Tag Archives: Werner Herzog

XL Popcorn – Stroszek

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 770/1007Title: Stroszek
Director: Werner Herzog
Year: 1977
Country: Germany

Hard to believe it but, with Stroszek watched, that’s now it for Werner Herzog films on the 1001 list. Four and he is done, which means that it may be a long time becpfore I end up seeing Grizzly Man. It’s actually a bit strange to have Stroszek as the final Herzog film I’ve seen for the list as it follows very few of the tropes that I have come to know.

For one, this is the first film of his (other than a short documentary) that I have seen that does not have Klaus Kinski in it. Also, this is the first one that actually takes place in present day rather than being some sort of period piece. Given those two things, and that it played as a bleak tragicomedy, Stroszek means that I have had to widen my understanding of what makes a Herzog film. Of course that means  he is now in the extensive list of film makers that I need to become more acquainted with once I have finished this beginners class in world cinema that is the 1001 list.

Compared to the other Herzog films I’ve seen, Stroszek tells a comparatively small story of man with addiction and emotional issues getting released from jail and then struggling to cope in a world that he isn’t really equipped to deal with. Doesn’t help that his compatriots for the film are his neighbour (who is later revealed to be some conspiracy nut) and a prosititute who is being beaten up by her pimps. Really, to little wonder things go south – even when they leave Berlin to try and forge a new life in Wisconsin.

It isn’t all doom and gloom though. Being a tragicomedy, there are some  humorous parts and some sections that are downright absurd. For example, the sideshow that Stroszek visits at the end of the film with its dancing chicken and fire engine riding rabbit – this absurdity is kicked up a notch given its appearance at the film’s emotional nadir. Given the weird emotional palate of the film, praise really has to be given to amateur actor Bruno S. in the title role. He manages to bring a likability to a character that many would have struggled to inspire emotions outside of pity and derision.

Originally today I was going to watch The Great Escape butsince listening to the final 1977 songs for the 1001 list took so long, I kinda ran out of time. My hope is that I’ll finally get around to that film in the next week or so. Given its status as an honorary Christmas film in the UK, I really should have seen it by now.

XL Popcorn – Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 742/1007Title: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu the Vampyre)
Director: Werner Herzog
Year: 1979
Country: Germany

Three years and 170 films later, it’s time for me to get back to the world of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski – this time in their native Germany rather than the jungles of South America. Yes, in many ways Nosferatu as a film is a very different beast to the other Herzogs that I have seen for the list – but in others it feels like a welcome return to his obsessive, grand and tension-laced filmography.

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht came about because of Herzog’s eagerness to do his own remake of F. W. Murnau’s 1922 German silent classic Nosferatu (which I saw many many moons ago). Back then the story of Dracula was still under copyright, so a number of details were changed in order to avoid legal troubles; which failed because they didn’t change enough to avoid a lawsuit that demanded the destruction of all prints.

By some miracle we still have prints, and now digitally updated versions, of this silent classic – thus enabling Herzog to make his own version. In making this, Herzog walks down a dangerous line of paying homage to this classic film whilst trying to make it undeniably his own. Then again, this is Werner Herzog we’re talking about – so of course he’s able to make a success of it.

Whilst updated slightly, the make-up work and the overall creepy feel of the titular character of Nosferatu is almost the same as the original. Similarly, Herzog creates carbon copies of certain scenes from the 1922 original that gave me such an incredible sense of déjà vu. Then there are the shots and tropes that both films have which have become such a staple of vampire films that it’s unclear it’s done in homage or because this is just how films based on the Dracula story are done.

However, one thing that Herzog’s (and by extension Klaus Kimski’s portrayal of) Nosferatu has a weird element of humanity to it. Sure, this character is undeniably on the evil end of the morality spectrum – but I’ve never seen a depiction of Dracula where you feel sorry for him. The way he seeks after Lucy (Isabelle Adjani showing the icon that she came to be) isn’t done out of bloodlust – but he actually wants some weird form of love that his immortality has denied him.

This adds up to a final death scene (not exactly a spoiler that Dracula is vanquished in the end) that is highly ambiguous. My husband viewed it as the more traditional vanquishing of evil done by the book of him being distracted by sucking the blood of a young maiden. I, on the other hand, saw it as an act of assisted suicide with him being an almost willing participent. Not sure how many other view it that way (and this might be down to my own issues…) but it makes for an interesting take.

The whole film is told on the grand scale that makes me want to see more of Herzog’s work. It’s been said that he brings a Wagnerian scale to his characters and stories, with the huge cast of rats and the way he took an entire town square in the Netherlands to show the levels of devastation caused by the visiting vampire it’s hard to disagree with this. Thankfully this is not I’ll be seeing of his work before finishing the list – that would be Stroszek, which sounds like nothing I’ve ever seen from Herzog.

XL Popcorn – Fitzcarraldo

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 572/1007
Title: Fitzcarraldo
Director: Werner Herzog
Year: 1982
Country: Germany

Thanks to the world of Comedy Bang Bang (and my comedy crush Paul F. Tompkins) I find it hard to take Werner Herzog too seriously. Prior to seeing Fitzcarraldo my only true exposure to a Herzog feature film was Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Both deal with obsession, both are set in South America and both feature Klaus Kinski as… interesting characters.

Now the relationship between Herzog and Kinski was interesting. Actually that’s an understatement: it was fucked up. It got so bad on set that the chief of the native tribe that Herzog hired as extras actually offered to have Kinski killed. And yet, without Kinski’s amazing portrayal as the opera-obsessed failed railway magnate Fitzcarraldo this film would not be as nuanced and engrossing as it was. In fact his behaviour probably helped bring a lot of the tension to the scenes where otherwise it would have felt fake.

Fitzcarraldo is famous for one particular thing: the characters decide to pull a 300 ton steamboat up and over a hill/mountain. The ridiculous thing? They actually did it for the film. However, this part of the film was actually a lot smaller than I expected. For a two hour twenty minute film there was about 90 minutes of build up before this idea is even explicitly stated by Kinski’s character.

The actual act itself doesn’t take long in film minutes, but the whole sequence is arduous and gorgeously shot (in fact the whole film is beautifully shot; I can see why Herzog would want to return to the Amazon for another film). Trees are felled, cliffs are blown up, people are crushed –  it’s actually gruelling.

As experiences go the sheer over the topness of Fitzcarraldo is very much operatic, which is why Kinski’s love of opera really works as a framing device. Apart from a criminally underused Claudia Cardinale there is a lot in this film to keep you engrossed for 150 minutes. I kinda wish there was a jaguar mauling though… and I may be alone with that thought.