He has a way with words

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Werner Herzog’s special message to one and all.

Have a very Herzog New Year – perhaps even celebrate with a tattoo of the man himself:

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..or maybe it’s best to get better acquainted with his work first. Now is the time then to remind yourself of the masterpieces – which is handy as a new WERNER HERZOG COLLECTION has just been issued by the BFI on DVD – especially as perhaps you’d rather design your own Herzog-inspired tat. A massive Kinski-Fitzcarraldo face on your back, perhaps?

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 Or perhaps a penguin, tragically walking in the wrong direction…

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Or not. As you prefer. The films are still worth watching..

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The 18 film box set includes the kind of excellent special features you’d expect from the BFI and a booklet full of articles etc.

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 No there isn’t.

posted by Dixie Turner

Werner Herzog and Errol Morris talk about ‘The Act of Killing’ (2012)

The blurring of performance and reality; the difference between ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ – two great documentarians, both of whom are executive producers of the film, discuss Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary on the anti-communist purge that was the Indonesia killings which took place in 1965-66. The film chronicles – via re-enactment – many of the killings by the gangsters who were put in charge of the death squads, one of whom allegedly killed up to 1,000 people personally.

Interview with director Joshua Oppenheimer for the BFI

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Look out for Oppenheimer’s latest film ‘The Look of Silence’, currently doing the rounds at various film festivals and, hopefully, to make it’s way to a cinema near you sometime soon (as of yet, there’s no UK release date)..

 

posted by Dixie Turner

Roger Ebert’s Letter to Werner Herzog

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Dear Werner,

You have done me the astonishing honor of dedicating your new film, “Encounters at the End of the World,” to me. Since I have admired your work beyond measure for the almost 40 years since we first met, I do not need to explain how much this kindness means to me. When I saw the film at the Toronto Film Festival and wrote to thank you, I said I wondered if it would be a conflict of interest for me to review the film, even though of course you have made a film I could not possibly dislike. I said I thought perhaps the solution was to simply write you a letter.

But I will review the film, my friend, when it arrives in theaters on its way to airing on the Discovery Channel. I will review it, and I will challenge anyone to describe my praise as inaccurate.

I will review it because I love great films and must share my enthusiasm.

This is not that review. It is the letter. It is a letter to a man whose life and career have embodied a vision of the cinema that challenges moviegoers to ask themselves questions not only about films but about lives. About their lives, and the lives of the people in your films, and your own life.

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Without ever making a movie for solely commercial reasons, without ever having a dependable source of financing, without the attention of the studios and the oligarchies that decide what may be filmed and shown, you have directed at least 55 films or television productions, and we will not count the operas. You have worked all the time, because you have depended on your imagination instead of budgets, stars or publicity campaigns. You have had the visions and made the films and trusted people to find them, and they have. It is safe to say you are as admired and venerated as any filmmaker alive–among those who have heard of you, of course. Those who do not know your work, and the work of your comrades in the independent film world, are missing experiences that might shake and inspire them.

I have not seen all your films, and do not have a perfect memory, but I believe you have never made a film depending on sex, violence or chase scenes. Oh, there is violence in “Lessons of Darkness,” about the Kuwait oil fields aflame, or “Grizzly Man,” or “Rescue Dawn.” But not “entertaining violence.” There is sort of a chase scene in “Even Dwarfs Started Small.” But there aren’t any romances.

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You have avoided this content, I suspect, because it lends itself so seductively to formulas, and you want every film to be absolutely original.

You have also avoided all “obligatory scenes,” including artificial happy endings. And special effects (everyone knows about the real boat in “Fitzcarraldo,” but even the swarms of rats in “Nosferatu” are real rats, and your strong man in “Invincible” actually lifted the weights). And you don’t use musical scores that tell us how to feel about the content. Instead, you prefer free-standing music that evokes a mood: You use classical music, opera, oratorios, requiems, aboriginal music, the sounds of the sea, bird cries, and of course Popol Vuh.

All of these decisions proceed from your belief that the audience must be able to believe what it sees. Not its “truth,” but its actuality, its ecstatic truth.

You often say this modern world is starving for images. That the media pound the same paltry ideas into our heads time and again, and that we need to see around the edges or over the top. When you open “Encounters at the End of the World” by following a marine biologist under the ice floes of the South Pole, and listening to the alien sounds of the creatures who thrive there, you show me a place on my planet I did not know about, and I am richer. You are the most curious of men. You are like the storytellers of old, returning from far lands with spellbinding tales.

