The labors are contributed in half-a-dozen vérités (city dump, traffic jam, racing disaster, distaff soldiers, war damage, bombing practice) amid gym sessions of solitary men in latest equipment bodybuilding, alone with a mirror and a bodybuilder’s picture, fracturing terrains of musculature into Michelangelo figures, “the end”.
Die beispiellose Verteidigung der Festung Deutschkreutz
This unexampled defense of a lovely villa-chateau has its distant relation in Ugetsu monogatari, a quartet of laughing boys break into Fortress Deutschkreutz and its litter of wartime souvenirs, they try on nondescript uniforms and regulate themselves as soldiers patrolling the compound. One tires of it and is arrested by the others, genuine farmers assault the place through binoculars with scythe and pitchfork, a defense is mounted but no battle ever takes place.
Finally, the defenders leave the castle to seek out the enemy, “defeat is better than nothing.” A deceptively simple short subject in black and white, filmed off-the-cuff to all appearances as a silent with narration by a commentator who laughs quite helplessly at the proto-army before him.
The last words of a place, no place in particular, call it a Mediterranean isle looked at with the eye of a Resnais in his documentary days, and the mad or farcical or tragical personæ who lately inhabit the ruins or the memory thereof.
The grand absurdity of Greece under the Nazis.
One reads ancient inscriptions, one complains of the vermin, one marries a Greek and loses his mind.
Still another explains Chopin’s malign nature, “it’s in his music.”
Don Quixote is the first stop on the madman’s way, then he takes up “the cause of Man”.
It’s a question, finally, of blowing the place up, he settles for fireworks.
The story is old, Achim von Arnim wrote it. The location filming has a grateful resemblance to Cacoyannis’ Zorba the Greek. Herzog’s signs of life work out from The Unprecedented Defense of the Fortress Deutschkreuz and Last Words through, of course, Precautions against Fanatics to Even Dwarfs Started Small, with the hypnotism of Invincible and the fireworks from Lessons of Darkness.
Ärzte von Ostafrika
Über Schwierigkeiten medizinischer Entwicklungshilfe
Ein Bericht von Werner Herzog
A runway is scraped out first, and tested with a Volkswagen for smoothness.
The Flying Doctors of East Africa concerns itself with difficulties of medical help in undeveloped countries, “not a film” but a report.
One does not eat before an operation, the result is shown, a patient can die in his own vomit, “aspirated.” This must be conveyed to the people of the locality.
Famously, the Masai can recognize the drawing of a man but not the drawing of an eye, it is therefore necessary to refine the use of materials meant to express precautions against disease.
Massnahmen gegen Fanatiker
The horse races as a potent symbol, riders and ridden play their parts in this “practical joke”, fanatics are a constant menace in the mind of some, the trotter’s seat must be protected at all costs, every danger likewise eliminated from within and without, the track is ever vigilant against all enemies, taking all precautions.
“Fan” is short for “fanatic”, ask anyone. Doping a horse with garlic is one tactic.
“Hier stehe ich, und kann nicht anders.”
Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen
There is always some dwarf who thinks he’s a big man.
Rebellion at the Institution, with incidental reminiscences of Brook’s Lord of the Flies and Clayton’s Our Mother’s House, a direct allusion to Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, and a climactic sense ahead of Stroszek and Fitzcarraldo.
Charming children born under thalidomide receive modern care in the Federal Republic of Germany but suffer from feelings of isolation, whereas in California a young academic in a wheelchair gets around UCLA quite ably, thanks to legislation.
Herzog in the waste land, Ecclesiastes in the Sahara. The three parts of an epical poem supply a form (The Creation, Paradise, The Golden Age) to footage shot on location.
Land des Schweigens und der Dunkelheit
Webern taught music at a Jewish School for the Blind before he was dismissed. The joke after the war was that Germans in general must have been taubblind (cf. Seaton’s The Big Lift, for example), i.e., deaf and blind. Herzog examines the possibility.
“If a world war broke out now, I wouldn’t even notice it.”
Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes
Herzog’s Hitler and his Hindenburg, briefly, or his Kaiser.
The revolutionary element is very strong. Chaplin’s The Gold Rush provides the famous opening sequence, Kazan’s Viva Zapata! the horse image.
Kinski is extensively modeled on Olivier’s Richard III, as even Canby observed. Coppola paid homage in Apocalypse Now.
A very famous German painting provides the sunlight of Christ over the demise of Aguirre. Brian Gibson’s The Billion Dollar Bubble prefigures his last stages.
Die große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner
Like Albers’ Structural Constellations, what it says or what it represents can hardly be put into words.
The terms are a Swiss woodcarver whose abilities as a ski-flier exceed the limitations of the sport, and thus the comparison if any is to John Sturges’ Marooned, abstractly.
Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle
The glory of the writer, who writes his name legibly (Cocteau), and therefore elegantly.
Nabokov’s ape drew the bars of its cage. Beckett (Comment c’est) pictures an arse and a can opener.
Baudelaire’s albatross... and Godard on Picasso (“didn’t know what blue was till he painted it”).
Solidly Sternberg, at moments.
Mit mir will niemand spielen
A fairy tale enacted by children for the sponsoring government agency, quite close to one of Truffaut’s themes in L’Argent de poche.
The little boy is poor, his mother is unwell, his father beats him, he smells bad and has nothing but popcorn to eat.
He keeps a pet crow or raven called Max, “Max ist brav,” it says. It becomes a gift for a little girl who befriends him. She returns the favor by getting the kids to put their money up for a pair of guinea pigs in tiny clothes, “Laurel” and “Hardy”, a gift they all enjoy.
How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck...
Herzog doesn’t speak Pennsylvania Dutch, and pretends at the end to question the auctioneer’s lingo, which is pure cowboy.
So the joke (letting the audience in on the skills of the auctioneer), for Stuttgart TV.
Herz aus Glas
A melancholiacal masterpiece like Fata Morgana, rather close to the Hasidic joke about the ritual no longer remembered (“we know how to get there”).
David and the world wars get into the imagery, also a hurdy-gurdy like the one in the glass cases at UCLA’s Music Library long ago (under Bartok’s photographic portrait).
The ending is rather like The Wild Blue Yonder.
The end of Nazi Germany (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes), and its visceral opposition (Woyzeck), find a fantastic tale in apposition.
The nightmare is an America taken on credit that proves to be a Berlin of the mind, a dead-end ride to Berchtesgarten.
This has a specific reference to the New Order constantly promulgated as a various alteration encompassing the Rabbit Fire Chief, Dancing Chicken, Piano-playing Chicken, etc.
Warten auf eine unausweichliche Katastrophe
An ancient, classical, religious submission to “the will of God” turns up in a trio of poor black men under the volcano. Rachmaninoff and Wagner give a dramatic synthesis of traveling shots in the town à la Resnais, devoid of people, and views of the sulfur cloud above it.
Nosferatu the Vampyre
The penultimate fix is a variation of “Boule de suif” (Lubitsch’s That Lady in Ermine, Ford’s 7 Women, Vadim’s Barbarella).
Twice Herzog seems to quote The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, under the opening credits (“The Life Work of Juan Diaz”) and not long before the end (“Water’s Edge”).
Mina Harker provides an education for Van Helsing, an enlightenment.
Jonathan Harker the Vampyre rides off over the sands to do his work, at the end.
Naturalism is the key to the filming throughout.
The “last supper” of plague victims is a banquet in the town square amid a plethora of rats.
Ultimately, Kinski’s Count Dracula is an homage to Lon Chaney.
The Count takes up residence in a ruined church, “the consecrated Host bars him”.
The general resignation and effect thereof in the face of a perfect collapse foreseen by Büchner, doubtlessly.
Thus Herzog throws the whole world into the bargain, with Bergman’s style before him, Russell’s The Devils, Lang’s Cloak and Dagger (the ball game), and most especially Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for the primordial murder.
Tod für fünf Stimmen has cognizance of this, there is a Lady Macbeth in the conception, and finally something on the order of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but above all there is Herzog’s whole vision of the event, turning Büchner to his own proper account, “a murder not seen in ages.”
Glaube und Währung
Dr. Gene Scott, Fernsehprediger
God’s Angry Man, as it is called in English. The original title is much less descriptive, more in the way of a thesis, Faith (or Belief) and Currency (the monetary standard), Dr. Gene Scott (his degree is from Stanford), Television Preacher.
It’s always a fight against hoarders and planners with designs, ask Isaac Bashevis Singer’s collector for the temple.
The subject is interviewed at home and in his car, his parents tell a story or two, he’s seen on the set with The Statesmen and The FCC Monkey Band. “Sight to the blind”.
A film is a gigantic labor beyond the reality of its locations into the reality of dreams, it’s intended as a moneymaking proposition but returns home with its cargo of significance having passed the rapids of fortune.
Something like that made manifest, so that not even a fool of a film critic can ever say in his red velvet armchair that he does not know, really, what he has to judge.
Director Sam Fuller, from the last shot (Fitzgerald goes by a moniker more pronounceable to the natives, like Curtiz).
Wo die grünen Ameisen träumen
They dream within a vast South Australian plain, green ants, disturbed by uranium miners.
The wind is from the East, aborigines keep watch.
Critics were nettled, so what?
Abos v. Diggers in the Supreme Court hardly decides the matter to everyone’s satisfaction.
Letzte Worte, Fata Morgana (usually cited in reviews, plaintively).
