28 August 2008

An Interruption by Herzog

I started my Lynch mini-retrospective recently and am eager to write some things that I have found so far from the enigmatic auteur, but today I was interrupted from the world of Lynch by an even more enigmatic figure: Werner Herzog. After my Lynch mini-retrospective I planned on doing one for Herzog, another director I am very intrigued and unfamiliar with. By some strange coincidence, as I was flipping through channels today I came upon Les Blank's 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams, a documentary about the insane production of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. I happened upon the film from the beginning and watched it the whole way through.

I was instantly drawn into Herzog who described his vision for the story to the camera like someone who just awoke from sleep and was telling his dreams. The film takes place in the Amazonian rainforets of South America and involves hundreds of native indian extras, ships, tribal wars, lost hopes, death, impossibilities, delays, four years of work and waiting, and a very restless Klaus Kinski. Throughout the film Herzog takes up most of the screen time, directly addressing the camera and Blank's questions. His demeanor is seemingly calm and serene, even amongst the chaos that surrounds him. At one point, however, towards the end of the documentary, Herzog describes the Amazonian jungle as chaos, madness, and death - that it is full of "fornication and murder."

This really struck me, because many times we have a romanticist view of nature as being in harmony and part of some ideal, but really that may just be what we get from TV programs and films. Herzog goes on to say that if there was a God that he created these jungles in anger and contempt. The jungle is not in harmony; it is in chaos. The birds are not singing; every second they are crying out in pain. This is a jungle more akin to the Heart of Darkness. Even so, Herzog goes on to say at last that he does not hate the jungle despite all of that; he loves the jungle, though he loves it against his better judgment.

This theme of the madness of the jungle and remote wilderness seems to be of intense interest to Herzog and I thought that his insights were incredibly interesting. I could already see the relationship between man and nature as the central conflict in his films, even basing my observation solely on two more recent films of his that I've seen - Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn. In Burden of Dreams, that same conflict is shown to exist not just for the characters or persons in Herzog's films, but for him and his crew as well in making their films in such locations. Herzog's dedication to the film and belief in his vision and dream despite such chaos is really amazing to me. Now, of course, I cannot wait to see Fitzcarraldo and his other work, especially the work he has done with Kinski, who looks and sounds like some kind of mad genius. This quip in a Wikipedia article on him really intrigued me:

"Kinski was an extremely hard worker and strove for perfection, but was frequently at odds with collaborators and directors. On one infamous occasion Kinski hurled a lit candelabra from the stage at an audience deemed insufficiently appreciative, almost burning the theatre down. On another, while filming Aguirre: The Wrath of God, irritated by the noise from a hut where cast and crew were playing cards, Kinski fired three shots at it, blowing the top joint off one extra's finger."

I will still wait to watch the other Herzog films until I've gone through my planned Lynch films, though I am definitely impatient to get started. And if you have not seen Burden of Dreams, I would highly recommend it.

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