Werner Herzog Season – Burden Of Dreams (1982) & My Best Fiend (1999)
‘Kinski always says it’s full of erotic elements. I don’t see it so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. It’s just – Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn’t see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and… growing and… just rotting away. Of course, there’s a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they – they sing. They just screech in pain. It’s an unfinished country. It’s still prehistorical. The only thing that is lacking is – is the dinosaurs here. It’s like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever… goes too deep into this has his share of this curse. So we are cursed with what we are doing here. It’s a land that God, if he exists has – has created in anger. It’s the only land where – where creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at – at what’s around us there – there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of… overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle – Uh, we in comparison to that enormous articulation – we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban… novel… a cheap novel. We have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication… overwhelming growth and overwhelming lack of order. Even the – the stars up here in the – in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment.’ Werner Herzog, the Amazon basin, summer 1980.
So as we draw this season another step closer to its elegiac truth, I thought a quick detour to cover the films made about the films might provide some contextual class. Burden Of Dreams is the behind the scenes making of Fitzcaraldo, a shoot like its close stablemate Apocalypse Now which has gone on to enter film lore, a herculean battle against the cruel elements, against the inscrutable environment and the marshalling of a deranged cast and crew, the forging of art in the fulcrum of chaos. It’s a fascinating behind the scenes of a film set and a social document, exhibit A of Herzog’s indomitable will to satisfy his muse over the four-year development, literally pulling a 300 tonne steamer through the jungle. It’s also the harbour of the only remaining footage of Jason Robards and Mick Jagger, in the main roles, having shot 40% of the film Herzog had to scrap the film and start again with a completely new cast, after Robards feel seriously ill and Jagger had to return to Europe for a Rolling Stones tour. Essential viewing, and as for torturous production conditions it sounds like a new contender is emerging…..
My Best Fiend is Herzog’s 1999 documentary on his fraught and frequent collaborations with the volcanic Klaus Kinski, one of the true maniacs of the screen. This honest look at the mans talents and foibles is crammed with reminiscences of their early friendship and slowly deteriorating relationship over five increasingly frayed collaborations, but more on that for our next, and final review of the season. In terms of the remaining essentials beyond the purview of this study I’d consider Lessons Of Darkness as essential Herzog, the stories of the dangerous conditions of the Kuwaiti shoot in the biography are simply staggering. After a fairly lean 1990’s I’d say he got himself back on the map with 2005’s Grizzly Man, a documentary which won a series of plaudits, just as his internet presence and popularity started to find purchase. I’d also recommend seeing harmony Korine’s all time favourite film Even Dwarves Started Small which is…..something……and if anyone can punt me in the direction of where to acquire his first feature Signs Of Life I would be eternally grateful. After that my existing coverage from this site snaps into place, and I’m fairly sure I’ve reviewed every UK theatrical release of his since 2006, which is pretty good going. and due to resume with his latest picture at the LFF in a couple of months…..