Thursday, February 09, 2006

Long-distance reacharound (aka final wrapup)

Posted by Chris S.

Comin' back around for a wrapup, and only three months late! You'd think I would abandon it by now, but Werner and this festival are big enough to deserve some kind of closure, even if it's done only through fast-fading memories and impressions.

My Best Fiend ruled! How could it not! 90+ minutes of Kinski insanity, narrated in Herzog's soft, soothing voice. Highlights: Kinski's one-man "Jesus" show, and Herzog going into the house (now owned by a settled middle-age couple) he and Kinski once lived in. Telling the current occupants stories of how Kinski burst through a door to throw hot potatoes and cutlery at a reviewer he had invited to dinner. The reviewer, it seems, did not praise Klaus highly enough for his performance. General mayhem ensues. It's all pretty fun. And the end is sardonically heartwarming.

Wings of Hope followed, and was strikingly similar in approach to Little Dieter Needs To Fly. Julianne Koepke was the only survivor in a plane crash over the Amazonian jungle, and she walked three weeks without food to finally find someone who could take her to safety. As Herzog said, she did everything right (her father was a biologist, and taught her about the ways of nature early), and though only a girl of 18 (flying home for her high school prom), she endured a three week trek many "outdoorsmen" would never hold up under, and now comes back to the original crash site to find debris.

Because the sound on the video was kind of low, we all had to crouch in to hear, and there were a lot of muffled gasps as Julianne and her assistants uncovered doors and walls of the plane, rows of seats, all untouched in the intervening years. The jungle above was an unbroken wall once again...20 years later, and no signs that the event had ever happen if flying in from above. While not as emotionally deep as Dieter, this was an excellent bookend, and personally interesting to Herzog because he was scheduled to be on the very flight Julianne survived before it was re-routed. At the very same time that he was shooting Aguirre, Julianne was living it....literally less than three tributaries away!

I ended Saturday early to attend an excellent noise show in which Charlie Draheim fuckin' ruled the roost.

Sunday began yet again with a pair of religion-themed shorts. Christ and Demons in New Spain covered the ways in which Christianity has come to South America, and the ways in which the indigenous people have bent it to their existing belief systems. Although Catholicism is the name of the game here (think worship of saints), the primary saint on display is a curious little fellow named Maximon. He was created by the locals. To show his power and authority as a saint, his icons and statues show him in a white tuxedo and smoking a cigar, in the manner of a South American ranch tycoon. Pilgrims show respect to Maximon by blowing cigar smoke in his face, putting cigarettes in his mouth (is his statue like one of those "smoking monkey" dolls, with working lungs?!), and spitting liquor on him, and on the faithful. We get to see ordained holy people, taking pulls off of liquor bottles, and spit/spraying the devout with this holy booze, like Foster Brook's vision of baptism. Reading "Herzog on Herzog" gave me a bit of background on all this...apparently the Catholic church knows about this, and acknowledges Maximon as a lesser saint, saying that they're basically glad that SOME form of Christianity is being preached, even if it's weird and deformed.

The point of the documentary, as usual, is to show you sights of the world that you've never seen. I don't get the feeling that Herzog really wants to drive home the point that bringing religion to the natives is stupid and unneccessary (though my film-watching companion that morning came to that conclusion on his own), so much as his desire to show us the strange, comedic, tragic, and surreal things that can happen when foreign beliefs are co-opted in haphazard ways. And to show us weird beauty. If he really wanted to drive home the point, there would have been more documentation of what's going on. Instead, only a few title cards here and there illustrate, the most powerful being the one that starts to film: "If Jesus were to return today, would we even recognize him?" In this way, the handheld DV film, lack of historical background, and emphasis upon pockets of society not seen by the more mainstream National Geographic-type "natives in the wild" type films, it would be tempting to say that this flick is the precursor to the Sublime Frequencies DVDs (curated by members of the Sun City Girls, many shot by the members on their own travels). Sublime Frequencies' hook is that they give you few maps or directions as to what's happening...just a pure immersion in the spectacle. In that sense, Herzog's inter-title cards might seem a diversion, but if anything, this film is MORE pure! Sublime Frequencies DVDs come with a few words of background in the liner notes....the inter-title cards, by comparison, seldom have anything to do with the action on screen, confining themselves intstead to quasi-religious homilies ("Oh Lord! Deliver me from the ways of sinful men" and so forth), or immediate reportage on the events being shown ("This is not even the temple! It is a courtyard outside where goods are sold to the faithful"). Without reading the interviews in "Herzog on Herzog," we're given almost no background, which is somehow appropriate. After all, how could you describe this stuff, other than to say that this is every bit as much an alien landscape as Fata Morgana. Although it seemed a so-so entry at the time of viewing, this is one of the films that has hovered heaviest in my mind since then.

