Aguirre, The Wrath of God
Dense tropical jungle, violent river rapids, hostile natives, hundreds of screaming monkeys, and one man's decent into megalomania and madness. Aguirre, The Wrath of God, is one of Herzog's most hallucinatory and disturbing films. Filmed in the remote Peruvian rainforest Aguirre, The Wrath of God was Herzog's first collaboration with the notoriously volatile actor Klaus Kinski.
With Kinski, Herzog created his greatest and most anarchic rebel of them all. Aguirre is a Spanish Conquistador who travels down the Amazon River in search of the lost city of gold, El Dorado. Over the course of the film, Aguirre assumes command of the expedition by murdering and manipulating his fellow conquistadors. As they drift further and further down the river, Aguirre descends further into madness eventually becoming obsessed with power and claiming himself the 'Wrath of God'. It's Aguirre's descent into madness and megalomania that propels his obsessions with power and domination to reaching god-like illusion.Continue Reading
Encounters at the End of the World
It’s an uncontestable fact that Werner Herzog is the greatest living director. His latest documentary Encounters at the End of the World may not be as cathartic or controversial as his dramatic features, but it validates Herzog’s ability to personalize every film that he directs with the creation of hypnotic, surreal images, images that despite their otherworldliness symbolize a litany of urgent, undeniable truths. The most famous of these are the 360-ton steamship being pulled over a hill in the Amazon rainforest in Fitzcarraldo, as well as the dancing chicken and interminable ski-lift ride in the finale of Stroszek. People who have seen multiple Herzog films walk away with images they hold personally to them, like amulets; for me it’s Kaspar Hauser standing immobile in the village square clutching a letter that he can’t read. Only a director like Herzog could go to edge of the planet and make a film that is idiosyncratic.
Herzog and his cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger (his DP for the majority of his films since Gesualdo) received a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program to travel to Antarctica for several months to shoot footage for a documentary. The director seems to express ambivalence at the beginning of the film about his suitability for the subject, saying that he’s not interested in making a movie about “fluffy penguins.” Ironically, he ends up shooting some of the cutest baby and mommy seal footage I’ve ever seen. It eventually becomes apparent that Herzog’s focus is not so much the landscape as it is the modern day explorers who have come to study the frozen continent. The bleak landmass has become a magnet to a millenarian mixture of scientists, engineers, cooks, survival experts, and ice terrain vehicle drivers who believe that the secret of the earth’s future, and perhaps demise, is hidden in the landscape and wildlife of this frozen desert. Herzog compares these people driven to the end of the map by their dreams to adventurers like Ernest Shackleton and Roald Admundsen, forsaking comfort and civilization to be near the Unnameable.Continue Reading
Even Dwarfs Started Small
There are some films that are so disturbing and bizarre that you can’t rationally explain them, you just have to experience it for yourself. Even Dwarfs Started Small is precisely one of those films. But seeing I love this film so much I’m going to try to describe it to the best of my ability.
Even Dwarfs Started Small, Werner Herzog’s second feature film, is about a group of dwarfs confined to an isolated institution of sorts. At the film’s start, the dwarfs find themselves left unattended at the institution they are confined to. The dwarfs feel unhappy and trapped in their surroundings and decide to rebel against their authorities. Over the course of the film, the dwarfs destroy anything they can get their hands on at the institution. The rebellion escalates to absurd and disturbing levels as the film approaches its bizarre and hysterical conclusion.Continue Reading
Not to downplay this movie, because it’s wonderful, but the prime reason to see it is Werner Herzog, who, if you didn’t already know, is absolutely hilarious. Reason number two is that this is the only American film that is classified as a Dogma film under the Dogme 95 criteria. Whether you think the movement is a pretentious load of bull or not is irrelevant. The requirements, while altered I’m sure, are a welcome change in terms of the crystal-clear hoopla thrills that we’re used to. This film employs an array of interesting techniques and improvisational performances that should not be missed.
