How about Global Thermonuclear War? Nominated by Mr. Gibson himself no less, via the magic of Twitter;
He certainly gets around doesn’t he, air-miles wise? In this season we’ve weaved all over the glove, from the fetid jungles of South America to the burgeoning sun of the Sahara, from the Bavarian foothills to the prairies of the mid-west of America. In our final movie we’re travelling to the 18th century Caribbean, for Herzog’s fifth and final collaboration with Klaus Kinski, their partnership irrevocably broken by one of the most difficult shoots of his career. The film is based upon Bruce Chatwin’s 1980 novel The Viceroy of Ouidah, opening with a distinct Jodorowskian vibe, as Francisco Manoel da Silva (Kinski) is physically framed by pestilence, disease and suffering. His Brazilian ranch has blighted by drought and famine, leading this debauched, venal and vengeance driven sort to reluctantly goe to work at a local gold mining company. Not being keen of the wretched pay and exploitative conditions da Silva murders the exploitative boss and flees the authorities, starting a new career as the vicious outlaw Cobra Verde (translation: Green Snake), the most venomous cut-purse of the sertão. Eventually da Silva slithers into the orbit of Don Octávio Coutinho (José Lewgoy), a wealthy sugar baron who offers him a job as his new slave wrangler, controlling and mustering his stock of 600 souls on his fertile and expansive plantation. Naturally this being Kinski he can’t keep it in his pants, and he knocks up not one, not two but all three of the Don’s daughters, his transgressions causing the Don to sentence him to a suicidal mission – to purchase and deliver some new slaves from the mad king of Dahomey, his hostile realm situated on the West coast of Africa.
Another disaffected loner, wearily wrestling and brawling with life on his own indiscriminate terms – I don’t know about you but I’m beginning to sense something of a theme here? Cobra Verde was shot in the cosmopolitan climes of Ghana, Brazil and Colombia, another glimpse of some infrequently inspected cultures and societies, again proving Herzog’s ideological support for the forgotten stories of our species past. Colonialism, imperialism and the wounds of slavery are all big, weighty historical subjects, but Herzog seems more fascinated with the physical environment and etymology of his Atlantic spanning tale, leaving the historical grievances to quietly fade into the background. There is nothing redeeming in da Silva’s conduct, profession or behaviours, and he is little more than a vessel to observe these scorched lands rather than a hero through which to fight a liberating cause, a snarling anti-hero that is not permitted a modicum of sympathy or pause. These rarely seen locations are beautiful and exotic, with the shimmering landscapes of the west African coast and South American veldt harbouring a cornucopia of flora and wildlife that would make David Attenborough grin in glee, the human trappings of civilisation so much doomed sand in the tide compared to the populous forces of nature. Apparently the beatific background didn’t allay Kinski’s temper, as after almost twenty years and five collaborations cameraman Thomas Maus threw in the towel after yet another violent and extended tirade, and stormed off the set never to return. It was the last straw for Herzog as well, as he used to take a long-term view of enduring the pain for the good of the film, for leveraging a memorable performance from his wild-eyed demagogue for the sake of future potent prosperity. Still, I think while it lasted this is one of the all-time great screen avatar collaborations, up there with Scorsese and De Niro, Mifune and Kurosawa, Doinel and Truffaut, Carpenter and Kurt. On the disk there is an audio only BFI hosted interview with Herzog from 1988, a year after this film was released, where he amusingly wished Kinski an imminent death as ‘he will not age well’. Kinski died four years later, after a very poor catalogue of Z grade horror and exploitation films, his horrific reputation preceding him. He was 65 years old.
