Sunday, September 06, 2009

Werner Herzog's most maverick moments

In no particular order, and the only criteria being that I can't imagine these being attributable to any other film-maker, these are my ten favourite, most quinessential Herzog moments:

1) 'Aguirre, Wrath of God' - with the project doomed if its lead actor departed the jungle location, Herzog responded to Klaus Kinski threatening to pack up his things and board the next boat leaving for civilisation by assuring him that he had a rifle and nine bullets; eight of them would be in Kinski before he reached the first bend in the river, the ninth he would save for himself. Kinski decided to stay and finish shooting the film.

2) 'La Soufriere' - a Caribbean island's on the verge of destruction when a live volcano suddenly goes off the seismic scale. The islanders depart. The politicians and the police depart. The scientists measuring the volcano's activity depart. What does Herzog do? Round up a couple of cameramen and fly out there!

3) 'Fitzcarraldo' - shucking off the money men's suggestion that the film's centre-piece be achieved using a model boat in a greenhouse, Herzog has his cast and crew haul an honest-to-god steamship over a freakin' mountain!

4) 'Heart of Glass' - deciding that a dream-like atmosphere best suits this tale of a glass-works going out of business and causing the fiscal ruination of the town dependent on it, Herzog puts his cast under hypnosis.

5) 'Little Dieter Needs to Fly' - recreating Dieter Dengler's capture by the VC, Herzog eschews a simple "talking heads" account of the incident from Dengler himself, and spurns the docu-drama route of restaging key points of the narrative in a very polite, formal, more-tea-vicar BBC kind of way. Instead, he takes Dengler back to the jungle, handcuffs him, and has some big bastards shove him heavy-handedly through the foliage. Result: best documentary of the last two decades.

6) 'Even Dwarfs Started Small' - realising he would be putting his vertically-challenged cast through the ropes, he agreed that after the shoot was over he'd jump into a cactus field. The dwarfs did their scenes. The shoot concluded, Herzog threw himself happily into a field full of cactii.

7) 'The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser' - jettisoned any attempt at historical verisimilitude by casting mid-40s street musician Bruno S, as the 16-year-old Kaspar Hauser.

8) 'Woyzeck' - playing the hapless and much-put-upon soldier, Klaus Kinski decided that the opening sequence would benefit from the actor playing his drill sergeant giving him a real kicking. Herzog, making no attempt to dissuade either performer, filmed said kicking.

9) 'Stroszek' - ended this blackly comic tale of alienation and failure (yes, I know I just used "blackly comic", "alienation" and "failure" in the same sentence; trust me on this) with an interminable shot of a dancing chicken that so affronted DoP Thomas Mauch that Herzog had to explain the image thusly: "This is something very big. It looks unobstrusive when you see it with the naked eye in front of you, but don't you see that there is something big about it, something beyond what we are?" Mauch's response is unrecorded, but he filmed the chicken.

10) The Minnesota Declaration - declared war on Cinéma Vérité, describing at as "a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants".

No comments: