• Herzog: The Collection



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: July 29th, 2014.
    Director: Werner Herzog
    Cast: Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog, Bruno S., Claudia Cardinale
    Year: Various
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    The Movies:

    One of the most important filmmakers of modern times, Werner Herzog’s work is given a sixteen film retrospective Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory. The films in the set are presented in the lavishly packaged boxed set as follows:

    Even Dwarfs Started Small:

    Made in 1970, Even Dwarfs Started Small is very likely the strangest film Herzog has made so far in his rather unique career. The feature length effort, like 1938’s The Terror Of Tiny Town, is cast entirely with little people and it’s about as off the wall as you could imagine.

    The film is set in an institution of some sort, where the inhabitants have recently overthrown whatever establishment was once in charge, much to the dismay of the one caretaker who seems to be there (Pepi Hermine). As the inhabitants rebel against their oppressors, their antics become more and more over the top to the point where everyone and everything, including the local animal population, become participants, willing or otherwise. And all the while, a dwarf called Hombre (Helmet Doring), laughs and laughs and laughs…

    Equal parts absurdist surrealism and dark satire, here Herzog uses dark imagery – a dead pig suckling its piglets, a monkey crucified in a procession in place of a Christ figure to name just two of the film’s more iconic moments – and a seemingly very enthusiastic cast to create a film that is wholly unique. Of course, the cast of little people make this one stand out from the start, particularly because they seem to be the only human inhabitants, though the world around them is not to scale, but even if you were to remake the movie with ‘regular’ sized folk this would still be a remarkably bizarre movie.

    This is essentially a feature length look at a rebellion against society that in turn becomes a series of manic set pieces rather than a traditional narrative film but so too is it a very bleak film. Much is left up to the viewer to interpret – we’re never told what the institution these people are rebelling against ever is (but does it even matter?) – and so this winds up being one of those movies that will only provide you with as much satisfaction as you’re willing to invest with interpretation but it does offer no shortage of stark imagery and thought provoking set pieces.

    Click on the images below and throughout the review for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

























    Land Of Silence And Darkness:

    Truly one of Herzog's finest achievements in documentary filmmaking, this almost feature length piece takes a look at the life of one Fini Straubinger, a woman who, after a fall down a flight of stairs at the age of eight, gradually lost her hearing and her sight as she got older. She spent a fair bit of time simply lying in bed once this happened but as time went on she grew stronger and opted not to let her condition get her down. Instead, rather than sit around and dwell on what she had lost, she ended up traveling around the country helping to communicate with other deaf-blind patients in Germany. How do they communicate? Almost through a sort of Morse Code, in which they tap out a series of dots or dashes on one another's hand, which in turn represent letters. Fini, unlike many other deaf-blind patients, has mastered this technique and is able to communicate very well using it, and she uses her skills in this form of communication as well as her absolutely magnificent people skills to help others.

    As Herzog follows her around and observes her work we're almost instantly struck by how completely gentle this woman is. She truly cares about the people that she is trying to help and unlike so many of us, she really is doing what she can to improve the lives of others. As we learn about Fini, so too do we learn about the ways of the deaf-blind, who have almost got their own society in that they can communicate with one another in ways that are exclusive to an extent.

    There are moments in this film that will stick with you for a long time to come, not because they're sad or they ask you to pity their subjects but just because they're so powerful. When Fini tries to communicate with a young man who was more or less abandoned as a child, she finds he never learned to talk or communicate at all – all he really does is grunt, stopping once in a while to hit himself with his ball. He's much bigger than he is and he is quite aggressive but that doesn't stop the tiny old woman from reaching out to him, holding onto a glimmer of hope that she'll some day break through to him and help him move on to a better place. Another striking moment is when Fini and some of her acquaintances take a trip to the zoo. We see them petting the animals knowing that they'll never be able to see or hear them, but we can tell by the expressions on their faces that they know what they're doing and that it just simply makes them happy to be doing it.

    The irony of all of this is, of course, the fact that neither Fini or any of the other deaf-blind patients will ever be able to see or hear the results of Herzog's endeavor. The film is much simpler in terms of its execution than a lot of his other documentaries and while it is still very much instantly identifiable as his work, it isn't quite as heavy handed as some of his other films. There are times when Herzog's personality and quirks dominate the narrative more than Fini's do, but that's part and parcel with his work, you have to accept that this is how he makes his movies and how he tells his stories – he always has and he always will, it's part of his charm – but he doesn't go off to the same extent that he has before or since.

    Ultimately, Land Of Silence And Darkness is a very beautiful film about a fascinating and incredibly strong woman who has handled her difficulties in a truly admirable way.





    Fata Morgana:

    With Fata Morgana, Herzog perfects the technique he showed early on with Herakles, his first short from 1962, by juxtapositioning moving pictures and images with music and voice over, sans any serious or traditional narration. It's a very experimental work, and a high point in the man's career. To start things off, let the record show that this film has absolutely no plot. Instead, Herzog's camera shows us a series of images shot in and around the Sahara Desert. The music of Leonard Cohen plays throughout most of the film (three songs specifically – Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye, Suzanne, and So Long Marianne) and there are a few lines of spoken dialogue here and there to give the movie some context.

