Spending a summer watching all of Werner Herzog's film catalog. I blog about other good things at MONDO SEQUIN and I'm also on Twitter.
 I thought Into the Abyss  would kind of like the West Memphis Three documentaries,  but because it’s Herzog (duh) it wasn’t as general and did not sweep over a large amount of time as those do. It’s kind of a microcosm of close, intense, but somewhat unexplored glances at a triple homicide in Conroe, Texas that resulted in one man in prison for life and one executed. For example, and unless i was mistaken, both men convicted of the murders maintained their innocence. i’d like to know why that wasn’t pursued further within the documentary. 
i thought it was interesting seeing Herzog, someone I view as an auteur and oh so very European, interact with these Texan people. I want to know how he got these folks to open up to him. He asks these really great leading questions that get these deep emotional responses, perhaps more emotional than the person answering them expected. I feel like sometimes the subjects are just kind of entertaining the more personal questions that don’t relate to the murders, like when Herzog is asking this good ol’ boy about how he learned how to read the last time the guy was in jail. Clearly Herzog is intrigued about someone learning to read so late in life and how he made it through so far with being illiterate, and it’s also clear the guy doesn’t want to talk about it or go with the super introspective direction Herzog starts taking the conversation. 
This movie is also about the nature of small towns and how shitty they can be, with the cycle of no escape that makes people turn to illegal stuff. I have plenty of family in small towns like Conroe and believe it or not, it is really hard to break out of that life when you’re born into it. Part of me wonders if the Abyss he’s referring to in the title not only has meaning for the wretched path of murder, imprisonment, or execution but also about the insanity that can thrive in little towns everywhere. Plus, the absurdity of the orignal crime that perpetuated the murders doesn’t surprise me in a place like that—the guys wanted to steal a slick car and decided to murder three people to get it. 
In typical Herzog fashion, it’s not an overdone piece. There are aren’t a lot of super extreme dramatic montages or long shots with overbearing music or any narration besides scene chapter titles, just starkness with people talking about their experiences. I think it’s the thing I liked the most about Into the Abyss—he does ask very good questions but the end result of the movie made it seem like he just lets these people talk. And the camera listens. And we listen. I wonder if a lot of these folks, like the retired death row warden, the chaplain, and the woman who was a sister and daughter to two of the victims had ever had a chance to speak their piece about the incident. There’s something that happens when you tell a whole story from your perspective to someone who’s never heard it before, who just wants to listen. I think it brings up different and complicated emotions to retell this whole saga of pain to practically a stranger. 
One a lighter note— one of the best parts that made me laugh a little is when he’s interviewing one of the convicted guys who is complaining about how his parents made him go on an Outward Bound canoeing trip when he was a kid, and how lousy it was being outside with bugs and stuff. He probably had no idea that Herzog spent all that hellish time in jungles making Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God. 
I know all of Herzog’s documentaries aren’t all about the great outdoors, but this is the first one I’ve seen that focuses on human subjects (well, maybe Grizzly Man too). Nature is beautiful and ugly and overwhelming, and I like that he shows that people can be that way too. 

 I thought Into the Abyss  would kind of like the West Memphis Three documentaries,  but because it’s Herzog (duh) it wasn’t as general and did not sweep over a large amount of time as those do. It’s kind of a microcosm of close, intense, but somewhat unexplored glances at a triple homicide in Conroe, Texas that resulted in one man in prison for life and one executed. For example, and unless i was mistaken, both men convicted of the murders maintained their innocence. i’d like to know why that wasn’t pursued further within the documentary. 

i thought it was interesting seeing Herzog, someone I view as an auteur and oh so very European, interact with these Texan people. I want to know how he got these folks to open up to him. He asks these really great leading questions that get these deep emotional responses, perhaps more emotional than the person answering them expected. I feel like sometimes the subjects are just kind of entertaining the more personal questions that don’t relate to the murders, like when Herzog is asking this good ol’ boy about how he learned how to read the last time the guy was in jail. Clearly Herzog is intrigued about someone learning to read so late in life and how he made it through so far with being illiterate, and it’s also clear the guy doesn’t want to talk about it or go with the super introspective direction Herzog starts taking the conversation. 

This movie is also about the nature of small towns and how shitty they can be, with the cycle of no escape that makes people turn to illegal stuff. I have plenty of family in small towns like Conroe and believe it or not, it is really hard to break out of that life when you’re born into it. Part of me wonders if the Abyss he’s referring to in the title not only has meaning for the wretched path of murder, imprisonment, or execution but also about the insanity that can thrive in little towns everywhere. Plus, the absurdity of the orignal crime that perpetuated the murders doesn’t surprise me in a place like that—the guys wanted to steal a slick car and decided to murder three people to get it. 