The spectre of Joseph Conrad hangs over the film, of the cultivated white devil subjugating and leading a supernaturally awed native people as a heaven sent deity. Like Heart Of Darkness or indeed Apocalypse Now Herzog’s tale is similarly forged in a land where the western ethos of liberty, modernity and enlightenment inflected rationalism have smouldered and shrivelling under a molten African sun. If that sounds like the film is belittling and sneering at the ‘primitives’ then I’m being misconstrued, the veneer is more of an ideologically neutral National Geographic piece rather than any politically charged commentary when it comes to the traditions and customs of the indigenous Brazilian Indians or the Dahomey peoples delirious dancing. I haven’t mentioned much about the Blu-Ray up-scale of these films have I? Well, they all offer a significant improvement on previous box-sets, with the specialised correction of colour tones and image clarity, making this the ultimate version of these films for the cultivated connoisseur. As I cast my mind over this long journey, across the continents of land and mind it’s only just occurred to me that Herzog shoots all his films on location. Nothing, or at least virtually none of his entire 18 fiction, 27 non-fiction or 14 short films has been studio sourced, except perhaps for a handful of process shots for some of his Hollywood partnerships such as Bad Lieutenant or Rescue Dawn. Even then the vast majority of his coverage is captured in the jungle, in the cities or out on the wind blasted steppes, harnessing in all his films a sense of intimate immediacy, a realism and fidelity which is also mirrored in his charismatic court-jester characters. He also only uses local people as extras and in speaking parts, non-professionals for the most part, with some sort of star or marketing casting as a marketing hook as he does understand the film business he works within has the truth within the title – it’s a business with a commoditised value and economic weight. Claims of exploitation have dogged his career by the ignorant and gutter press looked for a salacious angle, all of them venomously denied by Herzog throughout his career, when every indication is that he was always deeply reverential to the cultures he entered, collaborated with and crucially learned from, from the Peruvian Aguaruna to the Tibetan Kalachakra monks. Visually Cobra Verde has its memorable moments, one early interior scene is shot only by candlelight with superfast lenses, as da Silva is set upon his rocky and doomed path to foreign climes, a similar marshalling of aesthetics seen in Barry Lyndon a decade earlier. For me the film works best as a melancholy mood piece, a glittering slurry of ideas and images, illuminating a feverish serpent in da Silva’s deranged dreamscape, yearning for horizons beyond.
A quick aside from yet another passage in the biography which gave me the giggles, when asked about living in Los Angeles and the general Californian climate, Herzog responded thus ‘whenever someone wishes to pass on their ‘good vibes’ to me I look for the nearest elevator shaft’ – what struck as particularly brilliant about that reply is that it remains opaque whether Werner wishes to throw himself, or the radiating star of positivity down to their certain, bone shattering doom. Anyway, I digress, the film is presented with both English and German language options, and suffice to say you should always opt for the original shooting language, especially so here as the English dubbing is atrocious. On the commentary Herzog is somewhat subdued, chiefly reminiscing on Kinski’s horrendous behaviour and the wonderful and fascinating indigenous people he met and enlisted into his film, as naturally many of the African and South American extras were locally sourced, and which bless the film with a localised authenticity. Once again Popol Vuh complement the visual perspectives with another seething and lyrical sonic-scape, and speaking of musicians it is revealed in a disk-extra BFI interview that Bowie had originally intended and optioned the rights and play da Silva, a marriage of image and part which simply would not have worked. So where next? Well, after two German directors in a row I did think we needed to get as far away as possible from Europe, maybe a pilgrimage to the ancient Orient, perhaps? Well, we will get there eventually to honour the Sensei of modern action films, probably in 2016 after a Christmas acquisition of this, but before then I think we need to carefully prowl some dark Parisian streets, mostly driven by my recent embezzlement of this. But let’s close the Herzog season with appropriately enough the final images of the final film of the BFI boxed set, and also the final shot of the last days shooting of Cobra Verde, the last time Kinski and Herzog worked together after their long, volcanic yet rewarding collaboration. It’s a haunting image of a grotesque and isolated figure fighting the inevitable, framed within the beauty of the elements, of the landscapes, a Herzogian precis of the human condition if ever there was one;
So shall we cast our quivering pen down the Tarantino crib-sheet? Overwritten but amusing movie-speak pontification crowbarred into larger than life character’s maws? Check. Opportunity for numerous tense Mexican stand-offs punctuated by blistering blood-drenched violence? Check. Admired but underused 1970’s character actors? Check. Samuel L. muthafucking Jackson? Naturally;
Like many other movie fans I’d rather see QT turn his postmodern talents to deconstructing another genre like a giallo or a continental euro-crime pastiche rather than return to the Italian Western paddock, but I’m sure this will be entertaining with his usual cinephile contractions. I’m more excited about seeing Jennifer Jason Leigh in something new than I am in Quentin unfurling his usual box of tricks, and of course the prospect of a new Morricone score is also quite tantalising. So yeah I’m not counting down the days crazy about this but of course I’ll see it on opening weekend, hopefully in glorious 70mm (or rather more specifically 65mm film with 1.25x squeeze anamorphic lenses, for an aspect ratio of 2.76:1, the first use of the format since 1966’s Khartoum) in the West End. Am I being an insufferable bore? Probably, but then check out this amusing clip which is doing the rounds again. Meanwhile, in other exciting news…….
