Posts Tagged ‘Werner Herzog


Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

Introspective scientist.

Introspective scientist.

In Encounters at the End of the World, Werner Herzog takes on Antarctica. Who would have guessed Antarctica is the perfect place for an introspective German? I guess when you think about it, it makes sense;  Antarctica is the ultimate fringe, and the folks who travel, study and work there are as strange and varied as you could imagine. This is what Herzog captures perfectly in this documentary.

Herzog makes it a point right off the bat to let his audience know this will not be March of the Penguins. Though a documentary about Antarctica will inevitably include aspects of its landscape and wildlife, Herzog is more interested in the people that study it than Antarctica

Listening to seals.

Listening to seals.

itself. And so it is always on the periphery of the story he’s following; never the main attraction. It all starts with the trip there, as Herzog looks around at his fellow passengers, many of them sleeping and wonders: “what are their dreams?” That question sets the stage for all the interviews he’s about to conduct, and all the strange folks we’re about to meet!

We see people wander around the landscape with buckets on their heads, in an attempt to simulate a “white-out” situation, where the snow is coming down fast and the wind blowing too hard for anyone to see their own hand in front of their face. But what of the guy that teaches them this stuff? What is his life like? What about the



volcanologist, or the guy that studies glaciers? And how about that arduous conversation with the penguin guy, who’s spent so much time alone in Antarctica it seems he’s actually forgotten how to converse with people? Is he as disoriented and lost as the penguin we follow, who insists on marching towards the mountains, away from any hope of food or friends?

This documentary is freakin’ fantastic! Picking Antarctica as the setting of course helps a lot; it’s an amazing and strange place with a lot of stuff the average viewer won’t be familiar with. What makes this so special is, unsurprisingly, Herzog’s interviews with the people. No matter how simple the question, Herzog seems to draw the mystic out of everyone he speaks with, and it is totally awesome. Everyone should watch this!



Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

The Count's castle

The Count’s castle

My Werner Herzog education continues with Nosferatu the Vampyre. Really, who better to direct a vampire movie than Herzog? After watching it, I’m convinced the answer is no one.

You know the basics: Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) goes to Transylvania to sell Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) a property (this time in Germany). On his four-week journey there, everyone tells Harker to stay the hell away from the castle; that dude’s a vampire! A kindly nurse even hands Harker a book on the subject – but never to be deterred, he continues on and finally makes it to the castle. Naturally he’s pretty horrified when he sees a whitewashed Kinski with rat-teeth salivate over his bloody finger!

Lucy looks longingly out the window. Sigh...

Lucy looks longingly out the window. Sigh…

Harker is, of course, right to be scared: the ancient vampire locks him up in his castle and shuffles off to Wismar, Germany where the Count’s new castle awaits, and where Harker’s beautiful wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) sits alone and vulnerable. Dracula and six coffins of cursed earth book passage on an unlucky ship; all crew members are dead on arrival at the docks in Wismar – seemingly from the plague carried by the ship’s many rat friends, but you and I know better.

The Count has virtually no time for his dedicated disciple, Renfield – he quickly rids himself of the man by telling him to travel around, spreading the plague. No, the Count has come for one main thing: the love of a woman, naturally. Lucy is no fool, though – she knows she just has to keep the count away from his coffin after the sun rises, andthe curse will be over! Or will it…

A face only a... nope, a face no one could love.

A face only a… nope, a face no one could love.


Of the many vampire films I’ve seen, this is probably the most visually attractive of all. From Harker’s journey on foot through the Carpathian mountains, to Lucy’s dreamlike walk through empty streets, it’s chock-full of gorgeous stuff, including more shadow-play than you could ever dream of. And, since we’re dealing with Herzog here, there’s a heaping dose of morosity and existentialism to keep you on the edge of your seat!


Where the Green Ants Dream (1984)



In Where the Green Ants Dream, Werner Herzog takes on the plight of the Australian aborigines. I can think of no recipe more sure to yield sorrow and misanthropy. And, just as I expected, Herzog delivers a filled-to-the-brim bedpan of injustice.

The story is simple: a mining company is looking for the next big commodity. The on-site geologist, Lance Hackett, is expected to take care of a lot of tasks that aren’t really in his job description, most notably dealing with the human element of the project. Aside from the batty old woman who camps out by his trailer waiting for her lost dog to come home, Hackett must deal with a group of indigenous people protesting the exploration of their land. They believe this greenantstechparticular parcel of land is where the green ants dream, and if we disturb their sleep it will mean the end of mankind as we know it.

Hackett seems exasperated at first, but he begins to study more about Aboriginal culture, and actually tries talking with some of the protesters about their beliefs. Hackett’s attitude turns around, though not wholly; after all, his livelihood is dependent upon the company’s success finding whatever it is their looking for on this land. Eventually, the Aborigines take their case to court. A court, of course, of white men who answer to The Crown. While the whole court knows the right thing

In court. No one understands his language, because he is the last of his tribe.

In court. No one understands his language, because he is the last of his tribe.

to do is to stop the company from exploring on Aboriginal land, the law disagrees, and so the Aborigines lose the case.

There are, of course, subtleties involved that make this story a lot more compelling than any synopsis can. There are plenty of classically-Herzog philosophical monologues that inevitably get you thinking about the nature of colonialism, the “ownership” of land, and the seemingly futile struggle indigenous peoples the world over are left to fight. It will make you both sad and angry, but it is definitely a film people should see. It’s easy to forget that the modern world is still relatively new, and the repercussions of our way of life are unknown.


Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972)

Believe it or not, before watching Aguirre: The Wrath of God, the only Werner Herzog movies I’d seen were documentaries. I knew I was missing out. 

Loosely based on historical events, this movie follows a group of Spanish conquistadores as they travel down the Amazon river in search of El Dorado. Aguirre, played by Klaus “crazy-eyes” Kinski does not agree with the man in charge when he suggests the group turn back. He leads a mutiny, convincing the rest of the group that “untold riches” await them when they reach El Dorado.

From here, everything falls apart. Food runs out, rafts are swept away in the rising river, and Aguirre gets crazier and crazier. This isn’t the most soul-crushing movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s up there. Not a bad orientation into the world of Herzog. I’m excited for more.


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