    The images here are what are important. With no story to get in the way we're able to soak in some of the most amazing scenes you're going to see in a truly interesting environment. Split up into three parts – Creation, Paradise and The Golden Age – Herzog toys with various myths and religious themes as he simply shows us what a lot of us would never both to stop and look at. Actual desert mirages are shot and we see the hallucinations through the lens for ourselves. We see bombed out cars, smoking wreckage, and some odd roadside performance artists. The images tend to contrast with the titles of the three chapters and interestingly enough, Herzog shows us not what mankind sees in nature, but how nature sees mankind.

    He cleverly sets up a shot in which a young boy stands with his pet dog. Though initially we see the dog as we normally would both in real life and in a film, the camera soon subverts the image and before we really realize it we're looking at the boy from the dogs point of view. Little tricks like this, subtle and smart camera work and compositions, lend an air of the supernatural to the natural. Herzog's work has often times concentrated on the natural and on man's eternal conflict with his environment, Fata Morgana is no different than many of his other films in that regard, but here it all comes together quite seamlessly. In this film, man is not the central focus of the film, he's simply a part of the bigger picture, part of the landscape or the environment himself.















    Aguirre, The Wrath Of God:

    You’d think that when two lunatics head into the jungle to make movie based on an obscure historical figure, with the intent to capture things authentically particularly in regards to location, that things could go horribly wrong. Tempers could flare, egos could clash, a small crew working with a fairly low budget could easily find themselves in over their heads and lives could very well wind up at risk. And in many ways, this is exactly what happened when a twenty-eight year old Werner Herzog cast a fairly unhinged Klaus Kinski as the lead in his 1972 masterpiece, Aguirre, Wrath Of God.

    The story begins with one of the most amazing opening shots you’re ever likely to see as the camera captures the voyage of a group of sixteenth century Spanish conquistadors, led by Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés), traversing the slope of a Peruvian mountain side in the jungle, heavy fog rolling across the background as a portentous foreshadowing of what’s to come. They make their way towards the Amazon River in hopes that it will lead them to El Dorado, the fabled land of gold. The Spanish soldiers and the native guides accompanying them on their trip build rafts and head down the river through rapids, deeper into the jungle. Along the way, a power struggle begins to take shape between Pizarro and a soldier named Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski).

    When it is decided that the group while try to head back to civilization, Aguirre pushes back, insisting that they continue on their mission and appointing Don Pedro de Ursua (Ray Guerra) as leader. Some of the men side with him, others do not but eventually he, his daughter Florés (Cecilia Rivera), Ursua’s mistress Inez (Helena Rojo), a priest named Gaspar de Carvajal (Del Negro) and a group of followers forge ahead in search of what Aguirre insists is their destiny. The further into the jungle they go, the worse things get for the dwindling group…

    With many scenes having been shot in a documentary style, Herzog’s film really ‘puts you there’ in a lot of the film’s more intense moments, particularly those that occur on the rafts in the latter half of the movie. As Aguirre’s mental state becomes more and more obviously frayed and the men continue to say nothing and go along with him, it becomes evident that there’s no way that this will end well for anyone – yet we can’t take our eyes off of this even while the jungle seems to encroach around the group and cannibalistic natives, most of whom are never seen attack, from the riverbanks. Aguirre remains defiant through all of this, those at his side obeying as if they were blind to his hubris and his insanity, showing character traits that could be seen as parallels to the way in which Adolf Hitler rallied the Germans behind his own insane cause three decades prior.

    In situations such as the one portrayed in the movie, charisma and intensity count for a lot not only in the historical events that inspire this film but in the way in which Kinski plays the character in question. Herzog directed him in such a way as to have him move like a crab and he really does do just that throughout the movie. He also walks with a limp, but never without confidence. He swirls in and out of the frame sometimes seemingly at random and on the brink of exploding and after seeing the film it’s impossible to imagine anyone else bringing to the role what Kinski managed to provide. His work here is masterful and it is complimented perfectly by Herzog’s directorial style and cinematography by Thomas Mauch. All of this is wrapped up in an ethereal score from Popol Vuh (the band would work with Herzog into the nineties and collaborate with him on some of his finest pictures).





























    The Enigma Of Kasper Hauser:

    The first of two films that Herzog would make with Bruno S. (a street performer born to a prostitute who supposedly spent time in a mental institution), The Enigma Of Kasper Hauser is based on the true story of the titular character (played by the aforementioned) who appeared out of nowhere on the streets of the German town of Nuremberg in 1828. He was found holding a Bible and a letter and was seemingly held captive by an unknown person for the first two decades of his existence.

    The townsfolk feel for the young man and take him in, one couple teaching him to read and to write and then to play the piano. The children of the town help him out, it seems that he and they relate to each other sometimes better than the adults, and as the movie progresses we see the social maturation of the young man. The wealthy Lord Stanhope (Michael Kroecher) tries to integrate him into high society but it’s not quite the event the benefactor had hoped it would be. Eventually Kasper winds up in a sideshow alongside an insane Brazilian flute player.

    Herzog and Bruno S. make a great team here, the actor infusing his character with so much personality and quirky zeal that you can’t help but be fascinated by him and the director wise enough to let the man do away with traditional performing tactics in order to do so. Bruno S. has this odd tendency to look into the camera in strange, sometimes surprisingly unknowing, ways to somehow accentuate the understandably odd behavior of the film’s antagonist. It makes for a fascinating portrait of a grown man essentially reborn into a world he doesn’t understand but is keen to learn about. The German title for the film translates to “Every Man For Himself And God Against All” which in many ways is a more fitting name for the movie.

