Posts Tagged ‘Werner Herzog’

Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer (2022)

Wri/Dir: Thomas von Steinaecker | With: Werner Herzog, Chloe Zhao, Joshua Oppenheimer, Patti Smith, Robert Pattinson, Carl Weathers, Wim Wenders, Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman | Volker Schlondorff | Klaus Kinski, Lotte Eisner | Doc Germany 102′:

Sometimes a question has to be asked that brings to mind what Bernard MacLaverty called the ‘elephant in the room.’ That is – who is a documentary like this for?

If you know Werner Herzog as a writer/director you will most likely find this film a slight trifle that only skims the surface of one of the most mythologised filmmakers, who is still with us. If, on the other hand, you know Herzog from his appearances on animated series and roles in such examples of America’s Movie Industrial Complex like The Mandalorian or Jack Reacher (as fun as they are) then this documentary will be an introduction to what Socrates meant when he claimed ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ in the sense that, in the last fifteen years, Herzog has turned from an unique filmmaker who gave us visions of the imagined to a Pop Culture behemoth that at times touches on self parody; most definitely examined and lived in.

Radical Dreamer follows the 81-year-young filmmaker in LA and on a pilgrimage to the family home where he grew up. With a short running time the origin story is merely glimpsed as we focus on the stories that it seems everyone knows: the walk across Europe to save the life of Lotte Eisner (which Herzog detailed in his book Of Walking In Ice) and the lunacy of Klaus Kinski (which is better detailed in Herzog’s own 1999 documentary My Best Fiend).

One of the usual choices the director Thomas von Steinaecker makes is the selection of talking heads, half with German speakers and half with Anglo-Saxons. It is perhaps no surprise that the English speakers don’t really impart anything of interest and some of the choices are damn right bizarre, Carl Weathers, for example, who shared a scene with Herzog in The Mandalorian and the filmmaker Chloé Zhao. The German speakers have far more insight, and for that we could have stayed with them longer. They include Wim Wenders; two of Herzog’s brothers; his first wife and Volker Schlöndorff.

I think we need to look at this film as a primer, a ‘greatest hits’ package; if you will. It is certainly part of a media blitz that includes the release of his autobiography, a retrospective at the BFI Southbank and the re-issue at the cinema of some of his great films from the 70s. I do feel though that the films Herzog made in the 70s had a sense of mystery, and that he too seems an enigma: half holy fool and half the foremost example of his acclaimed ecstatic truth concept.

Back in the 70s, making those ethnographic hybrids (are they fiction, documentary or myth?) was a much younger man’s game and eventually, like all great artists, Herzog pivoted away from them and reimagined himself as a documentarian. His fiction films go to places that are undiscovered until he returns in documentary form to explore his claim that nature is uncaring and a devil’s fortress. @D_W_Mault

WERNER HERZOG: RADICAL DREAMER is in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on 19 January and on BFI Player and Blu-ray on 19 February. BFI Southbank’s retrospective season, JOURNEYS INTO THE UNKNOWN – FILMS BY WERNER HERZOG, runs throughout January.

Nashville (1975) Robert Altman Retrospective

Dir.: Rosbert Altman; Cast: Karen Black, Keith Carradine, Henry Gibson. Geraldine Chaplin, Lily Tomlin, Keenan Wynn, Ronee Blakley, Barbara Harris, Scott Glennon, Shelley Duvall, David Hayword, Gwen Welles, Barbara Baxley, David Peel; USA 1975; 160′.

Nashville, undoubtedly director Robert Altman’s greatest feature, was scripted by Joan Tewkesbury and shot by Paul Lohmann: it is still, 26 years later, a magnificent portrait of the American South.

Set in Nashville, Tennessee, is tells the stories of stars, drifters and wanna-bee singers, all fascinated by country music and unaware of anything political going on: the most important agitator is never seen during the Presidential primaries for 1976 election: Hal Philip Walker, an early Donald Trump version, candidate and founder of the radical right ‘Replacement Party’, sends his PR man on a mission to win over musicians for his campaign.

Twenty-four central characters pass the baton around, the playing field gradually growing until violent fragments destroy nearly everyone’s life. Barbara Jean (Blakley) is the archetypal Loretta Young type, mismanaged by her punitive husband, living in her own world, even if on stage – but still remaining the ‘Queen Bee’.

