Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rescue Dawn

I don’t really need to write about ‘Rescue Dawn’. Tim’s review on Antagony & Ecstasy nails it.

Herzog’s source material – the plight of German-American pilot Dieter Dengler, shot down over Laos, imprisoned by the non-Geneva-Convention-friendly Vietcong and forced to survive inhospitable jungle conditions after he escapes – is something the director has already dealt with in his astounding documentary ‘Little Dieter Needs to Fly’.

True, re-approaching the story as a Hollywood-backed (and therefore decently budgeted) feature film means that Herzog can tackle it on a much broader canvas. And what he delivers is a compelling, well-made, brilliantly-acted slice of mainstream film-making.

But, as Tim pointedly asks, Who the holy fuck wants Werner Herzog to be a consummate professional?

If all this sounds like I’m gearing up to give ‘Rescue Dawn’ a slating, that’s not the case. There’s much to admire: it’s pacy, graced with terrific performances (Herzog manages to elicit a performance from Steve Zahn that doesn’t involve goofing around and being a wise-ass – and that’s saying something!), and is refreshingly non-judgemental in its observational portrayal of the VC, lifting the film far beyond the usual ‘grunts and gooks’ characterisations that typify American productions of this ilk.

And yet … and yet … this is Herzog in the jungle. This should be ‘Aguirre’ with planes, ‘Fitzcarraldo’ goes ’Nam. What it is, ultimately, is a dichotomy. It’s simultaneously one of the best things I’ve seen in a multiplex this year and arguably the most ordinary thing in Herzog’s filmography.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Best Fiend

‘My Best Fiend’ is a curiosity in many respects, not least because its translated English title (a one-letter-short corruption of “my best friend”) is wittier and far more effective than the German ‘Mein Leibster Feind’ (purpose of comparison: “feind”/“freunde” … not quite the same, is it?).

It’s a curiosity because I don’t know of any other director (though please feel free to correct me on this) making a film about his alter ego. My imagination takes over at this point. Kurosawa on Mifune: ‘My Best Samurai’. Losey on Bogarde: ‘My Best Repressed Englishman’. Scorsese on de Niro: ‘My Best Italian-American Before I Chucked Him For Leo’ …

Sorry, I digress. How you perceive ‘My Best Fiend’ depends on your definition of a documentary. Should it be an exercise in objectivity? If so, ‘My Best Fiend’ can be disallowed, purely because of Herzog’s relationship with his subject. (By this definition, Michael Moore’s entire output can also be excluded … they’re polemics, not documentaries. But, like ‘My Best Fiend’, they’re also good: provocative, compelling, always interesting to watch.)

In Herzog’s defence, he made the film almost a decade after Kinski’s death. No knee-jerk reaction or quick cash in. Also, he allows for the fact that Kinski can’t, by dint of mortality, have his say by allowing Eva Mattes and Claudia Cardinale (KK’s co-stars on ‘Woyzeck’ and ‘Fitzcarraldo’ respectively) to have theirs: both women attest to Kinski’s chivalrous, gentlemanly side. Mattes, particularly, pays attention to Kinski’s brilliance as an actor (the accompanying clip from ‘Woyzeck’ proves her point in fine style). The final scene, archive footage of Kinski, a childish grin on his face, watching a butterfly flit along his hand then alight on his ear, allows the audience to take away from the film a human, likeable Kinski, rather than the ranting egomaniac depicted in so many other scenes.

Scenes like:

Herzog recounting KK’s threatened walk-off during the filming of ‘Aguirre, the Wrath of God’ – Herzog tells him, very quietly and calmly, that he has a rifle and before Kinski reaches the next bend in the river, there’ll be eight bullets in him (“and the ninth will be for me”).

Kinski having a stand-up row (that quickly degenerates into the spectacle of a grown man determinedly throwing his toys out of the pram) with a producer on ‘Fitzcarraldo’. Herzog comes out of this scene just as badly, hovering in the background instead of bringing his errant star into line. The unfortunate producer, it must however be said, throws it back at Kinski in fine style … I’d love to stand the man a pint for his utter refusal to take Kinski’s shit.

Footage of Kinski’s controversial ‘Jesus’ tour, a one-man theatrical revue where he cast himself, in contemporary dress and language, as the abused and suffering Christ … only to abuse his audience vehemently for heckling.

There can be no doubt that Kinski was a victim of his own ego. Yet, for all that he recounts their clashes with avuncular calmness, there’s more than a hint of ego to Herzog’s centrality to ‘My Best Fiend’. At times, it seems less about Kinski than Herzog himself.

