• Werner Herzog Collection, The



    Released by: BFI
    Released on: August 25th, 2014.
    Director: Werner Herzog, Les Blank
    Cast: Various
    Year: Various

    The Movies:

    The BFI have gathered together a fantastic selection of filmmaker Werner Herzog’s most iconic films and shorts and released them in one Blu-ray collection aptly entitled The Werner Herzog Collection. Note that the test discs sent for review did not include discs for Nosferatu The Vampyre or Aguirre, The Wrath Of God. Those discs have been reviewed individually at the links and the content of those discs is presumed to be identical to those that should be included with the rest of the content detailed below. Also included in the set is the documentary Burden Of Dreams directed not by Herzog but by Les Blank as he followed Herzog during the making of Fitzcarraldo.

    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.

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

























    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.













    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.













    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.













    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 - see more on this below). 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.























    Burden Of Dreams:

    For enigmatic German filmmaker Werner Herzog, his 1982 film Fitzcarraldo wasn't so much a film project, as it was a personal obsession (ironic, considering that the film itself is actually about obsession when you really get down to the core of it all). Herzog made it his personal mission in life at that period in time to recreate, with as much legitimate accuracy as humanly possible, the story of one man's unusual quest to build a full sized European style opera house smack dab in the middle of the Amazon jungles of South America.

    Herzog didn't want to use special effects to make this happen, he wanted to recreate Fitzcarraldo's efforts down to the smallest detail by hauling a life sized steamship up and over a mud covered mountain using only the strength of a group of natives and some primitive ropes and pulleys. While it sounds crazy on the surface (and I'm still not entirely convinced that it wasn't complete lunacy on Herzog's part), it makes for a truly fascinating documentary subject, which is exactly where Les Blank's Burden Of Dreams comes into play.

    Les Blank basically tagged along with Herzog when he finally got the project underway and was there to document that making of the film from the very beginning. While a false start or two prevented the film from happening as quickly as the director had hoped, his determination eventually triumphed and after casting Jason Robards and then later Mick Jagger in the lead role, Herzog finally settled on Klaus Kinski. Herzog had had worked with Kinski before on such notable films as Woyczek, Nosferatu, and Aguirre – The Wrath Of God. Anyone who knows anything about Herzog knows that he and Kinski had a rather tumultuous relationship at the best of times (was there anyone with whom Kinski didn't have a strange relationship with?) but he fit the role perfectly and there was no denying the fact that the pair had had made some great films together in the past.

    As filming proceeded deep in the heart of the jungle, things quickly deteriorated into a big ugly mess. Kinski was difficult as was to be expected but he would prove to be the least of the director's problems as his crew started getting ill, people were running out of food, they were living in their own filth, and things just generally started to turn very, very sour for the cast and crew involved.

    Blank documents this rather rapid downward spiral and sets it beside some completely amazing footage of the team of natives hard at work on lugging the boat up the mountain. In addition to the struggles that the cast and crew have to deal with, the natives have their own problems that also serve to get in the way of hindering progress on the shoot. Domestic problems and health and safety issues relating to the very act of hauling a giant boat up a mountain do come into play and the natives are as much characters in this story as Herzog or Kinski are and in fact, watching the natives in their spare time, making booze and playing games to pass the time, is as interesting as anything else in the film.

    Also scattered throughout the film are interviews with a few of the other cast and crew members involved in making the film, and plenty of clips from the finished version of Fitzcarraldo that make for an interesting comparison when watched back to back with the raw footage captured on camera for this documentary. Also worth noting is that some of the test footage with Mick Jagger and with Jason Robards can be seen here as well – and again, it makes for an interesting comparison when contrasted with Klaus Kinski's performance.

    Aside from the interaction between Herzog and his cast and crew, the film also provides plenty of beautiful footage of the Amazon and the surrounding area in which they shot the bulk of the movie. The jungle proves to be incredibly inhospitable during their stay but that doesn't mean that it isn't pretty to look at and Burden Of Dreams provides ample opportunity for us to do just that.