Rival Connie White (Black) makes a good enough stand-in after Barbara, just recovered from treatment on the East-Coast for a burn treatment, has lost it completely in front of a bewildered audience. Singer and promoter Haven Hamilton (Gibson) had opened proceedings with his recording of “We must have done something right to last 200 Years” hymn on the United States. Hamilton is upset with his son Bud (Peel), who has hired the “wrong” pianist. Haven breaks off the session and tells the pianist: “Get a haircut, you do not belong in Nashville”. His companion Lady Pearl (Baxley) is certainly living in the past: she had had worked for the Kennedy brothers in the 1960s and 1968 elections, and can’t get over her frustration about Nixon winning Tennessee by a small margin over JFK in 1960.

Then there is Tom Frank (Carradine) a narcissistic womaniser and singer – Carradine would win the only Oscar for Nashville, for his original song. Tom spends all day and night in bed, inviting women to join him. One of them is Linnea Reese (Tomlin, in her debut), a mother of two deaf children and member of a Gospel Choir. Also to be found between his sheets is BBC reporter Opal (G. Chaplin), who makes the most inappropriate racial comments when interviewing members of the music scene. When she visits a disused car lot, her take on this hyperbole is more suited for the millennium.

Two women try their luck as newcomers: Albuquerque (Harris) is running away from a husband, and trying to get a debut as a singer. She has no idea how her wish will eventually become reality. Sueleen Gay (Welles) is a waitress, who in spite being tone-deaf, tries her luck as a singer: The rowdy audience cajoles her into stripping. There is a quartet of more lowkey participants, led by Mr. Green (Wynn), who is looking after his dying wife in hospital. His niece Joan (Duvall) is an incompetent groupie who never gets to see her aunt or meets the musicians. A uniformed soldier (Glennon) is lurking around Barbara Jean during most of the film, we fear the worst, but the shots at the ending are fired by smart and pleasant Kenny (Hayward).

Nashville is a kaleidoscope of celebrity fandom showcasing the early stages of political manipulating through culture. Haven Hamilton has been given the nod to become the next Governor of the State if he supports Walker. But the drifters and onlookers are given equal screen time for their shattered dreams. A marvellous script which is acted out by a stellar ensemble cast. Nashville remains the benchmark for everything following in its wake. AS


Dear Werner – Walking on Cinema (2020) Seville Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Pablo Maqueda; Documentary narrated by Werner Herzog; Spain 2020, 80 min.

Spain’s Pablo Maqueda travels in the footsteps of Werner Herzog in this filmic foray that serves both as a tribute to the veteran’s 60 years in filmmaking and a study of the touchstones that brought it all to life.

The documentary is based on Herzog’s own diaries (Walking on Ice) that chronicle a winter journey in 1974, when the veteran filmmaker grabbed “a jacket, a compass, and a canvas bag of essentials” and set out on foot from Munich to Paris to visit his friend Lotte Eisner who was on her last legs – but in the end survived another decade.

The writer, critic, co-founder of the Cinematheque Francaise and ‘mother’ of New German Cinema was seriously ill, and Herzog hoped if he reached her apartment in the rue des Capucines, Eisner would recover and continue to be a fountain of knowledge for him and other young German filmmakers. The trip was a success on all fronts.

Dear Werner takes the form of a prologue, seven chapters and an epilogue, Herzog re-wrote some of his diary records, and narrated. “The book started out as a simple travel itinerary which led me deeper and deeper into Herzog’s filmography. Then I realised there was a film, in a sense, that wold talk about me through him and his cinema”. Maqueda echoes Herzog’s own doubts (he first features were slaughtered by the German press), when saying, “by making this film, I aimed to encourage and motivate my fellow filmmakers not to despair and to keep walking”. 

In “Cave of forgotten films”, Maqueda explores a real cave, imagining it as the setting for one of his own stories. He also chances upon in a huge listening device and a ski-jump hill – neither associates well with the nature-orientated images which dominate the film. Suddenly we see bears roaming around, only to discover they are actually behind the fences of a nature resort.

After crossing the border to France, Marqueda visits the War Cemetery in Charmes, and later monuments to Jean d’Arc. A chapter on Eisner’s history follows: she had to flee Germany when the Nazis came to power, but ended up nevertheless in a Camp in France, whence she fled. The future director of the Cinematheque Henri Langlois asked Eisner to hide some valuable German expressionist and Russian revolutionary films in the countryside, fearing their destruction. This meant Eisner had to refrain from lighting fires during her ordeal, the nitro material being highly inflammable,

When Herzog arrived in Paris a fortnight before Christmas 1974, he was so elated he asked the recovering Eisner to: “Open the window, from these last days onwards, I can fly”.