My partner, very much a newcomer to Herzog’s cinema and with only the sketchiest notion of who Kinski was, watched ‘My Best Fiend’ and offered the comment: “It’s like they both needed each other. Not surprising, really: they’re as mad as each other.”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cobra Verde

I’ve not read Bruce Chatwin’s novel ‘The Viceroy of Ouidah’, so I can’t comment on ‘Cobra Verde’ in terms of an adaptation. I have to consider it, then, purely on its own merits.

And, yes, ‘Cobra Verde’ has its merits, particularly in Herzog’s observational depiction of West African rituals, importance of dance and sense of ceremony. There are at least three excellent set-pieces, even though one of them is more effective in its build-up than its resolution. But more of that later. There are some good performances – although not Kinski’s; the actor was clearly on his way out (he died four years after the film was completed). Again, more of that later.

What is beyond debate is that ‘Cobra Verde’ is the least of the Herzog/Kinski films. Why? Well, I started this blog in order to celebrate the movies I loved, not to knock the ones that don’t come up to scratch … hmmm, six posts in and I can feel my mission statement straining at the edges.

Let’s pause for plot synopsis:

A feared Mexican bandit, Francisco Manoel da Silva (Kinski), is hired unwittingly by a landowner, Don Octavio (José Lewgoy), to oversee his slaves. He promptly gets Don Octavio’s three daughters pregnant. By now aware that he’s a feared bandit, the don dispatches him to West Africa to take care of his interests in the slave trade, quietly hoping that da Silva (nicknamed Cobra Verde by the locals) will be put to death as soon as he sets foot on African soil. What makes him so sure is that the recently appointed King Bossa de Ahadey of Dahomey (played by real-life royal, H.R.H. Nana Agyejfi Kwane II of Nsein) is a loose cannon who hates the sight of white men. Da Silva accepts the commission, sails to Africa, establishes himself at abandoned Fort Elmina, and trades rifles for slaves. Everything is going well until King Bossa has him seized and brought before him. King Bossa orders da Silva put to death (da Silva’s face is blacked up to get around the technicality of not killing white men!), but he is rescued by a rival faction. Da Silva trains an army of topless warrior women (I am not making this up) and leads them against King Bossa, dethroning him. Promoted to viceroy and returned to Fort Elmina, da Silva learns that Don Octavio, having taken delivery of the shipment of slaves, has double-crossed him and da Silva is now a wanted man. He drags a boat down to the shore, intending to set sail, but dies as he tries to haul it the last few feet into the waves.

To say the narrative jumps around a bit is like saying Oliver Reed took the odd lemonade shandy. Narratively and structurally, the film is all over the place. Normally this wouldn’t matter in a Herzog movie – the sheer filmic spectacle of it would be enough. And with its cast of hundreds and locations that included Brazil, Ghana and Colombia, it should have looked awesome. Instead, it’s curiously flat. Herzog’s frequent collaborator Thomas Mauch quit as director of photography after one too many run-ins with Kinski, and was replaced by Viktor Ruzicka. Mauch’s loss is clear in every frame of the film.

Plotwise, major developments are skimmed over or not bothered with at all. Villagers flee from da Silva in the opening scenes, but the biggest landowner in the territory hasn’t heard of him and casually hires him. We’re told he’s doing a fine job, but we never see him at work. He has his wicked way with Don Octavio’s three daughters, but there’s not a shred of sexual tension and only the briefest of scenes suggesting a liaison. I’m not saying acres of exposed flesh should have been the order of the day (although there’s plenty of that in the latter half), but like so many of the necessary plot developments of the first hour, this element of the film just doesn't convince.

The two main set pieces – the restoration of Fort Elmina and the attack on King Bossa’s residence – occupy the mid-section of ‘Cobra Verde’, the film then lapsing into a tedious, conversation-driven final act as da Silva realises the extent of Don Octavio’s betrayal. Only the magnificent death-scene, played out against the silvery patterns of light on water, recaptures what Herzog and Kinski were capable of.

Finally, Kinski himself must shoulder much of the blame. Wasted, crazed, his very presence on set generating a more negative atmosphere than ever before, his excesses behind the camera were, for the first time in his career, not mirrored by a galvanising performance in front of it. He drifts through most of the film in a daze, only coming alive to rant and snarl maniacally towards the end.

