January 7, 2018No Comments

Wings of Hope – Werner Herzog – 2000

Julianes Sturz, the protagonist of Wings of Hope, is a plane crash survivor. She fell from the skies, from an airliner, over the jungle, in Peru, when she was 18. How many of her kind are there in the world? What does it mean to survive falling from the sky and to later wander the jungle on your own, for 10 days?

Herzog is drawn to people and stories like this like a bear to honey. In a way, he’s a collector of strange humans. 

December 29, 2017No Comments

Cobra Verde – Werner Herzog – 1987

Cobra Verde is the final chapter in one of cinema’s most revered director-actor collaborations. Ever since Kinski’s death (four years later after finishing this film) his working and life relationship with Herzog is one that grew to mythological proportions. Under this mindset, watching any of the 5 films these two made together falls under a different set of perception and interpretation.

Now, almost 2 weeks after seeing it, Cobra Verde feels a work of a genius. Its images are, for lack of a better word, haunting you. Almost nowhere else in contemporary cinema can you still watch images with this power of depiction.

At the time of watching it though, I was in awe with:

- how loose and at times straight out illogic were all the cause-effect relation;

- the number of people brought together for this shoot

- how terrifying and telling the last shot in the film is (Kinski pulling helplessly on a big boat - wink to Fitzcarraldo - while a native African cripple approaches menacingly)

- how sharp has KK’s acting skills have gotten by this point. His face is unmatched to this day. The scene where he trains how to fight almost naked African female warriors is amazing.

- again and again, how powerful Herzog’s images are, although the metaphor is never clear (the room full of walking crab, the rooms filled with slaves, the African women throwing ashes on their heads)

April 4, 2017No Comments

Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Werner Herzog, 1997

Dieter Dengler was a German born American pilot who became a POW after being shot out of the sky during his first mission in the Vietnam war. He spent 6 months as a prisoner, brutalised and starved, and then escaped through the jungle and got rescued after almost a month. In a nutshell, the traditional W. Herzog character.  

It’s characters like Dengler that allow Herzog to push his own patented style of documentaries to the front, one where improvisation and set-up are mandatory in milking his own special brew, the ecstatic truth

That’s why, in Little Dieter Needs to Fly you stumble upon clearly constructed moments, of uncertain origin (one always suspects Herzog of foul-play, in the service of truth, of course). Here’s an example: Dieter in front of an aquarium filled with jellyfish talking about how death is like this shapeshifting form to him. And so on. 

Apart from the lyrical side of it, you got the usual lot of Herzogian boyscout tales and tutorials, from how to make fire in the jungle to how to open cufflinks with a paper clip. Music choices are at odds with the images, as usual, again, making for a fresh an atypical 1 hour and 13 minutes documentary.

Seeing a Werner Herzog film remains one of cinema’s greatest gifts.

January 12, 2017No Comments

Into the Inferno, Werner Herzog, 2016

So does the world spin. 50 years into his career, Werner Herzog finally receives his “From legendary director…” introduction in a film’s trailer. And Netflix payed the cash, which is an indicator that maybe, finally, Mr. Herzog gets his fair share of the pie and that his, for lack of a better word, legacy, is connected to the future. 

Into the Inferno is Herzog’s 3rd film made in 2016! Can you believe it, the man is on fire! This explains maybe the reason for why we can’t see him throughout the film in person, but only through voice over commentary. This is my sole grudge with this piece. As with all his docs, they have become part about the subject itself, part about WH, or rather his way of seeing the subject. Which, as always is different that yours and mine.

So, here’s a doc about volcanos. What you get is:

  • gorgeous flyby footage of raging volcanos over a soundtrack of Russian choir;
  • an anthropological visit to the islands of Vanuatu, tribes, mythologies;
  • usual apocalyptical WH reflections on the loneliness and insignificance of human beings;
  • a Christian church in Indonesia, in the shape of a chicken (inside which a soap opera was shot);
  • a visit to Ethiopia where we meet a crazy-impassioned scientist scraping for pre-historic human remains;
  • a visit to Island and some reflections on the poetic Eddas;
  • the strangest visit to North Korea, a people that believes that it was formed in a volcano;
  • the exploration of an island-cult worshipping the American GI John Frum, who is to return to bring good things to the island tribe;

January 10, 2017No Comments

The Dark Glow of the Mountain, Werner Herzog, 1985

The Dark Glow of the Mountain is a 45 minute documentary where Mr. Herzog follows Reinhold Messner, the world’s first to climb all 14 peaks over 8000 m, in an attempt to climb in a single take two Gasherbrum mountains, with no oxigen tanks or other funny tricks to help.

Basically, yet another Herzogian character, conquerer of the useless, in the tradition of Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Timothy Treadwell, Dieter Dengler, testing its resistance against nature’s implacable force and indifference. Hurray!