A RAAF Abo flies the tribe’s new Caribou (gift of Ayers Mining Co.) into a mountain, drunk, the plane too is green. “My baby does the hanky-panky...”
Company elevators break down, the geologist turns Cynic.
Ballade vom kleinen Soldaten
The two opposing forces in Nicaragua (“Spring of 1984”) each have recruited and trained children as soldiers. Co-director Denis Reichle remembers his own experience at a young age fighting for the Nazis, similarly.
Der leuchtende Berg
The world and, or rather or, what it’s reckoned to be.
Art, for example, is it the work of madmen? Herzog’s mountain-climber thinks so, he says when asked (cp. Sketches of Frank Gehry, dir. Sydney Pollack).
Out to Northern Pakistan, to climb two peaks at once, a record.
A joke explained in Cry of Stone.
Munich, childhood in a quiet valley.
Lotte Eisner (Paris). Caspar David Friedrich.
The films, how they were made, some of them.
One reviewer has mentioned Pontecorvo’s Queimada, two other films are at least as significant, Allen’s Bananas and Browning’s Freaks.
The choice at the bar is from Wilde’s The Naked Prey, it also figures in Yates’ Murphy’s War and Losey’s Figures in a Landscape.
The presentation is in the form of a ballad, the boy fiddler in Nosferatu (which is cited) and Fitzcarraldo is now an aged man. The moral is from Pinter, “as for the Old Masters, fuck ‘em.”
Die Hirten der Sonne.
Nomaden am Südrand der Sahara.
The sub-Saharan tribe, which at the time of this filming was much bedeviled by drought and locusts, has a mating rite similar to our Sadie Hawkins Day, in which women choose men at a masculine beauty pageant with IROC rules.
Echos aus einem düsteren Reich
Bokassa I, the Cannibal King of Central Africa, Emperor.
A tale, as one who lived through it observes, you read about in books or see in the movies.
He saw himself as Napoleon and acted accordingly, dressing the part for his coronation.
Michael Goldsmith, the British journalist whose encounter with Bokassa might figure in Stoppard’s play Night and Day, is the guide to the mysteries.
Das exzentrische Privattheater des Maharadjah von Udaipur
Ten thousand things, their quintessence for the edification of the maharana’s son, the salvation of the palace, and sundry other reasons.
A fragment of the artists’ procession and their performance.
Scream of Stone
A very fine joke on the subject of sports climbing, rock climbing and mountain climbing, mainly constructed in the screenplay as an elaborate parody finding in Mae West the veritable goal and proving this on location in Patagonia.
Lektionen in Finsternis
The fake perspective of Godard’s Alphaville (“a planet in our solar system”) on the ruins of war and the consolations of oil, with reference to McLaglen’s Hellfighters.
Die Verwandlung der Welt in Musik
The Fitzcarraldo metaphor begins in another, removing a score from the museum safe.
There follows a minute appreciation of the close details in every department, stage, costumes, chorus, orchestra, a great amount of labor.
Finally, a successful and original Bayreuth premiere of Tristan und Isolde (the other operas seen in preparation are Lohengrin, directed by Herzog, Der fliegende Holländer, and Parsifal).
Death for Five Voices
An intrepid exploration of the Gesualdo legend, swollen in dark corners of superstition and legacy and centuries of miserable scholarship.
Bells from the Deep
Faith and Superstition in Russia
The frozen lake that covers over The Invisible City of Kitezh, also thawed.
The German title cannot be overlooked, Glocken aus der Tiefe—Glaube und Aberglaube in Rußland.
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
A direct account of Lt. Dengler’s experiences as a Navy flier, with some of his childhood in Germany and emigration to the United States.
The loss of his plane over Laos, his sufferings as a prisoner of war, and his escape.
The final image, cultivated on a storage airfield, allies the film to Menzies’ “Wings over the World”.
The structural relationship to Death for Five Voices is undoubtedly the key to this otherwise mysterious work, here Herzog plays all the roles, or nearly all, previously taken by musicologists, local folks, a porter, etc.
Wings of Hope
This is, strictly speaking as one might say, a poem on the experience of a plane crash survivor (she relives it for Herzog’s camera, between Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Rescue Dawn).
Glocken aus der Tiefe reorganized as glancing footage in counterpoint with Mexicans excruciatingly knee-walking on a stone pavement and praying to their saints.
In 1932, The New Samson brings down Berlin’s Palace of the Occult but fails to excite support for a bodybuilding program in the shtetl.
The Palace is from a Columbo on the same theme, “Now You See Him”, the mentalist is secretly a Jew (ready to become Hitler’s Minister of the Occult), Himmler and Goebbels appear as characters, even der Führer.