His best moment comes as he leads the rebel army. They enter King Bossa’s residence only to find a snake coiling languidly in front of them. “They’ve taken the sacred python from the temple,” someone warns him; “no-one who passes will live.” Da Silva rounds on the man: “They named me for a snake in my country. Attack!” And so saying, he kicks the serpent out of the way (a moment all the more crazily iconic for him being barefoot) and leads the charge … Only for the scene to end, abruptly and bloodlessly, just seconds later.

So what does ‘Cobra Verde’ have going for it? Well, Lewgoy is excellent as Don Octavio, hypocritically leching after his womenservants then lambasting his daughters for sluts when they fall pregnant. Likewise Peter Berling (returning from ‘Aguirre, the Wrath of God’), who also paints an acidic portrait of hypocrisy as a missionary whose interest in some of his parishioners (notably the bare-breasted “nun’s choir”) extends beyond touching their souls …

Mainly, though, there’s Africa. Its people, its customs, its rhythms. I can’t help thinking that Herzog’s cameras would have been better employed in filming a documentary.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Some films are defined by a single scene or sequence:

‘Bullitt’ – the car chase.

‘The French Connection’ – the car/elevated train chase.

‘The Italian Job’ – bunch of Minis beetling about.

‘Apocalypse Now’
– the helicopter attack/Ride of the Valkyries.

Parenthetically: funny how all these films are defined, essentially, by modes of transport.

Mention ‘Fitzcarraldo’ to any serious film fan – or, more explicitly, just look at the poster – and you’re immediately in “ship gets dragged over mountain” territory.

Watching Herzog’s fourth collaboration with Kinski again recently, it struck me that, for audiences seeing the film for the first time (those, anyway, for whom the game hadn’t been given away by the poster), its central conceit must have been truly astounding. You see, it’s not till an hour and half in (‘Fitzcarraldo’ runs 157 minutes) that Kinski gleefully outlines his deliriously lunatic scheme to circumvent a dangerous set of rapids by dragging his rusting old wreck of a vessel a couple of miles overland at the point where two tributaries run closest to each other.

Up until this point, the film has been about something equally grandiose: the all-consuming obsession of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Fitzcarraldo is the name the natives give him) to bring opera to the jungle. The man engages in business ventures not for personal profit, but so that he can build an opera house in the outer reaches of nowhere and have Enrico Caruso open it.

A German-Irish ex-patriot, at sea amongst the rubber barons and dissipates who have achieved what all white men in far-flung corners of the globe manage to achieve (the raping of the land and the subjugation of the indigenous population), he struggles to make his fortune. His one ally, also his consort, is Molly (Claudia Cardinale), madame of a prosperous brothel. With unerring faith, she sinks her savings into his latest venture, the acquisition of a rust-tub boat and a claim on a chunk of land rife with rubber trees. The only reason Fitzcarraldo’s peers haven’t already exploited the territory is its inaccessibility.

Fitzcarraldo is a laughing stock, principally because of his last failed venture, the Trans-Andean Railway, a project that got no further forward than a station, a waiting room and a few dozen yards of track. Mentioned several times in dialogue, Herzog actually depicts this tremendous folly about an hour in, and it’s the first indication of the scope, madness and resilience of both Herzog’s film and its eccentric protagonist.

Of the films I mentioned at the start of this post, ‘Apocalypse Now’ has the closest parallels to ‘Fitzcarraldo’: jungle setting, troubled production, director lionised by the press as egomaniacal. Also, both are hugely visual and visionary. For want of a better word, epic.

And not just in terms of running time. It’s the sheer concept of what the film-makers went through in order to achieve their vision that leaves you reeling. With the anachronistic exception of a bulldozer that was used to level ground and, on occasion, give the ship a helping tug, everything that Herzog puts on screen was physically effected by his cast and crew.

It’s easy to be blasé about visual effects nowadays: CGI can pretty much give shape and form to anything. But ‘Fitzcarraldo’ was made over twenty-five years ago. No green-screen and digital imagery back then. What there was back then, and what most directors would have opted for, was model work. (Remember the Airfix-kit-in-a-swimming-pool special effects of costly flop ‘Raise the Titanic’?) Not Mr Herzog. He keeps it real. And thank God he does. Even after multiple viewings, ‘Fitzcarraldo’ continues to astound, inspire and delight me.