    In typical Herzog fashion, the film neither attempts nor concerns itself with explaining Hauser’s mystery, but is instead content to capture the experience by way of powerful and metaphorical imagery. It’s a well-paced and beautifully shot film but it’s the lead performance that really makes it as fascinating to watch as it is.





















    Heart Of Glass:

    Set in a small village in the 1800s, Heart Of Glass begins when the master glass blower employed at the town’s glass factory passes away before giving up the secret to how he is able to craft his beautiful works of art, specifically the ruby glass. The man who owns the factory, Huttenbesitzer (Stefan Güttler), goes to great lengths to extract it from anyone who he feels might have this knowledge, lest his business begin to suffer for it. At the same time, Hias (Josef Bierbichler), a recluse living in the woods outside of the town, begins to forecast the end of the village and the factory that supports it. Though he offers these prophecies by way of some trance induced ‘sermons’ the townsfolk believe him to be insane and as such, dismiss his rants as just that.

    Infamous as ‘the one where Herzog had everyone hypnotized,’ Heart Of Glass is a hard film to wrap your head around as it doesn’t really tell a story or have what most would consider to be a proper, or at least traditional, ending to it. History gives us the ability to understand what the townsfolk do not, that the prophet is talking of the impending industrial revolution and of large scale wars that will eventually overrun Germany and the rest of Europe but the tone of all of this is so otherworldly and bizarre that it’s easy to see why much of this would get lost on those not willing to really go along for the journey Herzog wishes us to embark upon with this picture.

    The performances are, as most would gather, particularly strange. The hypnotized performances lack ‘life’ and at times you almost get the impression that you are watching the dead act. This goes along with the prophetic subplot, the doom and gloom foreshadowing provided by the prophet but at the same time it can also make the plight of the townsfolk difficult for us to relate to. At the same time, they go about their daily routines not so different than our own – some relax in a beer hall after work, but when a beer stein is cracked over the head of one attendee, his reaction is nothing more than a blank, vapid stare. He feels nothing.

    The cinematography is suitably dark, though not without frequent moments of beauty. This is a challenging film in the best possible use of the term, but it’s one you absolutely need to be in the proper frame of mind to appreciate.






    Stroszek:

    Herzog’s second collaboration with Bruno S. this film finds the man playing an ex-convict named Bruno Stroszek who is recently released from prison and told to stop drinking. He is an alcoholic without a whole lot in life to fall back on. He doesn’t have a trade nor does he have many skills save for his ability to play the glockenspiel and the accordion. For a while, he uses his musical ability to earn some money performing on the streets, but not surprisingly he doesn’t make much doing this.

    Eventually, Bruno meets a prostitute named Eva (Eva Mattes). Her relationship with the men who were pimping her has soured and soon they beat her and Bruno pretty harshly. This event causes them to accompany Bruno's strange old neighbor, Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz) when he decides to relocate from Germany to Wisconsin, essentially starting over. They move to the United States together and there Bruno finds work as a mechanic and Eva waits tables at a local restaurant. They save enough money to buy a trailer but soon they are in over their heads and Eva decides she needs her space and things that once held promise for Bruno now seem to offer only more of the same.

    Obviously pulling from Bruno S.’s own background for inspiration, Herzog basically lets the man play himself in this picture. In fact, the same can be said of pretty much every substantial character cast in the film. Most of the supporting players are made up of Wisconsin locals and because of this, we wind up with a bunch of non-actors all bringing a sense of realism to a film that is made up primarily of absurd events.

    Adding to the ‘authenticity’ of this remarkably bizarre film are the locations, many of which Herzog found himself while driving (and subsequently breaking down) in Wisconsin on a voyage to explore Ed Gein’s old stomping grounds with Errol Morris (listen to the commentary on this disc, it’s fascinating). The film is not really a comedy, though funny things do happen - and it’s not quite a tragedy, though plenty of sad things happen too. It’s in many ways a ‘slice of life’ story but at the same time it tells the story of some very atypical life events, the kind that (hopefully) very few of us will experience as these characters do. All of this builds to a remarkable conclusion, one that seems inevitable in many ways but which none of us will ever see coming, at least on initial viewing. It’s a fascinating picture, both thought provoking and genuinely entertaining.






    Woyzeck:

    Once again starring Klaus Kinski in the lead role, 1979’s Woyzeck is based on a play written in 1836 by Georg Büchner that was left unfinished when the author died at the age of twenty-three. While the original work is widely considered to be one of the first expressionist plays ever written, the fact that it wasn’t finished means that it leaves a whole lot open to interpretation. This is where Herzog and Kinski step in.

    Kinski plays a soldier named Franz Woyzeck, a man introduced to us in an introductory scene in which he’s forced by a superior to do pushups until he drops from exhaustion. He obliges, though we can see in his face that he’s not happy about it, nor should he be. Later he has to shave the captain’s face and after that, he meets with his doctor who has him on a strict regimen of peas. He’s basically being used as a guinea pig. Woyzeck’s home life is no better, his wife, Marie (Eva Mattes), doesn’t even try to hide the fact that she’s carrying on with another man, also a soldier. Eventually the voices in Woyzeck’s head get louder, until it gets to the point where he has to do something about it.