Following this was a 17-minute short titled Pilgimage. Silent footage (some from Bells from the Deep!) of people walking on pilgrimages. No interviews, just people walking and aching and praying and devoting. Horrible "cosmopolitan world music" plays overhead (think Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack at its worst. "Ahh ahh ahhhhhhhhh!" goes the melodramatic tenor). Okay, but didn't leave much of an impression.

Next, Invincible, Herzog's first return to feature films in well over 10 years (and his first REAL full-on film sinec Cobra Verde in 1987), and the first one that seemed to look and feel like a regular '90s hollywood film...big set pieces, "Pro" costumes, crisp picture and camera-work, totally "union" all around. A fine (nominally "true", though a lot of liberties were taken with important details) little story about Zishe Breibart, a Jewish man who is strong, lured away (by the promise of money, fame, and the chance to make a difference) from his farm to be a Jewish strong-man (dressed as an Aryan strong-man) for the then-emerging Nazi party. Tim Roth plays Erik Jan Hanussen, an oily "mystic" who can use power of suggestion to make real burns appear on women's hands via hypnosis, and who keeps Zishe at his post even when Zishe begins to realize just what side he's on. Roth's calculatingly reptilian performance gives off sparks when rubbed against Finnish strongman Jouko Ahola's open-faced and guileless's like having Kinski and Bruno S. in dual lead roles!

However, despite some interesting conflicts, a good story, a few amazing images, and some very tender moments, this movie was not quite as satisfying as I had hoped. Zishe's death (ironically, due to infection from a rusty nail which he is too proud to get treated) adds a cruel twist to the story, but the final departure is pretty sappy. There's a lot right and very little wrong with this film, but I still can't figure out why the negatives win out in my head. Might require a re-watching.

"Ten Thousand Years Older": Less said the better. The most openly preachy flick on the fest since "Where the Green Ants Dream." Pretty much the same premise.

Wheel of Time: This is the point where one starts to get a little worried about Herr H. After several disappointing/underwhelming flicks in a row, you start to wonder if he might be "losing it." This film did little to assuage that fear. Herzog himself said he didn't feel qualified enough to film a convergence of the world's Buddhists, but was asked to by the Dalai Lama himself. Unsurprisingly, the film does what many of Herzog's films do...ignore the main specatacle in favor of peeking into corners, running over to that strange man all by himself, talking to random people with all the selectivity of grabbing a beer in a bar and starting a conversation with the guy on the stool next to you. The main story is conspiculous mostly by its seeing every point except the main one (other than documenting the meticulous creation of the beautiful and complex sand Mandala by the Dalai Lama and his upper-echelon servants), we infer the nature of the festival. Rather than focus on the point everybody is looking at, Herzog focuses on the 500,000 people looking *at* that point, in hopes that we'll look over there as well. It reminds me a bit of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo method of covering the '72 elections (in "Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail"), where the wealth of accumulated details that are not directly related to who voted for might provide you a richer look into the inner workings of the machine (off topic, but I just saw something the other day where George McGovern said of Thompson's book "It was the most truthful, and least accurate, account of the campaign ever written.").

Here, however, that tactic doesn't work so well. I can't help but wonder what the Dalai Lama thought of the final product. A decent enough film, but we get the feeling at this point that the director is starting to lose focus of his ambitions.

Next is The White Diamond, and I'll be frank here...this is one of those ones that got lost in the booze and outside conversations. People came over, beer and wine was drunk, and converstaions flared up. I have no idea what happened, except that it happened in digital video again, and there were a few breathtaking shots of waterfalls and birds that totally captivated one exuberant festival-goer. Still on the "get-to" pile for a re-evaluation, I'm afraid.