True, the spectacle, the visuals, the look of the film (a raised glass here to cinematographer Thomas Mauch) are amazing. But beyond that, and for all that Fitzcarraldo’s scheme ultimately fails, the most delightful aspect of the film is its exuberance. Compare Kinski’s character here to his portrayals of Aguirre (crazed, violent, egocentric), Dracula (vampire; ’nuff said) or Woyzeck (persecuted, paranoid, driven to violence). As Fitzcarraldo, he laughs, he smiles (whether he’s in Molly’s arms or being transported by a scratchy recording of Caruso), he embodies jubilation even though his plans come to naught … in short, he never stops dreaming.

Aside, perhaps, from ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film about failure that’s emerged as so gloriously life-affirming.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Unfinished at the time of his death, Georg Büchner’s play ‘Woyzeck’ is nonetheless one of the most widely performed and critically acclaimed theatrical works in the German language. It has been adapted as an opera by Alban Berg and a musical by Robert Wilson and Tom Waits, subjected to numerous TV adaptations, and filmed by Giancarlo Cobelli (1973), Werner Herzog (1979), Guy Marignane (1993), János Szász (1994) and Álvaro Olavarría (2004).

Herzog made his version just days after ‘Nosferatu’ wrapped, using the same cast and with Kinski once more in the title role. (It’s interesting to note that all of their collaborations take their title from the protagonist’s name.) ‘Woyzeck’ was shot in eighteen days and edited in five. The finished product is simultaneously one of Herzog’s most formal and most experimental films.

The reason for this – and also the reason it was made so quickly – is that the film, which clocks in at a scant eighty minutes, consists of just twenty-seven cuts. That’s an average of one cut every three minutes. As opposed to your average Hollywood film which probably cuts every ten or fifteen seconds. (Or every three if you’re Michael Bay and pandering to a core audience with an MTV attention-span.)

This sometimes makes for a very theatrical viewing experience (curious given Herzog’s declaration that he detests the falsity of theatre), such as an early scene where Woyzeck shaves his captain while the old duffer spouts about morality, brow-beating Woyzeck for his lack thereof. Movement is minimal. The captain has virtually all the dialogue and remains a static figure throughout. Woyzeck bustles about him but is ordered to slow down, not to take life so hurriedly. The sequence slips into a strangely compelling torpor.

The contrast, then, is that much greater when, in a later scene – played out in its entirety in one take – Woyzeck confronts his faithless consort Marie (Eva Mattes). Kinski flings himself around the screen like a man possessed (which, basically, is what Woyzeck is), the camera whipping after him, edging in, pulling back, almost seeming alternately to probe towards and then retreat from him. It’s such a dynamic scene, so powerfully acted (and not just by Kinski – Mattes won a richly deserved Best Actress award at Cannes) that you forget it’s unedited.

Woyzeck, a peasant enlisted as a private in the army, supplements his pay by barbering for the captain and undergoing medical experiments for a doctor whose interest in the physical effects of extreme situations extends to throwing a cat out of the window and ordering Woyzeck to exist solely on a diet of peas. While his time is occupied in these pursuits, Marie conducts an affair with the battalion’s unrepentantly macho drum major.

In essence then, Woyzeck is the poor man, the little man, beset on all sides by a society who will always oppress him. The captain, corpulent and self-satisfied, represents wealth, greed, social standing and the hypocrisy that comes with it. The doctor embodies scientific enquiry at the cost of humanitarianism. The drum major, built like a brick outhouse and strutting his stuff before the town’s female populace, is a study in pride, arrogance and superficiality. He’s little more than a gigolo and, as such, complements Marie, whose easy virtue robs Woyzeck of the one thing he tries desperately to cling onto: her affection.

Naturally, it all ends badly. When Woyzeck finally loses his grip on reality, Herzog lifts from the film its structural formalism and renders Woyzeck’s climactic act of violent madness in Peckinpah-like slo-mo. (The opening credits sequence, in which Woyzeck comes sprinting round the side of his barracks, harangued by his drill sergeant, the footage speeded up, neatly prefigures this.)

I found ‘Woyzeck’ difficult the first time I saw it. The film seemed longer than its eighty minutes. I found the dialogue non-naturalistic (Büchner’s fragment was written in 1837) and the catalogue of Woyzeck’s miseries almost depressingly inevitable. The scope and the evocation of landscape that had so enthralled me in other Herzog films were missing.