‘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…..
There are rumors of a nine hour directors cut y’know? Dune was a spectacular critical and commercial bomb when it was released back in 1984, but like most of these grand follies if has built up a loyal fan-base over the intervening years. One of those devout Fremen is editor Michael Warren who has assembled an epic three hour cut of the film by melding the theatrical cut, extended TV cut, and deleted scenes together, in one big, hulking spice sodden saga. I still think the film is fundamentally flawed but the production design and some of the sequences are terrific, you can make your own mind up here;
Speaking of SF I see now that summer season is officially demised the industry attention is already ramping up for Decembers big release – look, two new seconds of footage!! Alert the authorities!! I’m looking forward to it of course but I suspect that by November I’ll be sick to death of fevered Jedi speculation….
Remember when commercial television at least paid lip service to anything other than the almighty dollar, when there was at least one show, potentially worth watching on ITV? It all seems so long, long ago….
Bonus points for footage of the legendary Lotte Eisner, and Herzog playing a bit of footie and proclaiming Bobbie Charlton as ‘one of the great geniuses of the modern age’. Speaking of which I’ve been a hunting, and I think I’ve struck comedy gold – Werner in detailed discussion about science, life and art, of the entire purpose of existence and the eternal struggle against the darkness, locking intellectual horns with something of a kindred spirit – Cormac McCarthy. Yes, it is as brilliant as you imagine it could be…..
Ominously opening in an eerie mausoleum, to a throbbing heartbeat score we are confronted with a wandering, hand-held mosiac of entombed cadavers and mummified corpses – clearly this isn’t going to one of Herzog’s earlier, ‘funnier’ works. I first became aware of Nosferatu at an early stage of one’s cinematic development, it was a horror movie and therefore included in the movie anthology books I rifled through for details of a new ghoulish conquest, equating this as probably the first Herzog film I ever saw. Klaus Kinski features in the titular role as the ominous 19th century vermin visaged count, a wretched soul who feeds on the blood of the living to prolong his unholy life, a ghoul currently seeking a decant from his Carpathian lair to stalk new hunting grounds in Western Europe. If that sounds familiar then of course it is, Herzog’s Nosferatu is a rekindling of F.W Murnau’s silent classic Eine Symphonie des Grauens, which in turn drew heavily from Bram Stoker’s Dracula as its sordid source material. Stoker’s widow sued the producers of the 1922 original which resulted in many of the original prints being destroyed, but some canny international distributors disobeyed the court instructions and world cinema retained a highly influential masterpiece. Both versions are back on the cultural agenda following the news of a planned remake and the rather odd incident of Murnau’s skull being stolen from his Berlin bordering mausoleum, in what has to be one of the strangest publicity stunts of recent years. So the time seems deliciously ripe to reassess Herzog’s 1979 iteration of one of the all time classic horror tales, and for Werner it’s a remarkably atmospheric and brooding affair, with definitive attention lavished on the mood and aura of the film. This movie feasts upon gloom and melancholy, rather than coagulating on character trials and tribulations, the usual medicine that beats at the centre of Herzog’s oeuvre.