    Like a lot of Herzog’s films, Woyzeck deals with a man pushing back, raging against the machine in conditions that most would consider futile to rebel against in the first place. In that regard the film has echoes of Even Dwarfs Started Small, but this is a very different picture in pretty much every way. Herzog keeps the tone and look of the film in line with the theatrical origins of the source material. Most everything is shot front on and there are a lot of medium shots employed here resulting in a fairly staged look. This works quite well though it means that the movie isn’t as visually impressive as many of the director’s other works, including pretty much every other movie that he would make with the late Kinski.

    Kinski’s performance here, however, is exceptional. He uses his weathered, expressive face in interesting ways to communicate as much with a look as he does with any scripted dialogue. The film was shot very quickly in just under three weeks and it would seem that this rushed production resulted in some interesting improvisation on the part of the picture’s leading man. His break down feels very real and while he may have made a name for himself playing larger than life characters of great power, here he is a sad man, almost completely powerless to change his situation. When he cracks, and we know from the opening scene that he will, the performance takes what is otherwise a very minimalist and deceptively simple film and turns it into something more.















    Nosferatu The Vampyre:

    Werner Herzog's remake of F.W. Murnau's classic vampire film begins with a haunting opening credits sequence that strolls through an underground catacomb filled with mummified corpses. From here, with the macabre atmosphere instantly established, we travel into the home of Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) and his lovely wife Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) where that opening scene is instantly contrasted by the image of two kittens playing as a locket containing Lucy's picture and a lock of her hair dangles nearby. Jonathan tells her that he must go on a long journey to Transylvania to take care of some real estate business with a Count Dracula. Though the dream she had earlier tells her no good will come of this, he insists on following through as the money will be good.

    Jonathan travels as far as he's able by horse and takes rest in an inn he comes across on the way. When he mentions his business at Dracula's castle, he's warned by the bartender and the gypsies in the establishment to stay away. He doesn't listen and before you know it he's once again off on his journey. As he gets closer to the castle, a strange carriage picks him up and upon his arrival, he comes face to face with Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) for the first time. Though it's late, the Count insists that Harker dine and when he nicks his finger with a knife, the Count can't help but suck the blood, telling him he's only doing it to prevent infection. Before long, Harker realizes that something strange is going on and that there's a whole lot more to fear about the Count than simply his rodent like features and sickly pale skin.

    As Harker sets about his work, the Count becomes obsessed with the picture of Lucy in the locket, telling Jonathan how lovely her neck is, and when he sets about buying and then moving to property near the Harker home, he brings with him a plague of rats and leaving Jonathan locked in the castle. Harker injures himself in his escape and tries to beat Dracula back to town, but the ominous arrival of a ship full of rats with a dead man tied to the helm. When Dracula's arrival brings death to the townsfolk, Lucy rightfully fears for her life as he approaches her with his request for love. With no one else to turn to, she enlists the aid of Van Helsing (Walter Ladengast), a man who knows only too well just how evil Dracula is…

    A masterpiece of macabre atmosphere and morbid imagery, Herzog's take on the Dracula mythos manages to maintain a strong tone of horror without ever pushing things past its PG rating. There's very little blood here, no nudity and no real gore and yet Dracula is far more frightening here than in any of the sex and blood filled versions made over the years. Much of the credit for this has to go to Kinski, who looks absolutely sickening in his pallid makeup with his rat-like fangs and spidery finger movements. His long nails cast an ominous shadow and a scene in which only his shadow is visible as he approaches Lucy who cannot see his reflection in the mirror still resonates with the power to send chills down your spine. So strong is Kinksi's work here that you almost forget it's him under the makeup, no small feat for someone with such strong screen presence and instantly identifiable features and mannerisms as he. Bruno Ganz is good as Jonathan Harker, but it's Kinski and the gorgeous Isabelle Adjani who really stand out. She's got a fragility to her that makes the fear she experiences seem all the more real and it's easy to see why the Count would be instantly smitten with her.

    Being a Herzog picture, the film unfolds at a deliberate pace. While some might find it a bit slow, in reality the picture uses long takes of scenic European mountain settings to contrast in strange ways with scenes of crawling rats and, of course, its central antagonist. The film also affords Dracula an obvious pathos. While he's a predatory creature his requests for love are hard not to sympathize with. The common theme of man against his environment that shows up in much of the director's work is here too, not only in Johnathan's attempts to travel across ragged, barren terrain but in the Count's attempts to travel to the city without being burned by the sun. Herzog's languid style combined with the lush visuals and fantastic performances make this an atypical horror movie to be sure, but also an extremely effective one.

    Note: This Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory includes both the English and German language versions of the film. These are two fairly different cuts, as when Herzog was making the movie for Fox the studio wanted an English friendly option for North American territories. As such, Herzog shot the dialogue scenes twice, once with the actors speaking German and again with them performing in English. Because of this, the English version has a completely different vibe than the German one and it's nice to see both versions, which were included on the previous DVD release from Anchor Bay, included on this Blu-ray release. The English version actually runs a few seconds longer than the German version as well.