I remember at the Telluride Film Festival, ten or 12 years ago, when you told me you had a video of your latest documentary. We found a TV set in a hotel room and I saw “Bells from the Deep,” a film in which you wandered through Russia observing strange beliefs.

There were the people who lived near a deep lake, and believed that on its bottom there was a city populated by angels. To see it, they had to wait until winter when the water was crystal clear, and then creep spread-eagled onto the ice. If the ice was too thick, they could not see well enough. Too thin, and they might drown. We heard the ice creaking beneath them as they peered for their vision.

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Then we met a monk who looked like Rasputin. You found that there were hundreds of “Rasputins,” some claiming to be Jesus Christ, walking through Russia with their prophecies and warnings. These people, and their intense focus, and the music evoking another world (as your sound tracks always do) held me in their spell, and we talked for some time about the film, and then you said, “But you know, Roger, it is all made up.” I did not understand. “It is not real. I invented it.”

I didn’t know whether to believe you about your own film. But I know you speak of “ecstatic truth,” of a truth beyond the merely factual, a truth that records not the real world but the world as we dream it.

Your documentary “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” begins with a real man, Dieter Dengler, who really was a prisoner of the Viet Cong, and who really did escape through the jungle and was the only American who freed himself from a Viet Cong prison camp. As the film opens, we see him entering his house, and compulsively opening and closing windows and doors, to be sure he is not locked in. “That was my idea,” you told me. “Dieter does not really do that. But it is how he feels.”

The line between truth and fiction is a mirage in your work.

Some of the documentaries contain fiction, and some of the fiction films contain fact. Yes, you really did haul a boat up a mountainside in “Fitzcarraldo,” even though any other director would have used a model, or special effects. You organized the ropes and pulleys and workers in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, and hauled the boat up into the jungle. And later, when the boat seemed to be caught in a rapids that threatened its destruction, it really was. This in a fiction film. The audience will know if the shots are real, you said, and that will affect how they see the film.

I understand this. What must be true, must be true. What must not be true, can be made more true by invention. Your films, frame by frame, contain a kind of rapturous truth that transcends the factually mundane. And yet when you find something real, you show it.

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You based “Grizzly Man” on the videos that Timothy Treadwell took in Alaska during his summers with wild bears. In Antarctica, in “Encounters at the End of the World,” you talk with real people who have chosen to make their lives there in a research station. Some are “linguists on a continent with no language,” you note, others are “PhDs working as cooks.” When a marine biologist cuts a hole in the ice and dives beneath it, he does not use a rope to find his way back to the small escape circle in the limitless shelf above him, because it would restrict his research. When he comes up, he simply hopes he can find the hole. This is all true, but it is also ecstatic truth.

In the process of compiling your life’s work, you have never lost your sense of humor. Your narrations are central to the appeal of your documentaries, and your wonder at human nature is central to your fiction. In one scene you can foresee the end of life on earth, and in another show us country musicians picking their guitars and banjos on the roof of a hut at the South Pole. You did not go to Antarctica, you assure us at the outset, to film cute penguins. But you did film one cute penguin, a penguin that was disoriented, and was steadfastly walking in precisely the wrong direction–into an ice vastness the size of Texas. “And if you turn him around in the right direction,” you say, “he will turn himself around, and keep going in the wrong direction, until he starves and dies.” The sight of that penguin waddling optimistically toward his doom would be heartbreaking, except that he is so sure he is correct.

But I have started to wander off like the penguin, my friend.

I have started out to praise your work, and have ended by describing it. Maybe it is the same thing. You and your work are unique and invaluable, and you ennoble the cinema when so many debase it. You have the audacity to believe that if you make a film about anything that interests you, it will interest us as well. And you have proven it.

With admiration,
Roger

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(Source: rogerebert.com)

posted by Dixie Turner

Happy Herzog – Werner’s Minnesota Declaration: Defining ‘Ecstatic Truth’

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Happy birthday, Werner Herzog, in whose hands the “permanent and immediate danger” of existence drops out of darkness, touches poetry and brightens and strengthens the heart and mind.