Nosteratu closely follows the core text of Stokers gothic masterpiece, with a mysterious figure summoning a young property lawyer to his Transylvanian castle in order to negotiate the purchase of a new foreign property, only this time the location is Wismar in Germany rather than Whitby in England. Bruno Gantz plays the unsuspecting Jonathan Harker, animated by one of the most talented and recognisable German actors of the post War period, probably known best as the inquisitive angel in Wings Of Desire and the densely disseminated Hitler in 2005’s Downfall, exposing him to an entire generation via internet gifs and humorous hybrids. Kinski is a quiet revelation as the verminous, venomous count, a wonderful evocation of Max Shrek’s original nightmare inducing cladding, reigned in by Herzog to deliver a quiet, almost mournful performance of a beast succumbed to immortal and eternal dreads. This near perfect cast is completed by Isabelle Adjani as perhaps the screen’s most perfect evocation of Mina Harker, virginal, pallid and ethereally beautiful, yet with a courageous strength of heart to sacrifice her soul and entrap the count as dawn rises, her bravery scourging the land of his ungodly infection. Herzog engineered the film as a direct celebration of his homelands cinematic prestige, intending his ‘remake’ as a cultural resuscitation of Murnau’s original, placing German cinema back on the global map after many years of rotting decomposition. We should remember that before the second world war Germany was considered the equal of America in terms of its mastery of the adolescent art form, with the evolution of the entire Expressionist movement snaking its shadowy tendrils to influence the global cinematic culture, with prestige productions such as Metropolis and Sunrise combating Hollywood’s claims to dominate the form.
Having thundered through the work of Herzog over the past eight months this film is something of an unholy aberration for the worshippers of Werner, as the key word here is atmosphere. Normally (at least at this fatigued point of the season) Herzog trades in rather direct character centred tales, yet here he weaves a quite beguiling film with his groaning collaborators, a grimoire of grief which is shrouded beneath an overcast and oppressive sky. From the opening frames the film is amplified by another wonderful Popol Vuh score, indeed my entire discovery of this soundtrack pioneer has been one of the great discoveries of this entire expedition, as once again their eerie soundscapes perfectly complements the premonitions of Nosferatu’s anguished aura. Brilliantly utilised is also Wagner’s prelude of the Nibelungen, prefiguring Malick’s appropriation of immortal hymns by at least two decades. Most unusually for Herzog the film is quite clearly photographed and composed with a rich visual constitution, in rather a contradictory manner to his working method statements I replayed during the last review of Woyzeck. Cameraman Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein (whom has schemed with Werner since 1971’s Fata Morgana) deftly manipulates shadow and light, fog and filaments to drape the film with a suffocating shroud, a technique which Herzog acquiesced to as it operates as a natural homage to Murnau’s masterful command of visual aesthetics. The pace and movement of the film is similarly languid, the counts ruinous journey to Wismar glides with the momentum of an asthmatic zombie, with the spooky materialisation of a Marie Celeste deserted vessel emerging ominously from the mist. The slow decay of the town is also examined without purifying pomp or ceremony, including a memorable sequence where a small coterie of plague sentenced villagers enjoy a final Lewis Carrolesque last supper among the ruins.
Through these ancient, weakly pulsing influences the film remains saturated with history and time, an intended Xerox in places, before nodding toward a definitive destruction of a malignant, slumbering menace. Some of the images that capture the narrative events are particularly striking, primarily the flesh crawling images of a weary Wismar overrun with those plague spreading rats, they formed quite the logistical challenge for the filming with Herzog having to account for the health and mortality of each and every individual animal following the principal wrap. Kinski himself is the stuff of nightmares, with the crypt dusted skin, the gravestone incisors, those skittering, chittering elongated talons – all I can think of is woe betide the make-up artists who weathered Kinski’s legendary tantrums while applying those cosmetics to his furious frame for exhausting weeks of lensing. Curiously Tobe Hooper also resurrected this specific, hungry look for screen vampires in quite the terrifying fashion for the same years TV adaptation of Salem’s Lot, it’s all an aeon away from contemporary emo-boyband Twilight Young Adult friendly bloodsuckers ain’t it?