In typical Herzog fashion, it’s not an overdone piece. There are aren’t a lot of super extreme dramatic montages or long shots with overbearing music or any narration besides scene chapter titles, just starkness with people talking about their experiences. I think it’s the thing I liked the most about Into the Abyss—he does ask very good questions but the end result of the movie made it seem like he just lets these people talk. And the camera listens. And we listen. I wonder if a lot of these folks, like the retired death row warden, the chaplain, and the woman who was a sister and daughter to two of the victims had ever had a chance to speak their piece about the incident. There’s something that happens when you tell a whole story from your perspective to someone who’s never heard it before, who just wants to listen. I think it brings up different and complicated emotions to retell this whole saga of pain to practically a stranger. 

One a lighter note— one of the best parts that made me laugh a little is when he’s interviewing one of the convicted guys who is complaining about how his parents made him go on an Outward Bound canoeing trip when he was a kid, and how lousy it was being outside with bugs and stuff. He probably had no idea that Herzog spent all that hellish time in jungles making Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: The Wrath of God. 

I know all of Herzog’s documentaries aren’t all about the great outdoors, but this is the first one I’ve seen that focuses on human subjects (well, maybe Grizzly Man too). Nature is beautiful and ugly and overwhelming, and I like that he shows that people can be that way too. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, 1974
I’ve heard of the Kaspar Hauser story before—a mysterious boy shows up in Nuremberg in the 1800’s who can only speak one sentence, can barely walk, holds a letter for the local military captain, and can only write his name. The townspeople are baffled, but he’s eventually taken in and cared for, only to die of wounds inflicted by an unknown assailant. 
That’s the story in a nutshell—Herzog’s film is much, much more detailed.  I’ve heard that he attempted to make it very historically accurate, heeding accounts from the incident. Details that make the tale even creepier are included, like how Kaspar was kept in a cellar for seventeen years with only a toy horse as a companion, and how a man in black fed him and taught him how to write. This man is also his attacker, which brought me to wonder if Hauser’s whole life was merely some kind of social experiment? Strange stuff. 
Hauser is brought to life by the actor Bruno S. (last name Schleinstein, but it’s Bruno S. in the credits) and oh man, he’s possible one of my new favorite Herzog actors. Sorry, Kinski. His face is so innocent, almost elfin. Hauser is so stunted socially, Bruno plays him as someone who feels things in an unfiltered way. He weeps at the sound of a piano, but only with tears running down his blank face. He cannot understand that apples aren’t people with their own wills. There’s not really a sense of wonder or gratitude that’s present in films like The Elephant Man, but just a matter-of-fact acceptance of new things. Hauser is eventually taken in by the kindly Herr Daumer, who teaches him to read, write, and play music before his eventual demise.
What surprised me a bit in this film was the presence of comedic elements. How the military officials treat Hauser when he shows up is kind of hilarious, with the captain dictating to the secretary all the nuances of Hauser’s disorders. The secretary is gleeful because there’s going to be such a glorious report. As Hauser waits in a prison while it’s decided what’s to be done with him, members of the public peek at him, one by one. Touches like that makes this film more humane, even though it’s really heartbreaking. It makes me wonder about the intersection of humanity in it’s purest form, untouched by others, and the phenomena of feral children, also untouched.  
I never expected such a touching film from Herzog. I like the unexpected. 

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, 1974


I’ve heard of the Kaspar Hauser story before—a mysterious boy shows up in Nuremberg in the 1800’s who can only speak one sentence, can barely walk, holds a letter for the local military captain, and can only write his name. The townspeople are baffled, but he’s eventually taken in and cared for, only to die of wounds inflicted by an unknown assailant. 

That’s the story in a nutshell—Herzog’s film is much, much more detailed.  I’ve heard that he attempted to make it very historically accurate, heeding accounts from the incident. Details that make the tale even creepier are included, like how Kaspar was kept in a cellar for seventeen years with only a toy horse as a companion, and how a man in black fed him and taught him how to write. This man is also his attacker, which brought me to wonder if Hauser’s whole life was merely some kind of social experiment? Strange stuff. 

Hauser is brought to life by the actor Bruno S. (last name Schleinstein, but it’s Bruno S. in the credits) and oh man, he’s possible one of my new favorite Herzog actors. Sorry, Kinski. His face is so innocent, almost elfin. Hauser is so stunted socially, Bruno plays him as someone who feels things in an unfiltered way. He weeps at the sound of a piano, but only with tears running down his blank face. He cannot understand that apples aren’t people with their own wills. There’s not really a sense of wonder or gratitude that’s present in films like The Elephant Man, but just a matter-of-fact acceptance of new things. Hauser is eventually taken in by the kindly Herr Daumer, who teaches him to read, write, and play music before his eventual demise.

What surprised me a bit in this film was the presence of comedic elements. How the military officials treat Hauser when he shows up is kind of hilarious, with the captain dictating to the secretary all the nuances of Hauser’s disorders. The secretary is gleeful because there’s going to be such a glorious report. As Hauser waits in a prison while it’s decided what’s to be done with him, members of the public peek at him, one by one. Touches like that makes this film more humane, even though it’s really heartbreaking. It makes me wonder about the intersection of humanity in it’s purest form, untouched by others, and the phenomena of feral children, also untouched.  