Then, yep, Grizzly Man. You already know...this is a fabulous film. This is Herzog in his finest form in years. Street-editing taken to new heights. The sometimes heavy-handed and preachy director finding a great balance in the life of Timothy Treadwell, painting him neither as a moron nor a saint, but a beautiful and tragic alloy. It also elicited lots of laughter and incredulaous noises...what other documentary EVER...EVER!?!?! has had the director chime in to say "here is where I disagree with the views of my subject"?!?!? I mean, that never happens!! Herzog is like "Timothy is wrong here...nature is all death and fornication, not cuddly Disney sentiments." Fuck!! That's a very heavy thing to lay on a person, esp. when the person you disagree with is brutally dead. Throughout, Herzog captures an array of Errol Morris-ian subjects, friends or associates of Treadwell, and expertly cuts them into the existing footage of Tim's forest adventures. He finds the beauty in the unscripted moments, when the camera is left on but nobody is around - moments like this are right in the Herzog tradition of Heart of Glass or Aguirre.

The final thoughts on this film mirror my thoughts on Herzog in general...he can't ever be counted out. As soon as you think he's begun to lose it, he comes back twice as hard with a real stunner. Because he's completely fearless (both physically and intellectually), he sometimes bullies himself into dead ends, but sometimes those long tunnels of inquiry bring about marvelous treasures, of which Grizzly Man is one. Rent, buy, borrow NOW.

After that, we ate pizza, drank wine, and watched a 1979 documentary about Herzog, in which he is hilariously diffident to the interviewer, unable or unwilling to engage any of the (perfectly decent, if slightly rote) questions before him. Between shots of his classic films, and behind-the-scenes footage while filming Stroszeck, the air gets tenser and tenser as the interviewer asks that question that always signals a disastrous interview: "Well, what do YOU want to talk about?" The totally oranged-out faded print gave a nostalgic, old-photos-in-dusty-albums vibe that capped off the fest in reverent style.

Thank you all for reading, contributing to this blog, contributing to the festival by your attendence, and especially engaging the subject matter with me, whether it was for one film or a sizeable portion of the event. It is no exaggeration to say that this was one of the most tremendously life-altering events I've ever had, and a huge portion of that comes from sharing it with each and every one of you. I'd list you all, but I threw away the remaining raffle tickets during winter cleaning, and I'm afraid I'd miss somebody, but you know who you are. You made it 1000x more fun, and made all the hard work and money drain reap unbelieveable rewards.

Coming up next: probably something more manageable. In the Stiff-Legged canon, this is *my* Fitzcarraldo, so I think I may have to recharge with something shorter, easier to acquire, and...dare I say...trashier! Stiff-leg lifers will remember that Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street were also day-long mini-festivals in the past...that's the direction I'm thinking right now. Friday the 13th, or maybe zombies, or '70s/'80s "Hot Dog" movies or something.

But after that....? KUROSAWA.

You heard it here first.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Little Dieter

Posted by Chris S.

Wow. The least-attended day of the festival (zero and counting!) proves to be one of the very best. Little Dieter Needs to Fly is one of the most affecting documentary films I've ever seen. And I didn't even get to see it all! (A pomegranate tried to kill my Throbbing Gristle T-shirt, so I had to run out to the dry cleaners mid-way through) The power and resolution of the man as he recounts his gristly fate in the 1960s, being tortured and imprisoned in Vietnam, even TRAVELING to Vietnam and showing us how he was run through the jungle by his captors ("Okay, this is hitting a little close to home," he says, his hands bound and dressed in uniform, Vietnamese men with rifles running in front and behind him. "I thought maybe doing this would chase the demons away for good, but you have no idea how my heart pounds right now"), showing us how he was chained to his fellow prisoners, showing us the stockpile of food he has hidden beneath his house in a secret panel (who of us has the foresight to pack 200 pounds of rice in case of emergency?)'s a very intense experience.

However, Dieter never comes off as either bitter or incapacitated. Yes, he is haunted. Yes, he speaks of years after the ordeal where his friends were scared of him, and how he could only feel comfortable sleeping in an airplane cockpit ("the only place I felt safe"). But Dieter, at the core of it, is an unbelieveably gentle, giving, generous human being (at least, that's the side of him the documentary 75 minutes of film can show all facets of a person). I'm not ashamed to say that I teared up a bit during the final sequence, when "Little Dieter" gets his wish, a vision of "all the world, covered by airplanes." And then again, during the postscript, when we see Dieter's military funeral (I've since read that Lou Gerhig's Disease struck quickly and took him in no time), complete with F-14s flying over his grave as a salute. Truly a hard film to forget.