The story follows a schizophrenic young-adult named Julien (Ewen Bremner), and his dysfunctional family. His brother Chris (Evan Neumann) is a high-school wrestler who aims to please their domineering father; his sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny) is mousy individual who is pregnant with Julien’s child; and their father is an impatient bully who you find yourself siding with anyways. Oh, and there’s grandma (Joyce Korine), but she’s kind of like a prop. The entire movie is shot with grainy film stock (possibly 16mm), and is presented in a way that resembles a crazy reality TV show. Julien can be seen hanging out with his handicapped friends, mumbling to himself or others on the street, cross-dressing around the house, etc. The most memorable and heart-breaking of his activities are his phone calls to his deceased mother. He sits in one room, while his sister is in another, and they have conversations over the telephone where she pretends to be their mother. Obviously this is not good for his condition, but it also is one of the few moments that allows you to understand that he has good intentions and is simply lonely.Continue Reading
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see Buckwheat from Our Gang wash the back of his holiness the Pope with a scrub brush in a stand-alone bathtub in the middle of the woods? Has the idea of witnessing Moe, Curly and Larry shoot a flock of diseased goats ever cross your mind? Or perhaps, getting a bird’s eye view of several nuns free falling through the atmosphere during an impromptu skydiving trip? If so, Mister Lonely is the film for you.
Mister Lonely is the story of a shy Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) living and dancing his way through the streets of Paris. While performing at a retirement home, Michael comes into contact with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton). The two have lunch at which point Marilyn invites Michael to accompany her to a commune inhabited by celebrity impersonators located in the Highlands of Scotland. At first, Michael is apprehensive. But the beautiful and very uncanny Monroe impersonator convinces him to join her. Michael gathers his things in a scene, which in my opinion, is the embodiment of the entire film. Never has a moment in a film where a character interacts with furniture ever make me feel the way in which this particular (and peculiar) scene did.Continue Reading
The tough-minded vision of a master filmmaker fighting the odds to bring his vision to the screen has made for some truly memorable documentaries over the years. The almost mad mavericks Francis Ford Coppola directing Apocalypse Now in Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse and Werner Herzog’s epic struggle to make Fitzcarraldo in Burden Of Dreams - the documentaries are almost as good as the films themselves. Another interesting film is Lost In La Mancha which chronicles Terry Gilliam's attempt to get the unbearable looking The Man Who Killed Don Quixote started and completed, the latter never happened. These are three men devoted to filmmaking with grand goals. The documentary Overnight is about another filmmaker, Troy Duffy, trying to get his first film, The Boondock Saints, made. Unfortunately for this maniacal egomaniac his visions are mostly about himself and how cool his sunglasses are.
Back in the '90s Harvey Weinstein and his film company, Miramax Pictures, were riding a wave of good fortune and good will after making an overnight sensation out of a video store clerk turned happening director/screenwriter, Quentin Tarantino. Suddenly everybody had a script ready to go and were ready to be discovered by Weinstein. Unfortunately, it also made Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction two of the most imitated films of their day. Hip dudes spewing cool dialog and then nonchalantly taking part in extreme violence and gunplay. (Does anyone want to sit through Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, Very Bad Things, Love & A .45, The Salton Sea or 2 Days In The Valley again?) One of the worst Tarantino clones was The Boondock Saints. Overnight is the story of how The Boondock Saints' production was hot, then cold, and then barely got made.Continue Reading
There are multiple attitudes through which one can examine the film Radio On. It’s another example of the phenomenon of a film critic becoming a director. Christopher Petit was the editor for the film section of Time Out London from 1973 to 1978, and though he never achieved the notoriety of the Nouvelle Vague directors who once wrote for Cahiers du Cinema, his film career has turned out far better then Roger Ebert (who penned the script for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) or Susan Sontag (who lost some of her critical credibility for the ill received Duet for Cannibals). Radio On is also a unique British-German coproduction, written and directed by an Englishman, but produced and shot by two Germans, Wim Wenders and Wenders’ ubiquitous cameraman Martin SchÃ¤ffer. The art direction of the film is best compared to David Bowie’s album cover for Low, no coincidence considering Bowie’s “Heroes/Helden” is the song that starts the film. Actually, Radio On might one day be added to the list of films that will be better remembered for their soundtrack’s significance than the film’s cinematic merit. The film makes prominent use of hipster favorites like Kraftwerk, Ian Dury, and Devo, and includes a cameo from Sting in one of his first roles. Now Sting is not a hipster favorite, and probably never will be after boasting of his tantric exploits to multiple media outlets while promoting his adult contemporary hit “Desert Rose” in a slick Jaguar commercial. That doesn’t mean that we should forget Sting is a gifted actor, his performance in Brimstone & Treacle being a particular favorite.