    Part of the reason that this documentary turns out to be so interesting is that, aside from the utterly bizarre scenario taking place in front of the camera, Herzog himself is a fascinating man. He has an obvious passion for filmmaking and the ego to go along with it. Of course, as the film progresses, it's interesting to see it have an effect on him – sometimes it humbles him, other times it pumps up his bravura just a little bit more – either way, as a character study this type of fly on the wall footage is fascinating. Les Blank's camera captures the man honestly and he doesn't edit out the ugly parts that might paint his subject in a less than flattering light. Warts and all, Blanc's character study shows the man during some obvious high points and some even more obvious lows. Herzog rambles on about various ways of justifying what he's doing and makes some interesting philosophical comparisons to life and death in regards to how the jungle envelops everything around him, but even in these scenes, his stress level is obvious.

    The film also does a spectacular job of pointing out the parallels between Herzog and Fitzcarraldo himself. By imitating Fitzcarraldo's story so intricately and in such a detailed and realistic fashion, he is in a sense becoming the subject of his own film. The egotism and struggles for control over the workers that each of the two men had to deal with while setting out to accomplish their lofty goals is also well detailed. Both men had their issues to deal with and both men, to different extents at least, left the ordeal with some sense of accomplishment.













    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.














    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The films in the set are spread across eight BD50 discs and are all presented in their original aspect ratios in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Typically speaking, the presentations here are quite nice. Detail is noticeably improved over the previous DVD editions and texture is as well. Color reproduction is typically very strong here and flesh tones appear lifelike and accurate throughout. There are no issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and while some of the shorts show some age related wear and tear typically everything included in this set is in very good shape in regards to print damage and the like.

    As to how these transfers compare to the films in the US release from Shout! Factory (which contains some crossover in terms of film selection but which also includes/omits a few entries included on this set)
    :
    -view a sample image from Heart Of Glass by clicking here (Shout!) and here (BFI).
    -view sample images from Aguirre, Wrath Of God by clicking here (Shout!) and here (BFI).
    -view a sample image from Woyzeck by clicking here (Shout!) and here (BFI).
    -view a sample image from Stroszek by clicking here (Shout!) and here (BFI).
    -view a sample image from Fitzcarraldo, click here (Shout!) and here (BFI).
    -view an image comparison of the Shout! release of Nosferatu compared to the BFI release here.

    Note that the colors are a bit different with things looking a little less boosted on the BFI release. There’s less obvious noise reduction on the BFI transfers as well.

    The audio options in the set are as follows:

    -The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser: LPCM 2.0 Stereo (German)
    -Heart Of Glass: LPCM 2.0 Stereo (German)
    -Stroszek: LPCM 2.0 Stereo (German)
    -Woyzeck: LPCM 2.0 Stereo (German)
    -Fitzcarraldo: LPCM 2.0/5.1 (German), LPCM 2.0/5.1 (English)
    -Burden Of Dreams: LPCM 2.0 (English)
    -Cobra Verde: LPCM 2.0 (English), LPCM 2.0/5.1 (German)

    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: The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser, Heart Of Glass, Stroszek, Fitzcarraldo (with Lucki Stripetic), and Cobra Verde. 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 years 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 proves to be a well-informed, articulate and respectful moderator, with his 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.

    If you take the time to dig around in the extra features sections of each disc included in this set, you’ll find the following bonus/short films have also been included in the set, all in 1080p high definition with LPCM Mono audio (German language with English subtitles):

    The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz

    Last Words

    Precautions Against Fanatics

    Fata Morgana

    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.













    How Much Wood Could A Woodchuck Chuck:

    In this forty-five minute documentary, Herzog takes his camera to the 1976 Word Auctioneering Championships wherein he films a group of men (and one woman) competing for the trophy at a livestock auction somewhere in the central United States. Before we get to the actual competition, Herzog interviews a few of the winners and gets their take on the 'how and why' of their chosen career path. Oddly enough, the man who ends up taking home the gold is from Peterborough, Ontario, Canada and he claims to have wanted to be an auctioneer since the tender age of six. From there he gives us a very brief lesson in how to talk as fast as he does, and then we're off – the rest of the documentary simply highlights the competition itself before taking us to the closing ceremonies where the winners accept their awards at a banquet.

    This one starts off interestingly enough and it does do a decent job of giving us a glimpse into the rather bizarre world of the auctioneer and explain, however briefly, the origins of how the position came to be and how it was created out of purely financial motives. Also of interest are some of the characters, they're a rather motley crew of cowboy types, many of whom look like the kind of walking and talking 'good ol' boy' stereotypes you'd see in a seventies era Joe Don Baker film. Sadly, the auction footage, which makes up the bulk of the film, gets repetitive quickly. You can only watch a man yodel about cow pricing for so long before it gets tiresome.













