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Outcasts, madmen, freaks and geeks.
on 29 August 2005
Two of my very favourite films are collected in the set... and one of those I consider to be perhaps the greatest film ever made. The Enigma Of Kasper Hauser is Herzog's ultimate statement away from the more-iconic films he made with Kinski; a moving portrait of a mysterious young man found wandering the streets of Nuremberg with no name, no family, and no recollection of how he came to be. The film has all the usual mesmerising trademarks we've come to expect from Herzog's work; unfolding at a hypnotic pace, with a painterly attention to landscapes, lighting and physical composition, and a central character worn down by the morally bankrupt authority figures in charge of his destiny.
This also features his second collaboration with the actor Bruno S. following their success on Kasper Hauser, with the tragic Stroszek standing as one of Herzog's grand masterworks... a film to be discussed in the same breath as films like Aguirre the Wrath of God, Woyzeck and Fitzcarraldo. The other films featured on this collection go from the great (Even Dwarfs Started Small) to the strange (Heart Of Glass) to the downright obscure (Fata Morgana). As a result, the films on this collection are possibly less accessible than the one found on the original Herzog/Kinski box set from last year, but it's by no means an inferior set. The usual Herzog archetypes, concerns and preoccupations are all apparent in these films, with his early opus, Even Dwarfs Started Small introducing the idea of the outcast, or the misunderstood outsider... a characterisation found in all of these films, with the possible exception of Fata Morgana (which is more like an audio/visual ramble through the world's most mesmerising landscapes).
From what I've heard (and this might be somewhat apocryphal) Fata Morgana began it's life as a science-fiction project... however, during the location scouting, Herzog realised that there was a better film to be made if he just concentrated on the shimmering and hallucinogenic mirages found in the desert landscapes of (amongst other places) Algeria, Spain, Kenya and Mali. It remains one of the most surreal cinematic experiences anyone is ever likely to have, with Herzog refusing to connect his images to any kind of obvious narrative, and instead, uses sound samples and pieces of music to impose a sense of story upon the viewer. His later film Heart Of Glass is another strange one; the story of a village of glass-blowers in the 17th century descending into madness when the method of creating the town's famed ruby glass dies with their elderly patriarch. The plot description doesn't do justice to the film itself, which is filled with haunting landscape shots and all manner of surreal imagery. The most legendary aspect of the film involves the myth that Herzog had all but the lead actor hypnotised... implanting dialog into their unconscious mind, as oppose to merely offering straight direction.
Heart Of Glass might be something of a chore for some viewers, what with it's slow pace and idiosyncratic characterisations (and that ending... which is more like an arcane epiphany than anything approaching closure), but I feel that those who really appreciate Herzog's more difficult films, like Stroszek, Nosferatu, and Woyzeck, will understand the director's intentions and appreciate his stunning use of natural imagery. Stroszek, as mentioned before, is an excellent film... probably one of the key-works of New German cinema. The plot mixes biographical details from Bruno's real life, with a fabricated plot involving his trip to America with an abused prostitute and an elderly eccentric crone. The film is often over-mythologized in this country due to the fact that it was the last film that Joy Division lead-singer Ian Curtis watched shortly before committing suicide... There's much more to the film that that, however, with Herzog presenting us with a heartbreaking tragedy (...with bizarre, darkly comic moments to undercut the gloom) with a number of distinctive scenes (the opening in the prison; Bruno's trip to the premature baby ward; the tourist scenes in and around New York; that ending with the dancing chicken... and more!!) and a clutch of impeccable performances from Bruno, the elderly Clemens Scheitz, and the brilliant Eva Mattes.
This brings us back to The Enigma Of Kasper Hauser (with that great literal title, Every Man For Himself and God Against All)... my favourite Herzog, and one of the key films from the 1970's. Like all of the director's work, Kasper is a deep and ultimately quite bleak film, perfectly captured by Herzog in a style that seems quite similar to Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. And yet, at the end of the day, there's simply no other filmmaker like Herzog... his films have their own style and atmosphere rooted in his use of natural locations and idiosyncratic performers. As noted at the beginning of the review, Strozek and Kasper are two of the greatest films of the 1970's, essential purchases for any true, self-respecting connoisseur of interesting cinema. Even Dwarfs Started Small and Heart Of Glass on the other hand take a little time to sink in (...and it's perhaps beneficial to watch the films through with Herzog's commentary, which helps shed some light on his methods and intentions).
Fata Morgana caps the collection off fairly well... though it's definitely a film for Herzog's most ardent of appreciators (and again... it's perhaps best to give the commentary a listen first, as opposed to just jumping in... Herzog does the best commentaries!!). Still, this is a great collection of work from a distinctive and highly individual filmmaker. Sure, there could have been more films included, like on the R1 release, but I'm certain Anchor Bay will give us a few standalone releases towards the end of the year. Either that, or we can look forward to a third box set sometime in 2006!!!