It’s perfunctory to synopsize the plot in any film review, but here it seems somewhat irrelevant. A factory DJ drives to Bristol to investigate the mysterious death of his brother, but the plot is only a pretext for long periods of listening to the radio broadcasting the hip music and chaotic news reports of Northern Ireland bloodshed and conservative outrage that prevailed in Thatcherite England, as well as to look out the window at the excellently photographed landscapes. Once the DJ arrives in Bristol he becomes distracted by a German woman (Lisa Kreuzer) looking for her five-year-old daughter, Alice. This is a clumsy attempt by Wenders to expand the narrative of one of his own characters from his 1974 film Alice in the Cities, where Kreuzer plays a woman who abandons her daughter nine-year-old daughter of the same name. Wenders tries to create an impromptu prequel and belatedly illuminate the viewers of his previous film that Alice’s mother had once traveled to England to search for the child she would subsequently abandon. Considering Radio On is so sensitive to the politics and music of the decade it occupies, it was unwise of Wenders to ignore the glaring asynchronicity of Alice being five in 1980 and nine in 1974.Continue Reading
Signs of Life
Signs of Life is Werner Herzog’s first feature, and it is also my personal favorite out of all his films. In Signs of Life Herzog introduces many of the themes and techniques he would elaborate upon with each successive film. His cast of rebellious misfit characters, the remote exotic locations, and his hauntingly poetic images are all introduced and fully utilized in this film.
Signs of Life is the story of a soldier who is wounded during a war and reassigned to a remote Greek island with his wife and two fellow soldiers. Their task is to guard a useless munitions dump in a ruined fortress located next to the harbor in a small village. In an attempt to escape his feelings of entrapment, Stroszek goes out on a patrol of the bordering hills where he is gripped by madness at the site of something he sees over the horizon. This encounter drives Stroszek to madness propelling him to lock himself away in the fortress and declare war on both man and nature.Continue Reading
Stroszek is the story of a man living in a world where he doesn't fit in. The film’s lead character, Stroszek, is a 45-year old German street musician who lacks the common everyday living and social skills that it takes to get by in life. At the beginning of the film Stroszek is released from prison after serving time for flagrancy and public drunkenness. With his new found freedom he goes straight into a bar and orders a beer. This is where we first meet another social misfit and friend of Stroszek, the prostitute Eva. As Stroszek adjusts to his new life he begins to encounter the harshness of the outside world. Eva’s pimp begins to terrorize and abuse her for what appears to be the mere fun of it. Stroszek, Eva, and Stroszek’s senile neighbor Scheitz, unable to defend themselves, decide to leave the country and sail to America, the land of opportunity.
With the promise of work and a place to live the three of them make their way to Wisconsin to live with a long lost relative of Scheitz. The journey is exciting and promising as they arrive in New York City, and their arrival in Wisconsin is even more joyous. Stroszek gets a job working in a mechanics’ garage, Eva gets a job as a waitress at a local truck stop, and with a loan from the bank they buy a deluxe mobile home with all the modern amenities. All is happy in the world for the moment, but Stroszek soon begins to worry when bank payments they can’t afford start coming in. The situation then goes from bad to worse for Stroszek who eventually reaches the end of his rope in a dingy diner located on a small Indian Reservation. This is where the film reaches it emotional and bizarre conclusion.Continue Reading