    Fitzcarraldo:

    Herzog and Kinski’s most epic collaboration follows the exploits of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski), a man who runs an ice house in the Amazon and toils away for little. His true passion is opera and after taking in a performance with local madam Molly (the eternally beautiful Claudia Cardinale) at his side, he decides that he will build his own opera house in the middle of the Amazon jungle. He sets about trying to get financing but not so surprisingly, nobody wants to fund this madman’s endeavor.

    Molly, however, has enough money that they decide to buy a steamboat and pilot it up the Amazon River where Fitzgerald hopes to lay claim to an empty, un-owned stretch of land that has been used only for the harvesting of materials to be used in the making of rubber. He’ll use his boat on these well-travelled waters to earn the money he needs to build his dream. What Fitzgerald doesn’t tell anyone, including the boat’s captain, is that the ship will have to make it through a series of rapids to reach its destination and that if they make it through there, they’ll have to haul the massive ship up a mountain to get it where it needs to go, and to do that, they’ll need help from the natives.

    Where in earlier films Kinski had played dangerous characters, here he’s a charming man whose only wish is to bring what he sees as beauty and art into the heart of the jungle. While in many ways the upriver voyage parallels Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, obviously the intentions behind the similar trips are completely different. Kinski shines in the lead, really giving the part his all and while he infuses the character with plenty of his trademark manic style, his Fitzgerald is generally a ‘nice’ guy.

    While the film really is longer than it needs to be, it’s a beautifully shot picture that takes full advantage of the location shoots used by the director to create authenticity. Of course, the most remarkable set piece is when a literal army of Amazon natives haul the ship up the muddy slope of the mountain but there are other standout moments here as well. Shots where we see Kinski’s character simply enjoying the music coming from his Victrola as he voyages on the boat resonate with us in calm, serene ways. Seeing Kinski at ease is maybe something most of us are not that accustomed to.

    Herzog famously did have a bunch of Indians drag the boat up that mountain, however. Pulleys and blocks and logs were all used as well as countless man hours of intense physical labor. In this regard, the quest of the filmmaker is equally as mad as that of the film’s central character (and this is well documented in the feature length documentary on the making of this picture, Burden Of Dreams, directed by Les Blanc). The whole film is enchanting, awe-inspiring in its way, allowing us to look past the pacing issues and the lack of structure that sometimes shifts the narrative and take it all in.






    Balled of The Little Soldier:

    Shot in Nicaragua, this powerful film examines the young boys, most of whom range in age from ten to thirteen, who are being recruited to fight in the skirmishes and political unrest that existed in the country at that time by the Contras. A basic understanding of the political climate of the times definitely helps when watching this one, but even without that the message is still a poignant one and it makes a very interesting companion piece in terms of theme and message to the earlier No One Will Play With Me, proving once again how easy it is for adults to corrupt their children.

    The film is ripe with the heavy handed Herzog narration we've come to expect from the man but he sounds sincere in his concern and his examination of this phenomena. The camera doesn't shy away from showing these kids in their environment and as disturbing as it is at times, it's a fascinating portrait of a society and its inherent evils. Herzog interviews a few of the boys themselves, point blank, not sugar coating his questions and they are equally blunt in their responses to him, too young to be anything but brainwashed.

    A joint project between Herzog and Denis Reichle (they shared writing and directorial duties), it's an eerie movie, one which deals with a subject that many of us would rather pretend does not exist at all.






    Where The Green Ants Dream:

    Lance Hackett (Bruce Spence) is a geologist employed by a mining company interested in setting up an operation out in the middle of the Australian outback. As they detonate explosives to figure out where to best begin moving Earth, a group of aboriginals watch. As it turns out, this ground is sacred to them. They tell the invaders that this is where the green ants come to dream and that if this land is desecrated, it will bring unbearable hardship on the generations to come.

    The mining company goes about trying to bait the aborigines into letting them do their thing, even going so far as to buy one of them a plane when their offers of cash and profit sharing fall on deaf ears. It all eventually winds up in court with Hackett in the middle.

    This is more a series of images and set pieces than a typically structured narrative and like a lot of Herzog’s work, the film is less concerned with a story with a beginning, middle and end than it is with ideas. Here we see the deeply spiritual aborigines keep their cool, rarely losing their temper while the mining company and their employees almost seem like they can’t sit still. Their industrial machinations and constant need to be working makes them a very different breed of human than the natives would seem to be and while we never really see any ants, it’s clear to anyone paying attention that, yes, they are here, if maybe only metaphorically.

    In many ways this is a less essential film than the others in this set, it doesn’t quite captivate the way the best pictures here do, but it still contains plenty of moving scenes, some of simple and natural beauty and others of remarkable contrast, showcasing the obvious and not so obvious differences between modernity and ancient ways. Lesser Herzog is, typically speaking, still well worth seeing.















    Cobra Verde:

    Herzog’s final collaboration with Kinski, Cobra Verde finds the actor cast as a Brazilian farmer named Francisco Manoel da Silva who has recently lost most of what he held dear when his mother passed away from a drought and he lost the family farm. With nothing left to lose he takes on the name Cobra Verde and embarks on a new career as a bandit. His ways are brutal and intimidating and after making his way onto the land of a plantation owner named Don Octavio Coutinho (Josè Lewgoy) he’s given a job as the plantation’s foreman.

