I would have to choose
Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)
How about you? What is your favorite Herzog?
I always have trouble choosing my next one.
Even Dwarves Started Small is great but I may have to pick My Best Fiend. The relationship between him and Kinski has always been fascinating to me.
My favorite film involving Werner is Burden of Dreams. His monologue on the fornication in the jungle is so classic -
Aguirre,der zorn gottes.(1972) his masterpiece.Klaus Kinski.Unforgettable intro & ending.Τranscendental and ecstatic cinema.
I saw his re-envisioning of Nosferatu recently and found it a masterpiece. It also struck me strongly as making complete sense for Herzog to transition into being essentially being a documentary filmmaker—even this supernatural period piece has a very strong documentary element to it. You are never not aware that Herzog’s camera is on the scene filming things…
Aguirre: The Wrath of God & Fitzcarraldo
I struggle to put one over the other.
Probably Aguirre. I saw his first, “Signs of Life,” some months ago, and that was quite a powerful debut. I had to get someone to explain “Heart of Glass” to me; I think I nodded off at a key moment.
AGUIRRE has most consistently been my favorite, but STROSZEK was right in there. In 2005 I was stuck in Springfield, Illinois, working on a museum for some months. I caught a bad flu and had just purchased the box of the non-Kinski films. STROSZEK was not as affecting as I had remembered; rather, I remembered all the affecting parts well. The two that impressed me anew were EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF and FATA MORGANA. In fact, I watched the movement in FATA MORGANA with the kids in the desert and the Leonard Cohen songs over and over. But then I did have a fever.
The only film that has never moved me much is HEARTS OF GLASS.
Long live Werner Herzog.
Oh, Little Dieter Needs to Fly. I mean, let’s give it up for Dieter. A lovely achievement.
Thoughts? Comments? Abuse?
DIETER is a lovely film, Wendy. Which, of course, makes me wonder why Herzog needed to make it a second time. The way he straddles the narrative line between fiction and non-fiction is what makes him so arresting. In RESCUE DAWN some of the immediacy was missing, but that may have been partly due to knowing the actors well.
Fitzcarraldo is the perfect herzog film. I love so many of his films, but this demonstrates his unadulterated achievement of man’s struggle over nature and over other humans and cultures unbeknownst to them. From the foggy mountains of Peru in the opening to the Peruvian men struggling to get the boat up the mountain side only to be defeated by the ridiculously unachievable and egotistical request by a cultured man’s dream to build an opera house- wildly crazy and genius film!
Aguirrre, then the Fitz. I really liked lessons of darkness and Grizzly Man. I wasn’t huge on Rescue Dawn and also wondered why it was made as Dieter was great
Aguirre, Fitzcaraldo, Nosferatu, Woyzeck
I hear where you’re coming from re: Heart of Glass, Darroch. Though it doesn’t even make my top three Herzog (maybe top 5-6), it does have a very unique and specific hypnotic effect on me that only a select few other films do. (Tarkovsky’s Stalker is another). I think it showcases some of his very best moments of ‘pure cinema’ in terms of imagery/sound.
Darroch, you’re dead right about Dieter. What the hell was he thinking with the remake? And the closing scene of Rescue Dawn may be the most embarrassing few minutes of his career. Bale, though, was captivating—pardon the awful word choice.
Herzog also does questionable things in his documentaries—lying, for instance. I still don’t know how to take it. This notion that he can play around with documentary and resist the notion of offering what he calls the ’accountant’s truth’—-to me it’s a questionable tactic.
The estatic truth is nothing more than exaggerating a bit to make a stronger point. Is it flat out lying? No. Is it a bit untruthful. Yes. But it’s in Herzog’s genetics, if the man was not an exaggerating individual we would never have Aguirre or Fitzcaraldo.
But you don’t think it’s lying, Mark, when he has his subjects, like Dieter, say that they did things that they in fact didn’t? All the usual rhetoric about post-modern flourishes and liberties aside, in the documentary format people’s expectations are different: one doesn’t watch Fitzcarraldo that same way as Dieter. Whether Herzog likes it or not, most people approach documentaries expecting that ’accountant’s truth’. He can doll it up all he wants—turn his subjects into actors, sure—but let’s give it a new name, then. Quasi-documentary; even, to some extent, mock documentary, because it’s what he’s doing when he plays fast and loose with facts in documentaries.
