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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Tennessee Jed 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI apologize for the lack of posts, but I'm back in Tennessee for my little brother's graduation. The post is being written on the fly, with an erratic dial-up connection, and not my usualy crutches like spell check, so please excuse its disjointed quality.

German Folly

If you're like me, there's nothing more enjoyable than watching an idealistic German director slowly go insane in the Amazon jungle, Kurtz style. So I wonder what it is that took me so long to see The Burden of Dreams, a documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog's snake-bit film about an obsessed Irishman trying to build a glass opera house in the middle of the jungle to entice his idol, Enrico Caruso, to come perform.

The whole endeavor sounded very similar to Coppola's Apocalypse Now experience, and was fraught with disaster from the beginning. Problems included including warring, arrow shooting native extras, grotesque tropical diseases and parasites, mutinous German crews, grandiose and impossibly ambitious goals like dragging a 50 ton boat over a hill in the sucking jungle mud to prove some sort of artistic point.

The situation is unmanageable almost from the beginning, and when Herzog moves the crew to the middle of the jungle and keeps them there indefinitely (for over a year!) waiting for the right conditions to film he begins to lose it. One memorable scene has an exhausted Herzog addressing the documentary film maker's camera about his opinion of the jungle. Imagine this delivered in the same flat, Teutonic tones as Rainier Wolfcastle or Arnold S.

"If it was made by a God, if there is a god, then it was an angry God...
Kinski says the jungle is full of erotic elements. It’s not so much erotic, but full of obscenity. Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn’t see anything erotic here. I see fornication and asphyxiation and choking, fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course there’s a lot of misery, but it’s the same misery that’s all around us. The trees are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing; they just screech in pain. Taking a close look at what’s around us, there is some sort of harmony. It’s the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It’s not that I hate it. I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment.”

Great stuff! Only a German could morbidly wax with this poetically. I can't wait to move on to more of his oeuvre.

Comments:
I've actually seen this documentary and although the process is impressive and I'm fascinated with Herzog and his relationship with Kinski I found Herzog's interpretation of the land to be driven by his ignorance of it. I also was very disturbed by disregard and cruelty to animals. Not just in the movie but the making of it. The movie and the documentary are fascinating as a study of masculinity and brutality.
 
I can't remember which film it was (and I can't be arsed looking it up; but hey, you're a librarian - I'm sure you'll be able to find it), but he hypnotised the entire cast to achieve the effect he was looking for.

And, of course, there's the documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe - always good for a game of charades.
 
'grizzly man' is good. amazing footage. but i couldn't help thinking it was a tragicomedy. the characters have the kind of priceless, unintentional humor you only find in christopher guest movies.
 
We're leaving next week for a week's trip on the Amazon and Rio Negro Rivers. We did it 3 years ago and it was great. Several people have recommended these films, so now I'll have to get them when I return.
 
Seen this?
 
If you're facinated by the relationship between Herzog and Kinksi, the documentary My Best Fiend is a must see.

Other essential Herzog films include:
Kaspar Hauser (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle), and one of the best films about America ever made, Stroszek
 
Just making sure you've seen Hearts of Darkness. Hearts is to Burden as Apocalypse is to Fitz.
 
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