And again...YOU MISSED IT, BITCHES!!!!!

My Best Fiend in 10!!

I Love It When You Call Me "Big Gesualdo"

Posted by Chris S.

Another documentary hit out of the ballpark by Herr Herzog!! Gesualdo, despite having numerous highly fictionalized sequences, uses these embellishments to accentuate an already eccentric life, a man who was a prince, a composer, who killed his wife and her lover in flagrante, and who hired servants to torture him for the last several years of his life in contrition. He also, during this time, made madrigal music so unconventional and startling, it sounds like it would HAVE to have been composed in A.S. (After Stravinsky), but dates back to the early 1600s! Already looking the dude up on Amazon...

These are just the facts! Herzog adds stories of how he killed his second child (who he suspected was the love child of his wife and her lover) by having his servants put the child in a swing and swing him for TWO AND A HALF DAYS STRAIGHT, while a choir around him sings a song about not fearing death (inspiration for "Don't Fear the Reaper"?). He tells of a strange disc kept in the Gesualdo castle museum, which Gesualdo purportedly paid a lot of money for the greatest minds in the land to translate. All bullshit...none of this happened. But when you hear the other stories, the facts and lies become naturall intertwined. You don't get the feeling that this is real, and that is embellishment. The historical societies that perform his work do so with great talent and aplomb, and his music is dissected from many angles.

The final scene, a man working as a footman in an Italian renaissance fair/jousting competition, takes a cell phone call from his mother. He says, and Herzog translates, "Don't worry mom, I'll be home soon...the documentary about Gesualdo is almost done anyway." Then he looks right into the camera for a long time, with a baffling expression, a mix of laughter and seriousness. Turns out Herzog told him to look serious, but was making faces next to the camera. Oh, and his mother didn't call him...that was Herzog's brother/producer Lucki Stipetic. There you go.


Posted by Chris S.

Already, Bells from the Deep gets the "You missed it, bitches!!" award for the day. An hour of amazing (and supposedly highly fabricated) moments of spirituality, pilgrimage, and superstition. AMAZING music (throat singers and bell ringers), stark Russian landscapes, and deeply devotional pilgrims, all of them beautiful beyond (mere) belief.


Night 4: Green Snakes, White Mountains, Red Face-Paint, Purple Pomp, and Yellow Oil Fires

Posted by Chris S.

Night 4's over. A few clinkers in this batch, though a few that took off lopsided righted themselves before journey's end. First and last features sealed the deal.

Cobra Verde, the final collaborative picture with Klaus Kinski, was another absolutely dramatic classic. I've heard talk about how this one is flawed or not up to the best Herzog/Kinski films, but that still leaves plenty of margin on the ol' Bell Curve. Oh, so you're only working at 93% intensity instead of 97%? Oh well, I think I'll live.

I guess maybe the objections to this film might be that it's "just" an action pic, more so than most. But it's a hell of an action pic! The shots of Cobra Verde training the amazon women for battle (a battle that never comes, I'd like to point out) is unforgettable (R. Lee Ermey seems like a creampuff in comparison!). Lemme see yer war face, indeed! The image of the long-distance flag telegram system was truly unique, as was the carpet of skulls in front of the insane king of Dahomey.

What I really took from it, though, were two scenes that lifted it above historical character drama (two among many, but these two especially!). First was Cobra Verde trying to drag an escape boat out to sea, a boat which is too heavy for him. Apart from the "do it yourself Fitzcarraldo" vibe, this was one of the most dreamlike imagines I've seen in any of Herzog's films. These are the kinds of dreams I relate to. A strangely deformed African man (who walks on all fours) is far down the beach, shambling his way toward Kinski. The two of them are the only ones in the shot. Kinski is desperately trying to drag, pull, or push the ship into the water and get away. Those are the dreams I remember most vividly through the years...trying to move forward, but being held back by an immovable object, pushing forward and getting nowhere, while nearby, something vaguely frightning but not menacing ambles toward you. THAT'S what I'm talkin' about!