“LESSONS OF DARKNESS”

Minnesota declaration: truth and fact in documentary cinema

1. By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.

2. One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. “For me,” he says, “there should be only one single law: the bad guys should go to jail.”

Unfortunately, he is part right, for most of the many, much of the time.

3. Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.

4. Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.

5. There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.

6. Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures amid ancient ruins of facts.

7. Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.

8. Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: “You can´t legislate stupidity.”

9. The gauntlet is hereby thrown down.

10. The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn’t call, doesn’t speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don´t you listen to the Song of Life.

11. We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile.

12. Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution some species – including man – crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota April 30, 1999 Werner Herzog

(source: rogerebert.com)

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 posted by Dixie Turner

New in Today:

Into the Abyss (2011)

The new documentary by Werner Herzog. Through interviews with death row inmates and those effected by their crimes, the film looks both at murder by the individual as well as murder by the state through capital punishment, and questions the sacredness of life and whether there can ever be justifiable reasons for killing.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uV1_Yc8OSw

Werner Herzog talks about Into the Abyss: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxAKST1wHl8

New York Times article about the death penalty in California: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/07/us/fighting-to-repeal-california-execution-law-they-championed.html?pagewanted=all

Info on U.S. state executions from the wonderfully named Death Penalty Information Center: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf

Info on the death penalty in international law from Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty/international-law

Werner Herzog/Cave of Forgotten Dreams

On the 30th April, Herzog’s latest documentary feature, Into the Abyss, will be released on DVD.

Into the Abyss

Through interviews with death row inmates and those effected by their crimes, the film looks at murder and state execution and questions the sacredness of life and whether there can ever be justifiable reasons for killing.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uV1_Yc8OSw

In anticipation of the release of Into the Abyss, Rob Munday looks back at Herzog’s last documentary feature:

 Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

By Rob Munday

The Chauvet Cave in the South of France contains the earliest known cave paintings dating back 35,000 years. They provide the location for the latest documentary from master filmmaker Werner Herzog (a mere 68 years old in comparison).

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a typically odd ode to early mankind and the urge to create.

Throughout his career Werner Herzog has been restless in his pursuit of the unseen, unknown, ill-formed, wondrous, and beguiling in both man and nature. Here he has gained access to the highly restricted Chauvet caves which when discovered in 1994 revealed a brilliantly preserved array of ancient artwork.

The paintings are remarkable. What you assume will be naïve or barely formed scribblings turn out to be fully realised scenes. An assortment of creatures (now long gone from the region) are depicted with skill and subtlety. These are messages from beyond the grave – a glimpse into our ancestor’s lives. As they emerge from the shadows these images remain startlingly fresh and alive.

This is Herzog’s first 3D film and the results of using this technology are mixed.

It works well within the caves to place us within these damp walls and glowing visions. Despite being constrained by the use of a narrow metal walkway and minimal lighting Peter Zeitlinger’s camera glides elegantly across the curving walls. The sense of depth from 3D succeeds in mapping the contours and layout of this environment. All this may be useful for geologists of the future but you do wonder if it helps the effectiveness of the overall film. Outside the caves and in the interviews the 3D serves no purpose and its downsides of fuzziness and a grey pallor reduce the power of Herzog’s intimate vision.

Herzog has a knack for delving beneath the mundane to reveal the remarkable. This is particularly true of his distinctive interviews. His voice (he is always off-screen) prompts, interrupts, and unearths brilliant nuggets. His genuine interest and unfailing humility always seem to bring out the best from his subjects.

Herzog’s narration is also enjoyably idiosyncratic. He draws you in effortlessly with his philosophising and bizarre observations. There is something about his Bavarian tones that is both comforting and comical.

Despite the central wonder of its subject this film does at times fail to grip. The extended sequences inside the cave get claustrophobic and the film can occasionally drift into the arid arena of the educational documentary.

You feel that Herzog needs a central personality to focus on and to battle with like Timothy Treadwell in his previous film Grizzly Man. This film could have been an excellent 30 minutes (like his beautiful short doc Le Soufriere) but at feature-length the interest will wane for those who aren’t geologists.

Despite this there is a brilliantly mad epilogue where Herzog’s dulcet tones muse on the future of mankind while we observe albino alligators.

This may be a minor work in comparison with 2010’s best film (Bad Lieutenant), but Herzog remains a filmmaker to cherish.