Walking through Werner Herzogs works
For students with a particular interest in film, the name Werner Herzog should be a familiar one.
From directing dramatic epics such as “Fitzcarraldo” and documentaries such as “Grizzly Man,” to appearing in “The Grand” and an episode of “The Simpsons,” Herzog has long been a precious commodity and legendary presence in the filmmaking community.
Now the German filmmaker will be appearing Saturday at 3 p.m. in ISA 1051 for “An Afternoon with Werner Herzog,” where he will screen a previously unreleased film project. Following the film, there will be an opportunity for a Q&A session with the director himself, discussing his body of work.
As the director continues to release projects such as this month’s “Into the Abyss,” The Oracle highlights some of Herzog’s most notable works before his USF appearance.
“Aguirre: The Wrath of God” (1972)
“Aguirre: The Wrath of God” serves as a good entry point into Herzog’s filmography, with the obsessive protagonist, wild landscapes and lurid production tales.
The film follows Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), a conquistador traveling with his daughter on a crew hoping to find El Dorado.
“Aguirre” was Herzog’s first film with Kinski, in a tumultuous working relationship later captured in the documentary “My Best Fiend.” While shooting on location, Herzog reportedly threatened to kill Kinski and himself if he abandoned the project.
Still, the end product was a classic film with scenes such as Aguirre’s deranged monologue, and Roger Ebert named it as one of the 10 greatest all-time movies in a Sight and Sound poll.
– Jimmy Geurts
Herzog again teamed with Kinski to deliver what may be his bleakest narrative film, “Fitzcarraldo.” Inspired by the real-life excursion of a Peruvian rubber baron, “Fitzcarraldo” is the story of the arrogant but determined Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald, who’s set on building an opera house in the middle of the Peruvian rainforest.
A pivotal scene in the film involves Fitzgerald leading an unhappy crew to haul a 320-ton steamboat over the side of a mountain, in an effort to reach rubber mounds on the other side. Fitzgerald hopes the rubber will provide him funds for his dream project. The film is often viewed as a character study in obsession and greed, and Ebert said it was “one of the great visions of the cinema, and one of the great follies.”
The film was its own adventure, which led Herzog’s journey in a similar direction as Fitzgerald’s, including actually having a steamboat pushed over a mountainside. The production of “Fitzcarraldo” was so rife with drama that a documentary entitled “Burden of Dreams” was made and led Herzog to proclaim to the film’s financers that “if I abandon this project, I will be a man without dreams, and I don’t want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life with this project.”
– Benjamin Wright
“Grizzly Man” (2005)
Perhaps Herzog’s greatest documentary in a long career, “Grizzly Man” follows Timothy Treadwell, a man who lived with bears for more than a decade before one killed him and his girlfriend in 2003.
The film includes moments of great power, including one where Herzog listens in horror to an audio recording of Treadwell’s death, which the audience never gets to hear.
However, there are some distinctly Herzog scenes as well, such as his claim that bears’ faces only show “the overwhelming indifference of nature,” and an obscenity-filled attack by Treadwell that is undercut by Herzog’s calm Bavarian narration.
The film became perhaps the director’s greatest commercial success, even airing on Discovery Channel.
– Jimmy Geurts
“Rescue Dawn” (2006)
Herzog’s 2007 Vietnam War drama “Rescue Dawn” had him revisit the life of Dieter Dengler, the subject of his 1998 documentary “Little Dieter Needs to Fly.”
The film follows Dengler (Christian Bale), a pilot with the U.S. Navy, after he is shot down over Vietnam and becomes a prisoner of war. Facing physical and mental torture, Dengler and his fellow prisoners hatch a plan to escape, with things becoming all the more dangerous the further away they get from their captors.
Herzog doesn’t flinch in making Dengler’s escape into the jungle harrowing and, at times, unnerving. Bale completely dedicates himself to the role, once again losing a large amount of weight to pull off the look of an emaciated POW.
Playing out like an escape thriller, “Rescue Dawn” is a break from Herzog’s usual fare, but he still pulls off providing a subtle reflection of a man against nature and war.
– Damon Lord
“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and “Into the Abyss” (2011)
Always a prolific director, Herzog outdid himself this year with the release of two critically acclaimed documentaries, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and “Into the Abyss.”
“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” saw the director gain exclusive access into the French Chauvet Cave, which has civilizations’ earliest known cave paintings. The film was shot in 3D, and even convinced typical critics of the trend, such as Ebert.
The second film dealt with the death penalty and death row – topics made popular in recent documentaries such as “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.” It follows Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, two Texas men convicted of a triple murder, and has been praised for its evenhandedness.
– Jimmy Geurts
“One Shot” (2013)
While he’s made brief acting appearances in films such as “What Dreams May Come” and “The Grand,” nothing will match the level of international recognition Herzog will surely earn once audiences see him square off against Tom Cruise in “The Usual Suspects” screenwriter Christoper McQuarrie’s film “One Shot.”
Based on the New York Times bestseller by Lee Child, Herzog has been cast in the role of a villain known only as “The Zec” – an ex-prisoner of war who’s responsible for a conspiracy that leads to a supposedly innocent former military sniper being arrested for killing five people. Cruise will play ex-military investigator Jack Reacher, who’s set on proving the sniper’s innocence.
Alongside talents such as Robert Duvall and Rosamund Pike, Herzog is in good company for what will surely be his biggest film role yet – and in a big-budget Hollywood thriller, no less.
– Benjamin Wright