In fact, I don’t believe Herzog ever uses the term documentary. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.) And, as there is no fundamentally objective truth in documentaries — even practitioners of cinema verite/direct cinema will tell you there are artistic choices to be made while making a film — I have no objection to a poet and visionary of the cinema, such as Herzog, taking any license he or she wishes. From what I’ve read, it wasn’t true that Dieter did not have locks on the doors of his home in California. Herzog made that up. Yet, it is the salient point of his character that you take away from the film. As Mark says above, you don’t get an AGUIRRE from just anyone. His films take you to moments of juxtaposition or conflict with an immediacy that says this is happening right now — or did happen, or could happen, or might happen. That’s the ecstatic truth that leaves us in wonder. And it makes us very curious about the filmmaker, the most mythopoeic filmmaker out there!
Points taken Darroch. Except to say I don’t know if it matters if WH uses the term or not; he knows what people’s expectations of a documentary are, and I think people may even except him to be a fabulist, to be visually daring, all of it; but I’m not sure if they expect him to futz about with facts. We can cede the point that there is no ‘objective truth’, sure; but I do think people approach documentaries expecting information, even education. If H thinks this it is wrongheaded or muddled or dangerously narrow thinking, so be it; except it isn’t. It’s a reasonable expectation. I think it’s fairer to say, building on a point you made, that H’s films are ultimately about him and him alone, and depending on my mood, or his subject matter, I can manage his ‘ecstatic’ narcissism very well. Dieter was just a stunning achievement, I thought; Grizzly Man also. In both cases I thought—H’s deceptions be damned—the films worked because H had found subjects that he thought were as engaging as he regards himself.
It is so difficult to choose!
4. Fata Morgana
“Lessons Of Darkness”; a film which annihilates the distinction between reality and fiction more powerfully than any of his other “documentaries” (which is indeed a problematic term, but for many more documentary filmmakers than just Herzog; I am hard pressed to think of a filmmaker who couldn’t be accused of fictionalizing his subjects in some way). The collision between the absolute reality of the images and the absolute fantasy of the narration creates a picture which is neither here nor there, and exists in the kind of in between place that not only stimulates, but confronts the mind. To top it off, the moment in which the cigarette is thrown is the single most powerful image in Herzog’s body of work.
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Heart of Glass and Aguirre the wrath of god
I have to say, Grizzly Man may be the best doc I have ever seen.
Man, I love Herzog! I am a huge fan of his documentaries and no he doesn’t like the term documentary. He believes that fabrication reveals a deeper more ecstatic truth while cinema verite reveals only the account’s truth. I have to say, I am not bothered at all when people fabricate documentaries. They are artists, not journalists. If you think that truth exists in documentary, you are mistaken. All ‘truth’ in documentary is necessarily mediated, because the director decides where to point the camera and how to edit the story together. Documentary started out being all reenactment and fabrication, with the early actualities of the Lumiere brothers, NANOOK OF THE NORTH
and the films of John Grierson. (sorry, didn’t mean to press enter!) No one had a problem with truth in doc until the observational filmmakers of the 70s asserted that they captured the truth of the situation by staying out of the way. Even Fred Wiseman said that his films were the creative treatment of actuality, Grierson original definition for doc. The fact that people believe that docs should be as truthful as possible seems problematic to me, because you have to realize how easy it is to fake doc codes and conventions. Everything you see in a doc, you should take with a grain of salt. That being said, I love MY BEST FIEND, LITTLE DIETER (especially!), LESSONS OF DARKNESS, GRIZZLY MAN, and I love BURDEN OF DREAMS and WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE by Les Blanks. It shows how absolutely madmadmad Herzog is! (hope this isn’t overly opinionated and snotty!!)
Aguirre: The Wrath of God & Fitzcarraldo
I want to see Stroszek and Woyzeck
“Aguirre: The Wrath of God” I never have and never will witness anything else like it.
I love love love Even Dwarves Started Small. I recently watched Lesons of Darkness and had a very powerful response to it. Stroszek would probably be my third favorite, from what I’ve seen. The ending to that film is pure magic.
Aguirre, with the audio commentary turned on.