Second is the scene where it's revealed that slavery is being abolished all over the world, and that the way of life of the slave traders is about to become obsolete. Cobra Verde and one of his men drink a toast. The other man says "To slavery....the greatest misunderstanding ever created by the human race." Kinski trumps him. "It was not a misunderstanding, it was a crime." Finally he toasts "to the ruin of us all." BALLS. I love the way his character (presumably) knew all along that his primary form of employment was wrong, but did what he had to do to survive. There's none of that contrived gnashing of teeth like you see in conventional dramas, where the people obviously painted as BAD GUYS have to stay bad guys and go "Noooooo! I can't lose my palace! I'm a king here!!! THIS MUST NEVER END!!" and then put a dueling pistol to their head or something. This nuance makes the character stickier, and more prone to come up in your backbrain while you're walking to the store.

Next, Wodaabe: Herdsmen of the Sun. A lot of people filled in all at once here, so the movie kind of got lost. The male fashion show bits were definitely a hit, but what struck me was listening to African men, presumably in their late teens/early twenties, living in poverty in lean-tos grafted to the grassy plains of the "half-desert" of the Sahara, who still managed to talk (assuming the translation is reliable) in the sort of language you'd expect to hear from teenagers in any suburb in America. "I don't consider myself attractive" and "What was it you saw in me? Was it my beauty, or my personality?" sound like quotes from Sixteen magazine, which makes it all the more interesting when spoken by nomadic African males. I mean, I KNOW intuitively that we're all kind of the same deep down, but these sorts of things always seem like the privilege of the affluent and safe. Not so. It seems that "hot or not?" is just as viable a concept among the poorest and most reviled tribe in Africa as it is in Arlington Heights!

Jag Mandir didn't do it for anyone, myself included. A straightforward filming of a day-long celebration for the maharajah of Udaipur, it's got a bunch of jugglers nad musicians and sword swallowers and dancers and stuff, but it's paced horribly, and reads pretty much like any other dull National Geographic special. It does not seem like Werner had his whole heart in this part of the world.

Weirdest of the night had to be Scream Of Stone. Although based on a story given him by Reinhold Messner, the subject of The Dark Glow of the Mountains, the script was not written by Herzog himself. As he notes in "Herzog on Herzog," the script was full of problems, not the least of them being dialogue, which is contrived beyond belief; we're talking USA Movie of the Week here, folks. On the other hand, the scenery is actually more breathtaking than the comparatively low-to-the-ground documentation of Dark Glow, and the end scene is appropriately GLOOOOOOMY to count as a true Herzog creation. Also worth noting: this features the first gratuitous nudity in any Herzog film so far! Not to mention gratuitous overexposure of an electronic chess set that seems antiquated for 1991.

Tying up all loose ends, and redeeming the sins of Jag Mandir, Lessons in Darkness is a total home-run! Taking the style of Fata Morgana (alien landscapes, scant plot) and focusing it deeply, it's riveting from start to finish. The basic sci-fi plot (some far off planet or something is destroying itself once and for all...earthlings have discovered it and are trying to put out the blazes) allows us to distance the subject from the Gulf War and the reconstruction efforts and just concentrate on what we're seeing. What we're seeing is astounding....curtains of orange flame thundering out of the ground, miles upon miles of "oil seas," scorched trees, torture chambers, victims of torture who have lost their ability to speak (one mother notes that after the oil fires, "my child's tears come out black. When his nose runs, it is black. Even his spittle is black."), the use of explosives to smother large fires, images of frightening desolation and surreality, backed to a really overblown soundtrack of Greig and Wagner and the like. Some moments are in perfect sync with the soundtrack, while others benefit very little from the bombastic overtures. The sight that sticks with me most is actually the cranes which are scooping out....what, oil? Flaming dirt? Shale? Something. Anyway, as they scoop, hoses must be constantly dousing the crane, so that it does not melt. Near the end, several technicians throw flames back into extinguished oil wells, reigniting the flaming geysers. The narrative claims that "these men are unaccustomed to life without that the fire has returned, they will have something to put out again, and are happy." This is obviously a stylization, but a good one - your heart really jumps when you see them tossing lit flares back into extinguished areas! The reason for doing this is in Herzog on's not worth mentioning, just that the story takes a jump for having added this rogue element.