    Handicapped Future:

    This forty-three minute documentary, made originally for German television, does a really interesting job of comparing the way that handicapped people were treated in Germany during the time it was made, to how they were treated in the United States. Herzog makes a pretty strong case for Germany to improve the way in which it takes care of its handicapped citizens by showing how much better they have it in the U.S.A. and by explaining, in his own odd way, why they need the better treatment.

    Herzog gives us some interviews with handicapped people and those who care for them so that we can understand a little bit of their dilemma. Sometimes we pity them other times we simply want them to be treated fairly, like real human beings. This film makes an excellent companion piece to Land Of Silence And Darkness and the two films, made in the same year, have much in common as they deal with similar subjects in a similar manner.













    The Great Ecstasy Of Woodcarver Steiner:

    Walter Steiner, the subject of this documentary, is a woodcarver by trade who also happens to be a champion ski jumper. Throughout the forty-five minute running time of this documentary, Herzog follows along with Steiner as he prepares himself for a competition in which he is supposed to compete. Less a biographical picture or history of Steiner the person, the emphasis here is on the jumping itself. Steiner is a master of his sport, and when it comes time for his jump, not only does he start further down the ramp (which gives him an obvious disadvantage) but he manages to surpass everyone else in the lineup in terms of altitude and length.

    What is painfully obvious in this film is just how impressed Herzog is with Steiner. He completely admires the man and he geeks out in much the same way that any of us would were we able to meet a personal hero, it's interesting to contrast the fan version with the usually stone faced and very stoic persona we usually associate with him. Herzog admires Steiner for pretty valid reasons, however – he seems like a genuinely interesting guy and he truly is a remarkable ski-jumper as made evident by the footage shot at the competition – the man literally flies through the air after leaving the ramp and it's very impressive stuff.

    Contrasting with the sports hero side of the man, we also see him carving his wooden sculptures, many of which are inspired by many varied sources, and it's interesting to see the quiet side of the man as well as the high flying ski-jumper. The jumping footage is what really makes this one, however, as it makes excellent use of the mountains and the slopes in which it all takes place and it truly is a really beautiful looking movie.













    Huie's Sermon:

    This film is, in essence, a forty-two minute sermon delivered by Reverend Huie, a Brooklyn preacher who delivers his thoughts live in front of a rather substantial congregation. It looks like it was shot in a single take with one camera, no edits or tricks (save for a very few opening shots and tracking shots to kind of set the place and the mood for the events to come), just simply a document on one man's incredibly fevered preaching. It's fascinating to watch the man build and build and build until, by the time he's starting to actually get to his point, he's as manic as anyone you've ever seen.

    Lest you think that this is nothing more than boring footage of a man in a pulpit, let the record show that although he starts off in a rather pedestrian and restrained fashion, once Huie gets the feeling, he tears it up and bombasts everything from those who have had sex change operations to street crime in the neighborhood to energy problems to modern morals and decency. This guy is all over the place, he's even got assistants that wait at the side of the pulpit area with towels to help control the sweat he gives off as he rants and rages to those who have gathered there to listen to his words.

    Huie's church, located in a poor section of town, and is home to an all-black congregation and it's interesting to see how Huie plays up to his crowd. His heart seems to be very much in the right place but he knows what buttons to push and he certainly exhibits quite the flair for the theatrical. At times this seems like less of a sermon and more of a performance or a concert, it's interesting stuff.













    Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe:

    Like it sounds, this twenty minute short film also directed by Les Blank that further solidifies the director’s eccentricities. The basic premise is that Herzog promised filmmaker Errol Morris that if her were able to actually complete his film, Heaven's Gate (a very good documentary on pet cemeteries), that he would eat a shoe. Morris got the film made, and Herzog made good on his bet. Les Blank was there at the premiere of Heaven's Gate to capture Herzog chowing down on the shoe and it also shows how Herzog prepared for the shoe eating and how he prepared the shoe itself to actually be eaten. It's an odd little movie, but a pretty amusing one that somehow feels very appropriate alongside Burden Of Dreams.














    God's Angry Man:

    This forty-four minute documentary from 1980 is one of Herzog's better known non-fiction works, thanks primarily to its subject, one Dr. Gene Scott, who passed away in February of 2005. Scott was an eccentric television preacher who was notorious for his eccentric ways and over the top deliveries. Throughout this film, Herzog interviews Scott and splices this footage in between segments from actual broadcasts of his show wherein he delivers some of his teachings, asks for donations, and treats viewers to musical numbers from The Four Statesmen, a gospel quartet that performed on his show.