Nosferatu palpably drips with a yearning menace, the count a more pathetic parasite than demonic killer, his eternal days wandering alone a Sisyphean curse instead of an immortal blessing. This is what Herzog is really driving at I think, he’s less interested in surface, traditional horror modules than dissecting the unfathomable dimensions of an immortal existence, as he decides to break with Stoker’s source material or the original film’s conclusion by having the once pure Harker elope in the films final frames to spread the plague of vampirism (Nazism?) across Europe and potentially usher in a new dark age of woe. As something of a satanic horror fan this film is precisely in my wheelhouse, a picture with a definitive, spine tingling atmosphere rather than those saturated in screaming chainsaws and bisected limbs. Now don’t get me wrong, those atrocities can be a lot of ghoulish fun but its always the films with a genuine mood and atmosphere that tend to withstand the ravages of time, and remain cold clasping classics for generations to come. So we are finally approaching the final bend of this seemingly eternal series, I have one more movie of the box-set to digest and I’m also going to throw together a hybrid post on two of the documentaries of Werner’s work and his key collaborators – My Best Fiend and the immortal nominee for possibly the best filmmaking documentary on film-making ever made, Burden Of Dreams. That kinda reminds me, I’ve also revisited Fitzcarraldo from that BFI screening a couple of years ago, just to be a good soldier completest you may be amused to learn that today I weathered through the commentary of that movies hilarious production as part of this marathon, as now we face the final stretch. For me though this is among Herzog’s finest work, scheming within the immediate and immortal, a grip of a gothic classic beyond a Hammer or Universal;
OK, I don’t normally do this but this seems to be legit, even if it’s still showing in scares UK cinemas – I assume it is entering the ‘benefit of the wider community’ international copyright phase. So I don’t know if like me you’re amusingly fascinated with this cult that hoovers up disaffected Californian celebrities, in any case this is a fascinating piece of work with some stunning and occasional psychological horrifying footage;
It strikes me, in a broad sense, that no matter how much money, and kudos, and privilege and fame, that sometimes for some folks there will always just be something….missing……
A quick detour into the marshes of TV as a respite from the Herzog Hagiography – more on him coming soon – but Marty’s new series looks pretty darn exciting. I’m not sure if he’s just Exec Producing or directing the pilot as he did to get Boardwalk Empire rolling, but in any case this has a great cast and looks quite…….energetic;
Heh, a quick tour and it looks like he has directed the pilot, good news. I wonder if this might supersede that Sinatra biopic he’s been attached to for years? I’m not a particularly big fan of ole blue eyes but what with the links to the mob and his position in post war American culture that could have been terrific….
Of all the films contained within the BFI box set that forms the spine of this season I always assumed that Woyzeck would be a particularly demanding challenge. I’ve seen the film before of course and therein lies the trouble, because if I’m being brutally honest it is for me the most boring of Herzog’s films, even despite the presence of the uber-fiend himself, the one man roaring cyclone of arrogant narcissism that was Klaus Kinski. The film was shot in a brisk 17 days, immediately after the wrap on Herzog’s reiteration of Nosferatu, he successfully leveraging in funding for yet another project and therefore retaining the exhausted personnel for ease of logistics and recruitment convenience. We’ll get to Nosferatu next on the list, and yes I can’t wait to get my fangs into that movie given the recent news of another planned remake and the grisly theft of Murnau’s skull, but first if I’m to retain fidelity to the project I’ve got to find something to say about this rather bland and featureless picture. In the biography there has been some mild querying on some of Herzog’s perceived failings, perhaps the most glaring example being the distinct lack of women in significant roles in his pictures, the feminine serving as adjuncts and enablers of his imaginative outcasts and social pariahs. He quite calmly reflects upon then deflects the query with the simple statement that he can only make films about characters who strike a particular chord with him, and their gender brooks no specific part in this equation. That’s fair enough I suppose, to be fair in much of his documentary work the genders are a little more balanced, and his next film quite clearly features Nicole Kidman as the main heroine of the tale. But when watching Woyzeck I can’t help think that the character of Marie (one-time Fassbinder muse Eva Mattes) is somewhat side-lined, as the main object of Woyzeck’s fevered insane lust, and a larger portfolio of perspectives could have elevated the film’s topographical drama and interest.