Time for bed now! Congratulations to Wendy McClure for winning some Klaus Kinski buttons tonight, and to Mike McPadden, for taking home the novelization of Nosferatu. See you tomorrow!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Cobra Verde and The Jesus Of Cinema

Adam Witt here, checking in early in the second leg of the complete, and I mean complete Werner Herzog film festival. The main films I'm looking forward to this week are COBRA VERDE, INVINCIBLE, MY BEST FIEND, and GRIZZLY MAN. I didn't have to wait long for COBRA VERDE, it was the first film screened tonight and Kinski Fever has taken the festival, again, by storm. I think Cobra Verde was made like 9 years after Fitzcarraldo, so I always seemed like an afterthought to their collaborations, like it was their Mask of Zorro or Chainsaw Massacre 2 that they pulled out years after the magic was gone, but Cobra Verde was every bit as amazing as their other work. There was maybe something a little stale about it in comparison, but when you're grading it on a scale of Fitzcarraldo to Woyczek anything's a compliment. it's like having a "lesser" collaboration between Burton & Depp.

Once again, GORGEOUS FILM, with some striking visuals that caused the usual "did you just see what I saw?" moments between the attendees, which, admittedly was me and Chris, but it blew our minds.

COBRA VERDE seems to form a trilogy between AGUIRRE and FITZCARRALDO about Western interests pushing into native territories and the overreaching of certain icarus-types at a fulcrum-point in industrialization. I know it sounds off, but you CAN have three films about that. They're also three movies in which Herzog put himself completely in the middle of other cultures with no contact to the Western world to make these movies in which his psyche while going through such events is put onscreeen through the eyes of Kinski. Yes, you can have three films like that.

And then we had twenty minutes between movies so we watched some of the documentary on the making of the making of Fitzcarraldo (there's also a commentary track on the making of with Werner Herzog commenting on someone commenting on him, it is about as Meta as the world gets) and Herzog constantly states that had he given up on Fitzcarraldo, had he not pushed himself and nearly killed himself, had he given up he would be a man without dreams. He sermonizes very passionately about art and that no goal is too high if you love your art. He makes art so important, life or death important, and to show you how life or death important it is, he puts his life and sanity on the line to make a movie. Self sacrifice so that we all may be inspired to greatness. It's like he's the Jesus of Cinema.

Right now I have a African documentary on African mating rituals. Don't laugh, It's a culture where the men have to dress up and attract the women.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Looking back on Weekend #1

Posted by Wendy

This blog had been my idea to begin with, and as such I’d really meant to post more--and more intelligently--than I did during the festival this past weekend. But of course, the SLFF is an endurance event, and I quickly got caught up in the rigors of trying to keep my eyes open during the long, extremely lush silent takes in films like Hearts of Glass and Nosferatu. Also? The couch isn’t always nice to one’s back.

I regretted missing the more moving scenes in Land of Slience and Darkness, but goddamn, those dwarfs wore me out and I had to retreat to my own land of silence and darkness in Chris’s room. I also wish I’d caught Aguirre and Kaspar Hauser. But what I did see has stayed with me all week. Stroszek was one I’d expected to enjoy and it didn’t disappoint. Like Stroszek and his fellow sad szacks, I, too, believed that Wisconsin would be kinder than a Munich pimp’s kick, but it WASN’T. Remind me to read up on the film to find out where the final scenes were shot (Stroszek on the ski lift, the circling truck), though I’m sure that chicken is dead by now. Seriously, though, that whole landscape sticks with me, even more so now when I think about what it has in common with Herzog’s South American backdrops--though of course perverted in a very North American way, with the Indian tourist kitsch and so on. I’d better stop there before I make any other goofy parallels and start insisting that steamboat in Fitzcarraldo is just like a very big, slow, savage ski lift. Obviously it’s not, though. And Klaus Kinski would never be caught dead on the ski lift at the HerzogLand Amusement park (TM Mike). Or maybe he would if it involved having someone fuck his corpse. BUT I DIGRESS.

I like Herzog’s Europe, too, as seen in Hearts of Glass and Nosferatu and Woyzeck. He has a knack for making most his civilized-world settings (i.e., not the fornicating dank green wilderness) look as breathtakingly weird as opera sets—the angles are odd; the architecture is precious. Fucking awesome.

Anyway, that’s all for now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Dark Glow of the 1980s: Sunday Wrap-Up

Posted by Chris S.