    As he goes about learning about the harsh realities of life on a sugar plantation, he spends his free time dabbling with Coutinho’s three daughters, impregnating each one. Shortly after this, Coutinho and some others realize they must be rid of this scourge of a man and so they put him on a ship of men and send him on a mission to Africa to start anew in the slave trade. Those who sent him assume he’ll be killed as the slave trade has been shut down by the English, but after being almost killed by a warlord he befriends the king’s brother and soon finds himself commanding an army of female warriors intent on taking the king out of power and propping himself up as their new leader.

    Similar in both theme and execution to Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, this picture isn’t quite as good as those two earlier efforts but it comes pretty close to matching those two pictures in terms of scope and intensity. Kinski is once again in very fine form in a role that would seem to be the kind he’d love to play. And play it he does, to the hilt. His manic expressions working perfectly as he goes about robbing and looting with wild eyed enthusiasm and once again cutting loose and delivering his take on the character in his own way.

    Like Aguirre, there are times where this story feels influenced by Joseph Conrad but the film is actually based on a novel by Bruce Chatwin. The film makes the colonialists exploits on the dark continent out to be blatantly racist, which is fair enough (it’s pretty hard to argue against that) but that doesn’t seem to be the focus of the film so much as documenting the downward spiral of its central character. The recurring theme of man versus his natural environment is here in a big way but so too is another of Herzog’s favorite subjects – madness.

    Cobra Verde is a striking looking film, full of wild colors and exotic locations. The way in which the central character evolves over the course of the picture is interesting to watch and the ending, which closes out the film and the director’s work with the man who was essentially his muse, in a fitting manner both memorable and somehow completely appropriate.






    Lessons Of Darkness:

    Shot in the wake of the first Gulf War, this nearly hour-long film focuses in on the devastation that occurred throughout the desert landscape as a result of the fires and burning oil wells that were wrought upon the land. Much of the material is shot from the air, not only for safety reasons but for cinematographic purposes as well, and we truly get a bird's eye view of the chaos and destruction that was left in the area. Herzog's narration is present but not omnipresent, it's not overbearing and more often than not he simply lets the images speak for themselves although some political and socio-economic points are definitely touched on throughout the running time.

    In addition to capturing the chaos, Herzog also shows us the crews of American firemen tasked with trying to contain some of the fires, many of which are blazing out of control. In between some of the most amazing footage you're ever going to see in your life are brief interviews with some of the locals who have had to try and pick up their lives or what's been left of their lives in the aftermath of the war. These are pretty intense, and often times very unsettling and even heart wrenching.

    While this might sound like a rather simple premise, and perhaps it is, words cannot do justice to the immense scale of the footage that Herzog and his crew have captured in this documentary. Striking images such as a raging blaze in the middle of the desert, surrounded by the blackness of the deepest and darkest night will stick in your brain and haunt you for some time to come. Much of this footage is presented with a very simple but emotive score (much of which is Wagner) playing overtop, with only periodic input from the director putting it into context.

    More so than many of his other projects, this film suits his strengths perfectly. It combines his love of strange peoples, history, melodramatic narration and unusual visuals and creates what could arguably be his strongest film to date. The whole thing feels very alien and the landscape of Kuwait literally looks like something out of a science fiction movie in spots, like something out of the post nuke scenes from The Terminator. Much of this material is very striking, very stirring and even beautiful in a strange way, and all of it is quite frightening at the same time.

    Lessons Of Darkness was nominated in 1992 for the Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. It didn't win but it did become a darling of the critics. This is one of those rare occasions where a film is completely worthy of all the praise that was heaped upon it.















    Little Dieter Needs To Fly:

    This 1997 documentary tells the story of Dieter Dengler, a pilot whose plane was shot down over Laos in 1966. He was captured by Laotian troops and put into a camp. His mistreatment and malnourishment took a huge toll on his body, and his weight dropped to eighty-five pounds and yet, he still managed to escape. He made his way through the jungle and was eventually rescued.

    Herzog catches up with the former pilot at his home and lets the sixty year old man tell us his story. We learn how as a child he survived the constant onslaught of bombs that were dropped by Allied planes and how when the war finally ended, he and his family lived in abject poverty. At the age of eighteen he moved to the United States and joined the navy and wound up learning how to fly. Obviously from there he saw active duty in the Vietnam War but he notes that only after he was captured did the gravity of the situation really hit home when he realized that the people on the ground suffered in ways similar to those he experienced as a child.

    Throughout all of this, Dieter held a fascination with airplanes first inspired when a pilot flew so close to his home during the Second World War that he was able to make eye contact with him. It’s the small details during the interviews that really impress, however. Dieter can’t enter a room without checking and rechecking the door behind him to make sure it isn’t going to lock him in. The details of his harrowing days in captivity are told in unflinching detail. We learn how he literally had to fight a snake for a dead rat to eat at the hands of his captors. As Dengler tells us his story, Herzog’s narration offers context and the film is a fascinating portrait of one man’s unique experiences that simultaneously celebrates the victory of his escape while detailing how remarkably humans can be so remarkably inhumane in their treatment of one another.

    Herzog would return to this story some years later with his fictionalized take on things with the Christian Bale feature, Rescue Dawn.






