Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Werner Herzog may be most famous for his all-out gonzo approach to filmmaking. He once hauled a steamship over a steep hill in Peru in order to make a historical movie (Fitzcarraldo) about hauling a steamship over a steep hill in Peru. (Les Blank's Burden of Dreams, a documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo, is nearly as entertaining.) That kind of thing is at play in Aguirre, but Herzog demonstrates a lot of skill and economy in putting together a story that feels very big in little more than 90 minutes.
Built out of long shots of the cast in full Spanish 16th-century conquistadore regalia trudging though a jungle (Peru again), a dispassionate fixation on the bug-eyed rolling-gaited figure of Klaus Kinski shot through a fish-eye lens, and a haunting score from Popol Vuh, it's almost purely visual. The theme? Drudgery, privations, and insanity of colonialism spurred equally by spreading the news of Jesus to heathens and a lust for gold. With the explorers driven by legends of El Dorado, and the experience of Hernando Cortez a scant 40 years earlier, the madness is palpable.
This is a movie where the YouTube pickings are fairly slim, so I'm pointing to a long Popol Vuh piece from it (with a shorter one tacked on at the end) that gives some indication of the mood. I always loved this music but never made a point of tracking down who did it, and only recently came to appreciate Popol Vuh in another context for its savvy pre-post-rock.
I'm also pretty excited about Herzog's latest, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about the Chauvet cave in France, which was only discovered in 1994 and contains a massive store of some of the oldest prehistoric art known, on the order of at least 25,000 years old. Herzog has successfully straddled both narrative and documentary filmmaking across much of his career, and in typical Herzog fashion he shot this one in 3D. Who else would make a documentary in 3D? But it's supposed to be amazing.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Phil #35: Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997) (scroll down)
Steven #35: "What's Opera, Doc?" (Chuck Jones, 1957)
I did see Cave of Forgotten Dreams shortly after this posted, albeit in 2D. Still, I could make out how much the visuals, both the explanatory animated charts and graphs and so many of the camera setups, would lend themselves to a 3D experience that could only be described as "marvelous" (as Mitt Romney likes to say of unrealistic, draconian budget plans). I loved it, albino alligators and all. There's an unmistakable spiritual connection to those ancient artifacts that is thrilling. In many ways Aguirre is an apotheosis of Herzog's aesthetic across both narrative and documentary forms, and cripes, I just love it. Probably should have put it higher.
The last time I went through the Tarantinos I was most impressed with Jackie Brown. It was good to see one of his pictures make it here because I knew it wasn't going to be me. For the moment, I have pushed Tarantino a little to the side. This could be another case of exhaustion—also the transition in the World War II spaghetti western from one of his greatest scenes in the beginning to one of his zany-loopiest by the end has turned me slightly sour on him for the moment.
As for the cartoon, I have an even harder time mixing short cartoons with full-length narrative films in a list like this than I do documentaries, so I didn't even come close to this gesture. I was tickled to see Bugs Bunny, of course, but hastened to remind Phil and Steven that in this area I am first and foremost a Daffy Duck person (followed closely by Bullwinkle). Therefore, "Touche!": Daffy's greatest 6:40.