Subsequently, even though it’s still considerably down the list in terms of my most watched Herzog DVDs, I’ve realised that just as the film opens and closes with a melancholy theme played by a string quartet, ‘Woyzeck’ is essentially a chamber piece. And it’s Kinski – haunted, harried, driven to desperation – who claws at the very fabric of the film with the immediacy of his performance.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht

F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent classic ‘Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens’ (‘Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horrors’ is basically an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ but with a different title, Van Helsing written out of the story and name of the vampire changed from Count Dracula to Count Orlok. The fact that Stoker’s novel was still in copyright at the time accounts for these changes.

‘Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens’ is still an incredibly creepy film, eighty-five years after it was made; like Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’ (1932), it retains an immediacy, a power to shock. The key element in Murnau’s film is the casting of the appropriately named Max Schreck (his surname is German for ‘terror’): bald, hollow-eyed, a rat-like mouth and bat-like ears, fingernails like a prototype Freddie Krueger, his appearance is genuinely unsettling.

There is a tradition in cinema of the vampire as suave and aristocratic. Not in German cinema, though. In German cinema the vampire is the stuff of nightmare. There was only ever going to be one casting option for the remake.
Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Klaus!

Kinski’s ‘look’ in the film is one of several direct quotations from Murnau’s original: there’s also the iconic image of a deformed shadow creeping across a wall, as well as a scene the vampire rising from his coffin to stalk the empty decks of a ship by night (the fast clipper with its bustling crew has become a ghost ship by the time it makes land).

Elsewhere, however, it’s pure Herzog. Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz)’s journey to Castle Dracula is a study in landscapes. His arrival by night is strikingly lit, a visual hyper-stylization that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dario Argento movie. Harker encounters suspicious innkeepers and superstitious gypsies (and with good reason), and finally Dracula himself. These scenes are effective slices of gothic, and contrast well with almost clinical neatness of Delft, where the second half of the film is set.

Herzog restores the name Dracula to the character, as well as bringing Van Helsing back into the picture. Interestingly, though, Van Helsing is portrayed not as a dedicated vampire-hunter but a non-superstitious man of science. Herzog also deviates from Stoker’s archetypes with Harker who, after his against-the-clock race back from Castle Dracula, arrives in Delft delirious and unable to recognise his wife. Dracula, meanwhile, recognises her only too well.

Dracula goes to Delft in pursuit of Mina Harker (Isabelle Adjani), his desire for her terrible yet strangely poignant. He brings with him a plague of rats. The town is overrun. The council flees its crisis meeting. Order crumbles. A group of wealthy merchants, infected and resigned to their inevitable fate, hold a massive valedictory feast in the rat-strewn town square. This scene in particular – reminiscent of the monkeys swarming over Aguirre’s raft in ‘Aguirre, the Wrath of God’ – marks out ‘Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht’ as unforgettably Herzog.

Image is of primary importance in telling the story: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein, a frequent Herzog collaborator, was cinematographer. Cast-wise, Bruno Ganz gives a straightforward performance as Harker, writer and occasional actor Roland Topor steals every scene he’s in as a manic, giggling Renfield, and only Isabelle Adjani seems at a loss, given little to do but look wan and romantic as Mina. But it’s Kinski who stays in the memory, even though he has only twenty minutes’ screen time. Appropriately enough, he casts a shadow that permeates the whole film.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

‘Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes’, to use its stern-sounding original German title, was Werner Herzog’s first collaboration with Klaus Kinski and saddled both of them with reputations that neither ever really shook off:

Fraught production – check.

Inhospitable location – check (Herzog and Kinski would return to the jungle ten years later for the epic ‘Fitzcarraldo’).

Maverick director vs. egomaniacal actor – check.

The conflict between Herzog and Kinski continued across another four films, and was revisited, years after Kinski’s death, in Herzog’s ‘My Best Fiend’, a film that is part-documentary, part-black-Valentine.

‘Aguirre’ is set in 1560 and chronicles the journey, deep into the Peruvian rainforest, of an invading Spanish army in search of the legendary (and determinedly non-existent) city of El Dorado. The film opens with an extraordinary shot of a thousand Conquistadores in full armour and their captured indian guides/sherpas hauling pigs, horses, llamas, provisions and cannons down from the Andes into the jungle. The route is treacherous, the mountainside shrouded in mist. Herzog films their descent almost documentary-style: he’s not trying to impress by directing a big, show-offy scene; he’s simply recording their progress.

And that’s what he does for the rest of the film, recording not only their descent from the Andes, but their descent into treachery, distrust, death and – in Aguirre’s case – madness. But without any melodrama or moralizing. There are no big, actorly, grandstanding scenes. Even Kinski, never the subtlest performer, gives a controlled, gaunt-eyed performance (Herzog has said that he dealt with Kinski’s excesses by baiting him before the cameras rolled, letting him rant himself into exhaustion, then filming the scene).