    Scott was interesting not because he was a televangelist (or, as he preferred to be called, a Bible teacher), but because he was a genuinely odd guy with an odd history. Through interviews with his parents we learn that at a very young age he was very advanced in terms of his learning ability and education (he holds a PHD from Standford), and when he opens up to Werner and really gets to thinking, it's obvious that he is a very sharp, intelligent man. He was also a bit of a trouble maker in that he was in trouble with the FCC more than once, his church got into some hot water when their status as a charitable organization was called into question, and he had periodic visits from the police.

    Herzog does a fine job of capturing Scott as his strangest (such as when he stops in the middle of a teaching and goes dead silent in protest to show how upset he is at the lack of donations coming in, only to burst out into a scathing attack on his audience afterwards, accusing them of caring more about their money than about their God) but also in more intimate, pensive moments as well. He successfully peels back a few layers of his television persona and gets him to open up about what he really wants in life, how he feels about working for the church, his place in the parish, and his hopes and dreams for the later years in his life. At one point, Scott comes close to tears. This gives his human side, not to be confused with his television persona (which honestly doesn't seem that far removed) a chance to bubble up and it makes for very interesting viewing.

    The film has aged a bit and its easy now to laugh at the fashions and styles that are reflected in the film but the man behind the mission is still an interesting character and Herzog does a fine job of giving us a fairly intimate look at his way of life and the good and bad that it entails.













    The set also features three featurettes:

    The Making Of Nosferatu

    South Bank Show: Werner Herzog:

    Directed by Jack Bond in 1982, this fifty-six minute piece begins with a drive where Herzog is checking out some locations. From here he travels by car and then train and talks to the camera about filmmaking. We witness some interviews with associates and see some film clips and all the way along this journey Herzog shares some stories of his life and his work, including the infamous story about the first time he saw ‘God’ as a child. At one point Herzog relaxes in a pub and enjoys a beer while his he talks to the camera about his feelings in regards to how we are now able to capture ‘adequate images for our kind of civilization.’ This turns into a discussion that is basically a philosophical attempt at explaining his love for filmmaking and creating historical documents. He also talks about attempting to ‘organize’ his films, playing soccer (we see him in action here) and why someone might want to go into a jungle with Klaus Kinski and drag a massive boat up a hill in the jungle.

    Guardian Lecture with Werner Herzog:

    Shot on September 7, 1988, this is an eighty-three minute long lecture that is essentially a conversation with Neil Norman conducted at the National Film Theater. It’s an audio only piece, it plays over top of a simple black and white title card and then a slide show of stills. Here Norman chats up the director to get things started but then quickly they open up the floor to questions from the audience – ‘the ruder the questions, the better he responds.’ They talk about Kinski, of course, and the intense drama that he was able to capture in the films they made together and why he stopped working with him after Cobre Verde. He talks about his thoughts on Hemmingway and nostalgia and how his films deviate from that, working with the studios and how he ‘always argued against the plastic solutions’ in regards carrying a boat over a mountain and what it was like growing up in Germany when he did. He talks about his influences, experimental filmmaking like the methods he employed with the hypnotized actors in Heart Of Glass and quite a bit more. Herzog’s sense of humor definitely shines through here in a lot of the conversation, particularly when he talks about the press’ reaction to Fitzcarraldo and how he was criminalized for how he made that movie and was accused of forcing the natives into slave labor on the film.

    Rounding out the extras on the discs themselves are trailers for The Enigma Of Kasper Hauser, Stroszek, Heart Of Glass, Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo (English and German language), Burden Of Dreams (two trailers) and Cobra Verde (German and English) and still galleries for Stroszek, Heart Of Glass and Woyzeck,. Each disc in the set includes menus and chapter selection.

    In addition to what is included on the discs, the BFI also supply a full color illustrated booklet with an extensive essay on the director and his work by Laurie Johnson and full film credits for all of the features and shorts included on this set.


    The Final Word:

    The BFI have assembled quite a package for Herzog fans, offering up most of his classic material in a very handsome collection with strong audio and video presentations, a nice selection of his short films and a wealth of commentary and featurettes to round out the package.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Clive Smith's Avatar
      Clive Smith -
      Blimey, that's a lot of work, Ian. Great review!