I never expected such a touching film from Herzog. I like the unexpected. 


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

WERNER: The Minnesota Declaration: Werner Herzog's 12 Rules for Truth in Film

fuckyeahherzog:

1. By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.

2. One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles…

Friday, March 16, 2012
Burden of Dreams, 1982
A documentary about the harrowing filming process of Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo in the jungles of Peru, one could call this a labor of love. But it’s not love that fuel’s Herzog’s obsession to wrap up what most dismissed as a film that could not be finished—I believe it’s Herzog’s trademark obsessiveness that pushed him to put the lives of both actors and crew in danger to complete the project. 
It’s a story about a rubber baron who wants to build an opera house to the rural outskirts of Peru. A romantic notion I think, operatic voices resonating through the jungle. I’m going to do a separate review of Fitzcarraldo later on—but definitely watch it prior to this documentary. Basically all involved were charged with the task of pushing a steamship over a small mountain—a feat within itself.
 Les Blank and his crew braved the elements, the madness of Kinski, and strained relations with Indian actors to document this story. This is the film where Herzog makes his infamous statements about the obscenity of the jungle, which at first come off as a hatred of the geography, but he actually really loves it. Ten years earlier he filmed Aguirre, the Wrath of God in the Peruvian rainforest as well—the first film he made with Kinski. Burden of Dreams shows the colder side of Herzog, which isn’t surprising to me. An Indian crew member was almost crushed when the steamship lost its bearings and Herzog helps him up, telling him only to wash off the mud and get some lunch. 
Perhaps it’s what John Waters means when he speaks about life being nothing without obession. You can see the fear and exhaustion on everyone’s faces in this documentary, except Herzog. What’s interesting is that all the drama that Kinski perpetuated as been left out, but can be viewed in Herzog’s respective about his relationship with Kinski, My Best Fiend. Kinski was notoriously hard to work with, and his outbursts aren’t included.  Herzog addressed this in a more recent interview, saying that the film wasn’t really about Kinski, which is an excellent point.
Burden of Dreams is a well-deserved Criterion pick and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s into Herzog or just filmmaking. The short film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is also on the DVD, and I’m considering putting it on my list as well. Herzog doesn’t direct it, but it stars him and I think it says a lot about who he is. 

Burden of Dreams, 1982


A documentary about the harrowing filming process of Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo in the jungles of Peru, one could call this a labor of love. But it’s not love that fuel’s Herzog’s obsession to wrap up what most dismissed as a film that could not be finished—I believe it’s Herzog’s trademark obsessiveness that pushed him to put the lives of both actors and crew in danger to complete the project. 

It’s a story about a rubber baron who wants to build an opera house to the rural outskirts of Peru. A romantic notion I think, operatic voices resonating through the jungle. I’m going to do a separate review of Fitzcarraldo later on—but definitely watch it prior to this documentary. Basically all involved were charged with the task of pushing a steamship over a small mountain—a feat within itself.

 Les Blank and his crew braved the elements, the madness of Kinski, and strained relations with Indian actors to document this story. This is the film where Herzog makes his infamous statements about the obscenity of the jungle, which at first come off as a hatred of the geography, but he actually really loves it. Ten years earlier he filmed Aguirre, the Wrath of God in the Peruvian rainforest as well—the first film he made with Kinski. Burden of Dreams shows the colder side of Herzog, which isn’t surprising to me. An Indian crew member was almost crushed when the steamship lost its bearings and Herzog helps him up, telling him only to wash off the mud and get some lunch. 

Perhaps it’s what John Waters means when he speaks about life being nothing without obession. You can see the fear and exhaustion on everyone’s faces in this documentary, except Herzog. What’s interesting is that all the drama that Kinski perpetuated as been left out, but can be viewed in Herzog’s respective about his relationship with Kinski, My Best Fiend. Kinski was notoriously hard to work with, and his outbursts aren’t included.  Herzog addressed this in a more recent interview, saying that the film wasn’t really about Kinski, which is an excellent point.

Burden of Dreams is a well-deserved Criterion pick and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s into Herzog or just filmmaking. The short film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is also on the DVD, and I’m considering putting it on my list as well. Herzog doesn’t direct it, but it stars him and I think it says a lot about who he is. 

Here we go!

I’ve always been a fan of Werner Herzog, but was only familiar with his films featuring Klaus Kinksi and a few of his documentaries, but I’ve never really delved into his earlier work. So I’m going to be spending my summer watching the whole Herzog catalog and blogging about each film. I know March is a bit early to officially call summer, but Herzog has an extensive body of work. 

I was originally going to view these films in chronological order so I could see the development of Herzog’s filmmaking skills, but decided against it. I’d like to vary it up and just watch whatever strikes my fancy.

If you’re interested in seeing what else I have floating around online, feel free to take a look at my blog MONDO SEQUIN. I also mess around on Twitter about this and that. And I love discussing film stuff, so I’ve enabled the Ask box on this Tumblr. 

"There are deeper strata of truth in cinemas, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization."

-Werner Herzog, Herzon on Herzog