There are notable performances, too, from Roy Guerra as Don Pedro de Ursua, whose leadership Aguirre overthrows; and Peter Berling as the pitiful Don Fernando de Guzman, whom Aguirre handpicks to replace Ursua. Aguirre takes his rebellion to extremes, declaring that the group are no longer answerable to church or state, and even goes as far as “crowning” Guzman King of the New World. Watch Peter Berling’s face in this scene: he communicates cowardice (Guzman knows he’s nothing but Aguirre’s puppet), misery and helplessness in just a few seconds without a hint of overacting. Guerra, too, effectively suggests the wounded Ursua’s struggle to retain dignity while the expedition – originally under his charge – draws closer to self-destruction the further into the jungle they penetrate.

But the real stars of the show are Herzog himself and cinematographer Thomas Mauch. ‘Aguirre’ bristles with stunning imagery. There’s the fog-wreathed mountainside at the start. There’s a hypnotically brilliant shot which holds on the tumbling brown river, muddy banks overhung with vegetation to either side, before cutting to a close-up of churning water – these two simple shots occupy over a minute of screen time. There’s the jungle itself – forget the lush, verdant expanse of Hollywood productions; Herzog’s jungle is dark, humid, visceral and alive.

And then there’s the unforgettable final image: Aguirre stumbling dazed around a slowly sinking raft overrun with chittering monkeys, delivering a crazed monologue: “I, the Wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I will found the purest dynasty the world has ever seen. We shall rule this entire continent. We shall endure. I am the Wrath of God.” His daughter, probably mercifully for her, is dead by this point. So is everyone else. The only thing that endures is Aguirre’s madness.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

By way of introduction (hats off to Herzog)

In August 2004, I started a blog on 20six called MovieBuff. I reviewed every film I saw on the big screen, as well as tossing in the occasional diary entry.

In June 2006, the administrators of 20six changed the operating software: the layout reverted to a bland standard form template, my link list disappeared and I found myself needing a password to access my own blog. Along with many other 20sixers, I jumped ship for Platform 27, setting up the somewhat self-reverentially titled MovieBuff Redux.

I continued posting reviews of everything I saw at the cinema, in the meantime neglecting to write about any number of cinematic gems I’d discovered only on video or DVD. I continued throwing in occasional diary entries, some of them striving for mundanity and just missing. I blogged book reviews, too, just in case the blog wasn’t unfocused enough.

Just over a week ago – with the twin concerns of moving house and an increased workload at the office accounting for much of my time and energy, with the readership and sense of community on Platform 27 rapidly dwindling, with my reviews becoming increasingly by-the-numbers – I posted my last entry. I was intending to call time on any blogging activities until the New Year, once the home/office situations had settled down.

Over the weekend, I started reading the Faber film book Herzog on Herzog, edited by Paul Cronin. I’ve been gripped, challenged and re-invigorated by it. I’m already working my way through the Herzog/Kinski box set, revisiting their fraught but brilliant collaborations in chronological order. These will be the subject of my first entries on this new blog.

Something became clear to me reading the book. To contextualise, here’s a few Herzog quotes:

It is the moving image per se that is the message in these kinds of films [ie. movies that do not try to ‘pass on a heavy idea to the audience’], the way that the film simply moves on the screen without asking you questions. I love this kind of cinema … Someone like Jean-Luc Goddard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film.

The images that surround us today are worn out … The biggest danger, in my opinion is television because to a certain degree it ruins our vision and makes us very sad and lonesome. Our grandchildren will blame us for not having tossed hand-grenades into TV stations because of commercials. Television kills our imagination and what we end up with are worn-out images because of the inability of too many people to seek out fresh ones.

Film is not analysis, it is the agitation of the mind; cinema comes from the country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism.

Blogging straightforward reviews of everything I’d seen meant I’d wasted time and words and blog-space on a lot of films that were at best average if not outright crap. Also, I’d been too analytical. I’d used words like ‘aesthetics’, ‘denouement’ and ‘mise en scene’. I’d been picky and sniffy when I should have been enthusing about the movies that really matter, never mind that I might only ever have seen them on the small screen.

Vielen dank’, Herr Herzog, you have given me a direction for this new project: the appreciation, not the analysis, of film; a celebration of its wonderful idiosyncracies, not a dissection of its mundane failures.