Masters Of Cinema Part 1: Werner Herzog
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xQyQnXrLb0 Movies do not change anythingWerner Herzog says calmly into the microphone surrounded by the scarlet and black colours of Qtv radios studio. The interviewer, Jian Ghomeshi, is momentarily stunned and repeats Herzogs statement in search of an explanation. Ghomeshis surprise is understandable. In front of him sits arguably one of the most respected directors alive today, so much so, his films are considered some of the finest in recent film history by cinema goers and critics alike. However, Herzogs statement is, as always, no off the cuff remark. He effortlessly articulates his point in his distinct and captivating German accent. The point he makes in regard to one of his more recent films Into the Abyss (a film about the death penalty in the United States) is that the notion that films can evoke effective change is exaggerated and change can only come about through political debate and media outlets, such as discussions on radio shows rather than from films loaded with an ideology; such as the ridiculous The Life of David Gale. Instead Herzog goes to extreme lengths to paint a whole picture for his audience, rather than merely colouring in a single section and claiming there is simply nothing more to see. This unwavering sense in order to present a true account is the beauty of Herzog. This can be seen in so many if not, to some degree, all of his films regardless of the subject or theme. No stone is left unturned. Like other masters of cinema, Herzog goes to extreme lengths to bring this 360-degree look at each of his characters and subjects, traveling all corners of the globe to reinforce the film or documentary. If the film requires dragging a steamboat over an isthmus in the Peruvian Rainforest then so be it he would say perhaps. This could explain Herzogs decision to shoot the film Fitzcarraldo in Peru instead of a generic rainforest. However, when using the word decision I am not being entirely truthful. There is no decision being made, Herzog simply does according to his vision of truth. The result though is spectacular, as is evident in Fitzcarraldo, let alone any of his other works. During the film we follow the rubber baron Brian Sweeny Fitzcarraldo (played by the sublime yet self-destructive Klaus Kinski), whose passion, no, reason for being is to build an opera house in the middle of the rainforest. As the film develops we see Fitzcarraldo and his crew manoeuvre a steamboat down the hazardous rapids of the Ucayali River, a feat actually done in the film, without using any special effects I might add. Yes Im talking to you Michael Bay. The feeling is distinct; Herzog is not pretending to follow in the mad footsteps of Fitzcarraldo as he travels down the river and ultimately hauls the same steamboat up an isthmus. No instead Herzog becomes the very madman he is making the film about. Sticking with the theme of men chasing insane dreams we come to the tour de force that is Aguirre the Wrath of God. Released in 1972 in Herzogs native Germany it is a film still revered by many today. The feature drops us in the middle of a conquistador expedition in search of the fabled city of El Dorado, the city of gold, of which Lope de Aguirre the titular character (again played by Kinski) is a member. Throughout the course of the film we see Aguirres decent into madness as his dream of finding the mythical city begins to evaporate before his eyes. As members of the expedition fall to Peruvian Indians Aguirre, the sole survivor continues to believe in his fantasy of power and wealth to the extent that he considers marrying his own daughter in order to create a pure dynasty that will wrest power from the Spanish crown. Considering the film was shot on location and that the film contains some truly stunning examples of Herzogs ability as a film maker; such as the scenes towards the end of the film not to mention the captivating opening sequence, it is incredible to think that the films total budget was only $370,000. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtbP5fWB_hA Aguirre, the wrath of God was a landmark film for Herzog, not only because its an amazing example of cinema, but it also has the distinction of being the first film, that sees Herzog collaborating with Kinski. Although the two did not work together prior to Aguirre, the wrath of God, the two had once lived together in an apartment in Munich, which they shared with several other people. It was in this apartment where Herzog was first exposed to Kinskis now infamous outbursts, which would put Christian Bale to shame. During one of these said outbursts Kinski would become berserk-like, threatening those around him verbally and in some cases even physically. This was the case during the filming of Aguirre, the wrath of God where Kinski, furious at the noise coming from one of the film crews tents actually fired several bullets at the tent, one of which took off the tip of one of the extras fingers. Another example of Kinskis outlandish outbursts, which can be seen in the clip below, was caught on camera during the filming of the previously mentioned Fitzcarraldo and shows just how exhausting working with Kinksi must have been. However, what stands out most for me is not the frantic, swearing Kinski, but instead his response to Herzog towards the end of the clip where Herzog asks Kinski to join him in order to discuss the upcoming shoot. In the moment Herzog finishes his sentence Kinski appears calm and subdued like a dog returning to his master. I would say that this is the brilliance of Herzog summed up with only a few seconds of film, in that even when faced with such a difficult person to work with, he is able to time and time again bring Kinski back to the task at hand and draw out arguably Kinskis best performances on screen. Years later after Kinskis death Herzog would remark that Kinski did 205 s**** films, but in my films he is really magnificent, a point many, Im sure, would agree with. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPKODzv1PD4 It is almost impossible to understand exactly what thoughts dance wildly in Herzogs mind as he shoots his films, but a glimpse into his way of thinking is evident in a number of his painstakingly and wonderfully crafted documentaries. A powerful and terrifying example of Herzogs ability as a documentary film director can be seen in the feature Echoes from a Sombre Empire, a film delving into the dark world of the short lived Central African Empire and its self-proclaimed Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa I who spent a quarter of his countrys budget, approximately 20 million U.S dollars, on his very own coronation ceremony. The tragedy reflected in the film is, admittedly, partially about the money wasted by this insane dictator, but is complete when one considers that one of Africas own sons would return their nation to the idea of empire, which had held parcels of the continent in binds, sometimes with devastating consequences. One could justifiably argue that Herzogs greatest film is also a documentary, a notion I would be partial to. Naturally the film I am speaking of is 2005s heart wrenching Grizzly Man. I could very easily return to the theme of men pursuing insane dreams or ideals when I write about Timothy Treadwell, the subject of the movie. However, I wish to examine arguably Herzogs finest film through the theme of the unforgiving world of nature and humanities ultimate separation from it. From early on in the film the audience is aware that Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were attacked and killed by a grizzly bear in Katmai National park, Alaska, but Herzog makes the conscious decision to tell Treadwells story rather than focus only on his death and in doing so uncovers his skill as a film maker, which Herzog praises during the course of the movie, in particular his ability of improvisation in front of the camera. To many, including myself, Treadwells actions seem so grossly unnatural and that is because in some way it is. We as humans have become separated from the wild of other animals and that we cannot simply expect people like Treadwell to coexist with dangerous animals; such as bears and come out unscathed. However, the powerful piece of filmmaking was only made possible through Herzogs efforts to make a dignified documentary about the life of Treadwell. Literally hours of Treadwells tape recordings were examined by Herzog in order to find the best examples of Treadwells abilities as a film maker and the end results are worthy sights to behold, from the savage exchange between two bears to the playful antics of Treadwell and the foxes, all selected moments are intense and meaningful. Herzog though does not stop there, coupled with the incredible images he delves further into the mind-set of Treadwell by interviewing people close to him. One of these interviews produces the films most haunting scene where Herzog listens to the audio recording from when Treadwell and Huguenard were mauled to death by a grizzly. Herzog is left shocked and urges the owner of the recording, Jewel Palovak, to never listen to the tape and compels her to destroy it. This is Herzog at his strongest, even with faced with a piece, which could no doubt give a deeper insight into the final moments of Treadwells life, Herzog refuses outright to use it and wishes to instead present Treadwell as a complex individual, who should have some degree of dignity in death, even though Herzog himself called Treadwell a man with a death wish. Despite creating a true example of excellence in cinema in Grizzly Man Herzog did not receive an Academy Award, let alone a nomination for possibly his magnum opus. Shocking, as it may be Herzog has only been nominated for one Academy Award for another documentary Encounters at the End of the World in 2009, proving perhaps that the worlds most recognised award system is indeed a complete farce. Fortunately Herzog has received numerous awards in the past, particularly from European film awards, including a BAFTA for Fitzcarraldo. So as this piece draws to a close a feeling of underrepresentation overwhelms me, because as much as I could write I could never hope to capture Herzogs almost god given talent as a director. Therefore I leave the final words to BBC film cirtic Mark Kermode. If the universe genuinely is completely random and without order behind it, how come it can produce something so beautiful as the films of Werner Herzog. Who do you consider to be one of the Masters Of Cinema and also what is your favourite Herzog film? Oh and if you have not seen a Herzog filmwhat is wrong with you? Watch one NOW!