Herzog has cited Woyzeck as his most Germanic of his films given that it’s based on a celebrated play by his fellow countryman Georg Büchner, and it has the feel of a film quickly assembled and photographed. According to the rather spare anecdata from the biography he consciously staged the film as a cluster of four-minute long takes, intending the camera movements to create the space between characters and motives, rather than stitching the film together in the editing booth. While this approach does give the film a regular, metronome tempo I just couldn’t connect to the characters and events unfolding with the design, maybe because I just couldn’t empathise with this grim-faced, muttering maniac. He is is Franz Woyzeck, a beleaguered and belittled soldier stationed in a pre-World War I garrison on the outskirts of a quiet, rural hamlet. Never one to keep it in his pants Woyzeck has sired a bastard child with his mistress Marie, a burden exasperated by a series of apocalyptic visions of the end of the world which are increasing in severity and intensity. Just to make sure this is a Herzog film Woyzeck also grapples with the regiment doctor who punishes his intransigent behaviour by forcing him on an experimental diet, where he can only consume peas. Such a diet bears amusing symmetry to the films palette, as the story is flat, and some colour and charge could have been brought to the drama and development had these hallucinations somehow been visualised, but I guess that didn’t interest Werner who preferred an interior struggle transmitted through performance a rather than flashy overt stylization which isn’t exactly his idiom.
I think some explanation from the man himself may be in order, when it comes to the visual approach of his movies ‘I need people who see and feel things as they are, not someone concerned with the making the most beautiful images possible. I don’t give much thought to a composition of an image; I focus instead entirely on what that shot is about and how it fits into the overall story. Everything else is irrelevant.’ This position makes a lot of logical sense, many of the greatest visual directors can construct breath-taking imagery (cough, Ridley Scott, cough) but almost always fall short on characters, on narrative, (cough, Michael Bay, cough) as although films are primarily a visual medium, they are also an empathic and storytelling vehicle as well – those images move, they’re not static like a canvas. However this still leaves me really struggling with this one, having given both the film and all of Herzog’s associated comments a shot I must admit humiliating defeat – I just didn’t care about Woyzeck and given his final treatment of others I’m not sure I supposed to. I prefer the Werner Herzog realms of mad dreamers and isolated idols to his mournful migration of lives crushed by social and cognitive bureaucracy. I’m clutching at straws maybe but some of the minutiae of turn of the century rural life is handsomely mounted, and he has the same fine eye for the odd detail that those American fictions also hold, and at a brisk 80 minutes it shouldn’t totally waste a viewing session.
What I have found fascinating as part of this entire season is the contextual context of the so-called German New Wave, a fascinating film movement that Herzog was unwittingly an instrumental member. The sphere of German arts was shell-shocked for many years by the Nazi atrocities, and any artist poking his head above the parapet would be beheaded to have the temerity to say anything like a human statement given his countries grievous recent history. This situation was exacerbated by that remorseless concrete and barbwire brisling wall that bisected Berlin, a potent symbol of oppression and division which you’d have thought would be imbued with all sorts of metaphoric and artistic energy. Cinematically speaking it was only in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that a coherent cultural force emerged, powered by the wunderlust of Wim Wenders, the amphetamine powered anger of the astoundingly prolific Fassbinder, and of course the lunatic visions of our very own Werner as the three main pillars to an ferocious film movement, willing to gaze directly into the guilty past and forge a vision ahead. Other, less known figures such as Volker Schlöndorff also mannaed the garrisons and I must admit to knowing little of his work other than the breakthrough The Tin Drum which was something of an art-house cross-over hit back in 1979, storming Cannes and capturing the first German accolade in over thirty years. So here are some further contextual diatribes, it never fails to amuse me that every indigenous filmmaker is almost always seduced by Hollywood to at least craft one English language film with the studios backing, unless they fully decant to California like Verhoeven, like Polanski did or the Scott brothers, or just flirt with the system like Louis Malle, Truffaut or even arch-miserablists like Haneke and Bergman. A watch list for the German New Wave is helpfully provided by our friends at Criterion here, next we’ll be getting nippy with Nosferatu;