Ten Thousand Years Older
Ten Minutes Older: The Trumpet
The last discovered tribe on Earth is now a shadow of its former existence, two survivors tell of slaying white men and laying white women.
Wheel of Time
Buddha came down from the Himalayas, Herzog is telling you in a voiceover narration, in search of enlightenment. The lowlands of the Ganges are what he saw, and what you see. A flat wide plain, a few people, dogs playing, a pale dry landscape.
Where he went a stupa marks the spot, next to the bo tree in its fifth generation, at Bodh Gaya in India, where pilgrims and clergy have come to receive the teaching known as Kalachakra (Wheel of Time). The Dalai Lama explains it: there is emptiness, there is ultimate nature which transforms into physical reality by means of visualizing the Kalachakra mandala. The Dalai Lama resembles Mel Cooley, whom you may remember from The Alan Brady Show, had he become enlightened.
The gathering resembles many other such feasts. It might be Holy Week, with elders and acolytes and penitents and healing and prayer and chanting. A religious thesis is argued by the monks, who slap one hand against the other when making a point, it would seem.
Many of the faithful travel to Mt. Kailash in Tibet, some on foot. A very holy place, Herzog points out, sacred to Hindus as the home of Lord Shiva, and to adherents of the ancient Bon religion, as well as to Buddhists, among whom it is considered the center of the universe.
Asked about this, the Dalai Lama adopts, if that is the right word, the Whitman position (from Jesus via Pascal) that the center of the universe is within you. Hundreds of thousands of worshipers learn with shock that the Dalai Lama is ailing and cannot conduct the ceremonies of the Kalachakra Initiation, which will be reconvened in Graz later that year.
Restored to health, the Dalai Lama cheerfully leads the days and nights of the sacred ritual. Cricket-monks lay out the mandala. There is the drum and horn of Tibet. Herzog films all this visible manifestation, then flashes back to the end of the earlier convocation, and to Mt. Kailash transfigured in memory.
Throughout, the camera calmly moves among the pilgrims taking close-up portraits or recording the vastness of the plains, getting a whiff of the steaming soup caldrons or turning this way and that amidst this gigantic kermesse of the spirit.
In terms of the Kalachakra teaching, Herzog’s film can be said to fit three movements, that of perceived reality as such, imperceptibly shifting to the interior reality of events, and finally (by an enormous artifice) something representative of ultimate reality, in a sense.
The sound editing is truly remarkable, very fluidly combining location sound and music with narration in a delicate stereo stream. Herzog’s ability to invoke the past at once, merely by opening the camera lens (as in The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser) is brought into play at the outset, and for the rest there is great flair, consummate dexterity and the summa of art.
A stark raving lunatic, of course, perfectly in the mold of Herzog’s comic invention, and they didn’t break the mold, Herzog interviews it.
The Wild Blue Yonder
Undoubtedly the masterwork of the age that began with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Fake science, fake exploration, the assholiness of the New World Order exposed as it is seen daily.
“The ideal environment might be something like a shopping mall in space.”
The “end of history” as prehistoric.
A classified war, a simple nobody of a non-agent fighting it, on either side. A war of proxy soldiers, a cinematic experiment to find one and pluck him out of all this mess.
A systematic extent of Herzogian restraint keeps the tenor and frame securely locked in 1966 terms until the final, determinant rescue (or simply the second). Lt. Dengler resists the Vietcong in Laos, springs himself and another pilot (along with Air America men) out of bamboo prison, the two along monsoon washes and through thick jungles find their way to overgrown huts, one is killed, a helicopter picks up the other.
Dengler’s mates aboard the U.S.S. Ranger nab him from agents’ debriefing. The title is an authenticator or code phrase assigned to him for identification. The African Queen and Cool Hand Luke come visibly to mind (amid many other nuances from many other films).
The plane goes down by CGI, the digital intermediate is provided with a colorist and a supervising colorist and still the print is an indeterminate bluish wan. As the Luckup clergyman says at the launching of the drone in Friedkin’s Deal of the Century, “we had faith, we had a mission, but we did not have planes that were survivable.”
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
The Chauvet cave paintings do not resemble those at Lascaux but are said to be much older, as much as 32,000 years old. Their striking realism in many instances suggests an individual artist of genius or a supremely talented art school student of the modern age.
Herzog shoots them in 3-D with an HD Betacam system, the result then transferred to 35mm in rather poor color.
A concluding segment very much like something out of Orson Welles (F for Fake) constructs an elaborate gag wondering what, if anything, radioactively mutated albino crocodiles would make of them, the Chauvet cave paintings.
And then there is the Niaux ibex.
“Nothing is real,” or as Beckett says, “nothing is more real than nothing.”
Perhaps, given the digital transfer, “there seemed a certainty in degradation” (T.E. Lawrence).