    My Best Fiend:

    The final film in the set details the relationship, both professional and personal, that existed between Herzog and Kinski. The director tells us how in the 1950s, as a teenager, Herzog witnessed one of Kinski’s live performances and how a few years later the two would wind up sharing an apartment together. Here Herzog witnessed the famously temperamental actor destroy an entire bathroom in a two day long tantrum. And of course, knowing all of this, Herzog chose to work with him anyway – together they made some amazing films (all contained in this set), starting with Aguirre, Wrath of God and finishing with Cobra Verde.

    In this feature length documentary, Herzog talks about his experiences working alongside Kinski, sharing stories both humorous and horrifying of their work together and as he tells us these stories, using plenty of stock images and clips as well as newly shot footage in which he revisits some of the locations used in their pictures, you realize that in many ways he was just as insane as Kinski was.

    There are interviews with various co-conspirators here that help to flesh out the details, but the bulk of the narration and on camera discussion comes from Herzog himself. A gifted storyteller in his own right, behind the camera or in front of it, Herzog is a fascinating man to listen to. Of course all of this is delivered from the director’s point of view and not that of the deceased actor. In one of the documentary’s better known moments, Herzog tells a story about working on Aguirre in which Kinski threatened to walk off set and only relented when the director pointed a pistol at him. In Kinski’s infamous autobiography he claims that he had the gun, not Herzog.

    While the documentary would have been even better had there been more footage of the two men at work on location (that’s part of what makes the aforementioned Burden Of Dreams such a great companion piece to both Fitzcarraldo and this documentary), My Best Fiend is still a fascinating look at two men who somehow managed to encapsulate both love and hate and simultaneously produce some truly amazing work together. It’s a wonderful film, a fascinating picture, and the perfect way to close out this collection.

























    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The transfers for each and every one of the movies in this collection are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, each film in its proper aspect ratio. Moving through the set starting with the first disc, Even Dwarfs Started Small looks quite good. The black and white cinematography is crisp and the image shows nice detail, natural looking grain structure and decent depth. Fata Morgana also looks quite good, while there is some color fading detail and texture are alright and black levels pretty solid. The same comments apply to Land Of Silence And Darkness. Aguirre also looks good here too, no evidence of noise reduction to smear the detail to complain about and good texture evident in the costumes worn by the characters. The colors are different compared to the standalone Blu-ray release from the BFI reviewed here.

    The Enigma Of Casper Hauser has a clean transfer and good color reproduction but maybe some minor noise reduction in some spots. Heart Of Glass is solid, if a few shots look softer than others this is probably due to the way that the movie was shot. Once we get to Stroszek and Woyzek we see the same problems that were evident on the Shout! Factory standalone Blu-ray release of Nosferatu – frequent and sometimes very heavy use of noise reduction and edge enhancement resulting in some shots looking more like water color than film. This isn’t constant nor obvious in every frame of those three movies but it’s there and it is quite clear in the unaltered screen shots posted above.

    Once we get to the newer movies, a lot of that goes away. Fitzcarraldo has some compression artifacts evident in a few scenes but otherwise looks decent. Ballad Of The Little Soldier and Where The Green Ants Dream also show good detail if some minor compression artifacts in the darker scenes. Print damage is typically not an issue on any of the movies, not in any major or distracting way at least. Cobra Verde shows good detail and very nice colors, Lessons Of Darkness does as well though again, there are some scenes where compression artifacts are evident. Little Dieter Needs To Fly is free of any major issues and My Best Fiend also looks fine for what it is, keeping in mind that this last feature uses quite a few archival footage inserts and as such, the quality of the picture can be up and down depending on what we’re looking at and when.

    The audio options in the set are as follows:

    -Even Dwarfs Started Small: DTS-HD 2.0 Mono (German)
    -Land Of Silence And Darkness: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German)
    -Fata Morgana: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German), DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (English)
    -Aguirre, The Wrath of God: DTS-HD 5.1 (German), DTS-HD 2.0 (German), DTS-HD 2.0 (English)
    -The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German)
    -Heart Of Glass: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German)
    -Stroszek: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German)
    -Woyzeck: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German)
    -Nosferatu: The Vampyre: DTS-HD 5.1/2.0 Stereo (German Version), DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (English Version)
    -Fitzcarraldo: DTS-HD 5.1 (German), DTS-HD 2.0 (German), DTS-HD 2.0 (English)
    -Ballad Of The Little Soldier: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German), DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (English)
    -Where The Green Ants Dream: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German), DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (English)
    -Cobra Verde: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German), DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (English)
    -Lessons Of Darkness: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (English)
    -Little Dieter Needs To Fly: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (English)
    -My Best Fiend: DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (German), DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo (English)

    Subtitles are provided for the set in English only.

    As far as the quality of the audio goes, there’s little room for complaint here. Levels are nicely balanced across the board and the director’s penchant for using excellent musical selections to accompany his visuals really benefits from the added depth of the lossless audio in this set.

    As far as the extras are concerned, this set includes English audio commentaries featuring Herzog and moderator Norman Hill for the following films: Even Dwarfs Started Small (with Crispin Glover), Fata Morgana, Aguirre, The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser, Heart Of Glass, Nosferatu: The Vampyre, Stroszek, Fitzcarraldo (with Lucki Stripetic), and Cobra Verde.
    Additionally, the set also includes a set of German Audio commentaries featuring Herzog and moderator Laurens Straub for Aguirre, Nosferatu: The Vampyre, Fitzcarraldo and Where The Green Ants Dream.