Dear Werner is a love letter to the German veteran and the cinema he represents. Maqueda comes over as a diligent pupil, sometimes waxing hagiographic about his idol – but then, so was Herzog when it came to Murnau. Maqueda presupposes his audience is as knowledgeable as he is about Herzog’s canon. And those new to the party may well miss some allusions. Otherwise, Dear Werner – dedicated by the director to Maqueda’s partner and producer Haizea – is a worthwhile journey. AS


Werner Herzog: Retrospective at Visions du Réel 2019


Visions du Réel, International Film Festival Nyon, will pay tribute to one of the world’s major filmmakers during its 50th edition. It is Werner Herzog who will be awarded the Sesterce d’or Prix Raiffeisen Maître du Réel during the 2019 edition of the Festival (5–13 April 2019). In partnership with the Cinémathèque suisse and the ECAL. The audience will meet the legendary film director at a Masterclass on 9 April and screenings of a selection of films, as well as his latest feature-length film, Meeting Gorbatchev (co-directed with André Singer), will have a Swiss premiere.

Werner Herzog was born in 1942 in Munich, Germany and has been living between the Bavarian capital and Los Angeles since 1984. A leading figure of the post-war New German Cinema, he has directed about 70 films.

Moving freely between different forms and processes, fiction and documentary, as a filmmaker whose approach is as philosophical as it is physical, Herzog constantly aspires to “walk to the ends of the earth” (The Dark Glow of the Mountains). At times omnipresent, at times leaving room for others, between heroism and testing limits (Herakles, his first short film in 1962, or The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner), megalomania (Aguirre, the Wrath of God or Cobra Verde, two of the five films made with the actor Klaus Kinski), and a certain taste for madness and the absurd, the filmmaker explores and surveys beings and places, not without humour or (self)derision (Encounters at the End of the World). Author of more than a dozen prose works, he has worked with Isabelle Adjani, Nicolas Cage, Christian Bale and Nicole Kidman among others and won the award for Best Director at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival for his masterpiece

50th edition of Visions du Réel: 5—13 April 2019 | Werner Herzog in Nyon will be communicated in March 2019.

Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)

Director: Werner Herzog

Script: Werner Herzog

Producer: Werner Herzog

Cast: Klaus Kinski, Cecilia Rivera, Ruy Guerra, Helena Rojo, Del Negro, Peter Berling, Daniel Ades, Armando Polanah, Edward Roland

German                                  93mins                       1972               Drama

A quite extraordinary film and for a great many reasons. From a sketchy idea, Werner Herzog took a bunch of 300 cast and crew up the Amazon to make a film that very nearly did for the cast and crew, through both accident and near starvation.

Based on a true story taken from a diary left by one of the original party, Klaus Kinski gives perhaps his greatest performance as an unhinged Richard III type figure, taking a bunch of conquistadors on a raft deep into uncharted territory, circa 1560, in search of the mythical El Dorado, the City of Gold.

Exploring similar inner territory to Apocalypse Now, with a river trip into darkest recesses of the mind, this film is a slow-burner but very much worth the ride. Towards the end it drew gasps of incredulity from the audience. That’s quite hard to do with a bunch of seasoned movie reviewers.

AGUIRRE was all shot on one camera. A camera Herzog liberated from the soon to be Munich film school, when he was refused the loan of one. The Amazon plays the all-consuming Antagonist of the piece and what an antagonist; the ignorant Spanish explorers are surrounded by unseen tribes that threaten to knock off the unwary traveller. Combined with two fine Ladies of the Court, infighting amongst the group, starvation, a lack of experience or equipment and a large bunch of unwilling slaves and it’s a cocktail for disaster.

Aguirre has hovered in the Top 100 Greatest Films Of All time in several illustrious lists. It’s one of those crazy, legendary shoots you read about from time to time, where, despite quite ridiculous odds, the film gets made, although it perhaps isn’t the film they thought they were making when they first set out.

Kinski is a notoriously difficult actor to work with and it’s said that at several points, the crew were so hungry, Herzog was forced to pawn his own belongings to feed them. Whatever the circumstances, the film is quite brilliant. Perhaps the duress that everyone was under lending itself very genuinely to the end product. The performances are terrific throughout and none more so that the single-minded Kinski as Aguirre, the personification of the Wrath of God.

A truly amazing film, epitomising the filmmaking endeavour of the Seventies and a most welcome reboot to boot. One you watch through your fingers, with a growing sense of horror and incredulity. Nothing like it would ever be attempted now. AR

MY BEST FRIEND, (MEIN BESTER FEIND, 2011), Werner Herzog’s documentary about his  work with KLAUS KINSKI and their outrageous love/hate ralationship, is an interesting companion piece to AGUIRRE providing extraordinary, at times hilarious, comment and footage about the making of the film.
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