to the wind a lot of the time. And don't get me started on his naming the bears & foxes: Mr. Chocolate, etc.. The guy is a fool to me.
    He was fuckin' crazy to get so close- swimming with them, hanging out right next to them as they search for food in streams and such- the dude should've died much sooner in my estimation.
    He was out to lunch to think that he could make hay with wild grizzly bears. They're WILD, douche bag. Rip you to shreds in two seconds. And this goof is acting like he IS a bear, saying shit like "I have to mutually mutate" and growling at the bears the same way they do to each other. Yeah, you love bears.
    Yeah, you want to protect them. Great! Just keep your fucking distance asshole! YOU. WILL. DIE.
    And you did.

    The pilot Sam Egli said Treadwell got what he deserved and I agree. Even that PhD. (Sven Haakanson) said it:
    He tried to be a bear.
    He tried to act like a bear.
    You don't invade on their territory. For him to act like a bear they way he did- to me it was the ultimate of disrespecting the bear and what the bear represents.
    Herzog: But he tried to protect the bears, didn't he?
    Sven: Ah, I think he did more damage to the bears because when you habituate bears to humans, they think all humans are safe. Timothy Treadwell crossed the boundary.

    I agree with Herzog in that the images caught by Treadwell's camera often show sheer natural beauty that most Hollywood studios can't conceive of. We're lucky to have his footage to show us a National Park's rich visual splendor, replete with wild animals that Treadwell often gets real close to.
    Is he fearless or foolhardy?
    I think he's a combination of both.
    You gotta be to go out into that park with no gun.
    (But he says he would never ever kill a bear, so...)

    Grizzly Man is powerful.
    A great cautionary tale.
    It's yet another amazing doc from the Master Werner Herzog.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    I've been thinking about Werner Herzog relative to the awesome Ten Canoes, Rolf de Heer's collaboration with members of an aboriginal tribe from North-central Australia. The film uses a narrator to tell two parallel stories, one set in the 1930s filmed in b&w, and another filmed in color set centuries ago. Ten Canoes opens with a creation myth that immediately reminded me of Herzog's Fata Morgana then weaves an amazing piece of anthropological fiction that would be an absolutely delight for the maker of Where the Green Ants Dream. I wonder if he's seen it.

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    A very human movie

    Encounters at the End of the World



    I went through many emotions watching Herzog's Encounters, and I think it may be the film that sits atop his filmography summit.

    It seems at times as if he's really putting you on, and when I learned of his staging of scenes with Dieter Dengler, I was more apt to burst out laughing at some scenes and scenarios, "at the end of the world".

    Herzog has moments of surreal beauty here, some really sublime times, especially underneath the ice of Antarctica, where he captures some ethereal, otherworldly ambiance and soul, real celestial moments.

    His use of singers and choirs and the choices of songs they sing add some serious emotional, soul-stirring resonance.

    This film is dedicated to Roger Ebert, and I got the vibe of a real inside-cinematic-joke, coupled with powerful, mute-exalted glorious imagery that could only be captured by this most eccentric of filmmmakers. Herzog is in a class all by himself, alone to face the universe's most toughest questions, with humour and grace and the relentless pursuit of the almighty image that will give salvation to it's humble viewer. Ebert must've been smiling through the whole screening. I sure was.

    Amazing man, Werner Herzog.
    He goes into fascinating areas and adds his own historic stamp.
    Depending on what you know about this filmmaker depends on how much you love it.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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