    Herzog’s commentary tracks are often very enlightening and as such, interesting – invaluable even. He’s rarely at a loss for words when discussing his own work but doesn’t ever really come across as full of himself, rather, aware of what he was doing at the time. All of these were done year s after the movies in question were made and as such, he’s been afforded the luxury of reflecting on the material. This in turn gives him the ability to offer critical insight and analysis into his work alongside the more common stories from the trenches. He’s got no shortage of stories of working alongside Kinski but to too does he talk about the films he made with Bruno S. and about the documentary material included in this set. Hill and Straub prove to be well informed, articulate and respectful moderators, each with their own unique style in quizzing Herzog on the material. The tracks are well paced and incredibly detailed and rarely is there any dead air. Herzog will occasionally go off on tangents and maybe lose sight of the topic at hand a bit but even when he does, not only does the moderator get him back quickly but his diversions are generally just as interesting. Herzog could read you the phone book and you’d sit there and listen to every word.

    The Woyzeck disc contains a featurettes called In Conversation - Werner Herzog and Laurens Straub (in German with English Subtitles). This runs fifty-eight minutes and it’s basically an audio track that plays over top of a single behind the scenes still with Herzog talking overtop about his experiences working on this picture with Kinski. Straub discusses how the film approaches the original text while Herzog notes the energy that existed on his collaborations with the actor and how he had originally intended to use Bruno S. in this film rather than Kinski. They cover a lot of other details here too, including the details in Kinski’s costumes, various other cast members used in the production, the importance of some key scenes in the film and how Herzog got Kinski to do pushups in the movie.

    Also on the same disc is Portrait: Werner Herzog Documentary, a twenty-nine minute documentary about the director made in 1986. Herzog narrates the piece himself, and he also wrote it and directed it. He shows off his home town and talks about how he got into film as well as his childhood and his heritage. There are a lot of clips from his movies made up to this point used here as he talks about the cultural tradition noticeable in his work and some of the locations he has used in the stories he has told.

    Also included on the Nosferatu disc is a thirteen minute vintage featurette entitled The Making Of Nosferatu. This piece is quite interesting as most of it was shot on set during the production and it gives us a chance to see both Herzog and Kinski, usually in full makeup, at work. Herzog speaks openly about the influence of German expressionist cinema, working with the infamous Kinski and about his directorial style. At one point we see the director walking around in a cloak helping out with the scene in which the coffins are carried into the town square. It's quite interesting.

    The Cobra Verde disc includes another featurette called In Conversation - Werner Herzog and Laurens Straub (in German with English Subtitles). This one runs fifty-eight minutes and plays over a single still shot of the director. Topics covered here include how and he chose to take on this project after finishing Where The Green Ants Dream shot on location in Australia. Again, there’s a lot of discussion of Kinski’s contributions to the film and his methods as an actor. He talks about what inspired him to make this picture and what it was like working on location on Africa.

    This is complimented by another featurette on this disc entitled Herzog In Africa which runs forty-six minutes. This is made up of a lot of footage shot on location during the shoot and it affords us the rare chance to see Herzog talking to his cast and crew in the middle of the shoot, explaining what he wants out of them and preparing them for things to come. We see him working with the African natives used in the shoot and directing some of the film’s more epic sequences, and just as importantly we get some great footage of Kinski interacting with the cast and crew, sometimes calm and friendly, other times very much in character. He often seems very intrigued by the topless native women around, then later dismissing them in English saying ‘I have no time for you girls!’ There’s some amazing footage in here and if you have any interest in either the enigmatic director or actor, definitely make sure you take the time to watch it.

    Additionally we get trailers for some of the features (Aguirre, The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser, Heart Of Glass, Stroszek, Nosferatu: The Vampire, Fitzcarraldo, Where The Green Ants Dream, Cobra Verde and My Best Fiend), a few still galleries (Aguirre, Woyzeck, Nosferatu: The Vampire, Fitzcarraldo, and Cobra Verde), static menus and chapter selection. The discs in the set each slide into sleeves built into the pages of the lavish hardcover book designed to house them. Also built into this book is an essay on the director and his work along with details on each of the movies collected in this set.





    The Final Word:

    Herzog: The Collection is a pretty mammoth set, the kind that Herzog fans will relish exploring and really taking their time with. While unfortunately some of the transfers do have issues, others look quite good and offer noticeable improvements over past DVD releases. The audio is quite good and the extras are a nice selection of supplements, many carried over from past releases but still quite fascinating, that serve to provide both invaluable context and history. As to the movies themselves, obviously the most important aspect of any release, they run the gamut from very good to flat out masterpiece. Herzog’s work is often times quite awe inspiring, and this set offers a fantastic retrospective of classic material.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark C.'s Avatar
      Mark C. -
      As always, awesome review Ian. Most thorough.
    1. Christian Bates-Hardy's Avatar
      Christian Bates-Hardy -
      I feel much better about my preorder after reading this review. Thanks for taking the time to go through these films so thoroughly Ian.