In retrospect, Herzog’s documentaries transform to be more and more about himself rather then the subject on hand. Before leaving camp, Messner holds a short instruction meeting with Herzog where he designates him the leader of the expedition in his absence, and tells him how to take care of everything in case the attempt fails and Messner dies.

January 6, 2017No Comments

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, Werner Herzog, 1974

It’s probably around the period of The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner that Werner Herzog started coining the concept of “ecstatic truth”. 

Here’s what the man thinks about it:

There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, 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 stylisation.

That being said, here’s a documentary about a Swiss sky jumper, Walter Steiner. Besides being an athlete, Steiner is also shown sculpting a piece of wood and talking in grandiose metaphores about its meaning. Just once. Are we to directly associate sky jumping with a sort of artistic endeavour? 

Most likely. Herzog has expressed in numerous times his high regard towards sky jumpers, their unique act and their psychological struggle and his own regret for not being one. But he feels like one, and he makes an emotional connection between the ordeals of his craft - filmmaking, and that of Steiner’s.

The film follows - (sometimes in gorgeous old-fashioned news stand-up style, by WH himself; sometimes in slow motion shots of the jumps) the 1974 competition at Planica in former Yugoslavia.

Fantastic use of music.

Late note: There’s such a joy and vibrancy of filmmaking at work here, just makes me giddy. 

January 3, 2017No Comments

Grizzly Bear, Werner Herzog, 2005

In Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog feels like he met his lost cousin, when he introduces us to the personality of Timothy Treadwell - a self-exiled self-titled “bear defender” who spent around 10 summers in an Alaskan national park among grizzly bears, before ending being killed and eaten by one. 

TT is the archetype Herzog character: marginal, profound, foolish, death-wishing, driven by a metaphysical goal. TT is sweet and silly, he speaks to the animals, he’s delusional, he protects them without them needing any; he’s a searcher, a wanderer, on the border - as somebody puts it in the film: “he tried to become a bear”.

The combination of original Treadwell footage coupled with Herzog commentary is documentary cinema at its best. 

  • TT ranting against park rangers
  • the fox paws on the roof of the tent
  • the “give me back my hat” fox chase

Grizzly Man is the perfect entry point for anybody wanting to discover Mr. Herzog and the rest of his 50+ years career. 

January 3, 2017No Comments

La Soufriere, Werner Herzog, 1977

Here’s a premise for you. Hearing that a volcano, named La Soufriere is about to erupt on an island in the Guadeloupe and that the whole island has evacuated except for one single man who refused to take refuge, Mr. Herzog assembles a film crew of 3 and gets to the place right away looking for the answer to the obvious question: why didn’t the man leave?  

The quest is worthwhile depending on how the answer rings your bell. The man they find is asleep under a tree, cradling a cat. 

December 8, 2016No Comments

Heart of Glass, Werner Herzog, 1976

A film detached completely from norms. An eerie experience is the working horse expression. Roger Ebert writes that the film “should be approached like a piece of music, in which we comprehend everything in terms of mood and aura.”

This is the famed W.Herzog picture where most of the cast acts while under hypnosis. 

Narrative, as little as it is, revolves around a XVII century village, where the craftsman of a special kind of glass - ruby - dies without sharing his recipe. There’s a mad young nobleman in the village. He’s obsessed with trying to get the recipe back. The recipe become the metaphor for life, for everything lost.

The film abounds in images whose only function is to trigger something different than understanding through reasoning. You look, you don’t get it, yet the images sink through your cracks, and disturb you deeply. They’re hard to remember factually two weeks later, but their effect trails on. 

November 30, 2016No Comments

Werner Herzog, a guide for the perplexed – Paul Cronin, 2014

You’d feel tempted to call Werner Herzog the last of the Greats. It’s just that film history literally didn’t record another character as profoundly particular. Please, I urge you. See his films now, start with a more recent documentary (Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the Earth, Cave of Forgotten Dream) and alternate with mandatory fictions (Aguirre, the Wrath of God / Fitzcarraldo / Stroszek). The man speaks truth, the kind you’d find under a big rock that stood in place for ages. For anyone who hasn’t yet fell under the spell, here’s the real Gandalf.  

As for this piece, you get a 600 page book of conversations between him and Paul Cronin. It’s an enhanced biography, the world according to Herzog.

You get life advice: 

  • “If you want anything done, always ask the busy man. The others never have time.”
  • “Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief. Learn to live with your mistakes.”
  • “Ask for forgiveness, not permission”.

You get film advice:

  • “Cinema comes from the country fair and circus, not from art and academicism”
  • “Every time you make a film you should be prepared to descend into Hell and wrestle it from the claws of the Devil himself”

You get it:

“A man should prepare a decent meal at least once a week. I’m convinced it’s the only real alternative to cinema.”


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