Sunday starts pretty much right at the turn of the decade...we ended Saturday with Woyzek, and start Sunday morning with two documentaries of unusual preachers. Huie's Sermon is a real-time 45 minute sermon by the preacher (Huie something-or-other) who inspired the Reverend Cleophus Jones character in the Blues Brothers. The real preacher, however, is in Bedford-Stuyvesant (in Brooklyn), not the south side of Chicago. If anything, the movie treament of the preacher (played by the always-exuberant James Brown) was downright laccadaisical compared with the real Revered Huie! The service starts off lively, but not too noteworthy...essentially recapping the portion of scripture he will be working with. Around the fifth minute, though, it's like you can hear a gear shifting in his head...he's now talking in double-time, growling, puntuating with ecstatic "ha!"s to keep the rhythm. Soon, he's running back and forth through the chapel, shouting with his mic while the organ and drums hit in time with his intensifying cadences. The effect is similar to Saturday's film How Much Wood Would A Woodchuck Chuck, about the auction barker competition: at a certain point, the words and ideas are coming out at such a clip, you can do little more than hang on and catch a line here and there. He mentions Calvin Klein jeans several times, emphasizes the evils of cigarettes, dancing and homosexuality, and gives a very passionate account of noah and the ark, having little to do with whatever portion of scripture he was planning on dealing with. As one viewer remarked, "how does he prepare for these sermons? Is this all written down in advance?" Exhausting and inspiring. While the cameraman stops to reload film (the audio of the sermon continues), shots of the then-ghettoized Bed-Stuy provide the trademark indelible images we demand from every Herzog feature.

Moving from the black "holy roller" style of Rev. Huie, God's Angry Man focuses instead of a very white phenomenon...the televangelist. Gene Scott has been a staple of televised religious programming for decades, and unlike the previous documentary, the preacher himself is part of the scrutiny...not more than a fraction of a TV sermon is shown. Scott is interviewed, as are his parents and others, and Herzog portrays him in a much different light than you would think. It was a staple, almost a cliche, to portray preachers in the 1980s, especially televangelists, as shallow, money-grubbing hypocrites. Well, we do see Scott's incredible money-making abilities, but Herzog paints him as a multi-dimensional human being. Scott is a doctor of philosophy, and is quite candid about several things: that he has to fight with his faith constantly, and that nothing is absolute in his mind (anyone for whom faith comes easily and without conflict has not thought it out thoroughly); that he is a ward of his church, and that he personally owns nothing more than the contents of one bag which he carries with him at all times; and that he is, at his essence, very lonely.

All of this contrasts with the near-volcanic outbursts shown on his show, in which Dr. Gene goes into an apopleptic fit of rage because his congregation has undershot the hour's dollar-raising goal by a mere $600. The way he berates the audience, using words, phrases and gestures that will resound for anyone who has been physically or verbally intimidated by an authority figure (parent, teacher, etc.), has the ability to chill your vital organs. Then, to prove that all is well and that this is a truly Herzogian film, Scott brings out "The FCC Monkey Band," a small assortment of wind-up monkey toys, introduced with an archaic computerized TV screen font that will resound for anyone who spent more than 300 hours playing Space Invaders in the arcade, manages to remind us of everything from Even Dwarfs Started Small to Aguirre. A marvelous character study.

After watching Werner Herzog eat his shoe (and being rather ashamed of ourselves for not thinking to buy and eat some beef jerkey or something while watching), much of the afternoon was given over to the eminent figure of the steamship. Nearly four hours of Fitzcarraldo and the film about the film, Burden of Dreams. This was obviously the collossal core of the comparison, everything else felt like a puff pastry. Although clocking in at a whopping two hours and 37 minutes, I couldn't think of a moment of Fitzcarraldo that did not completely engage me. Kinski begins the film in a maniacal fit of pique, rowing toward the opera house to see Carruso, his favorite opera star, and only gets more gigantic from there. There are a million pieces of scholarly work about this film out there, so I won't really elaborate that much further, but the one thing that really stuck out with this film is something many people have doesn't take long before you start thinking of the ship in terms of some large task or project or ambitious you've had in your life. Your desire to see it go over the mountain, and your elation when it does, is your own desire to go back and spin all your past losses or failures (or even your pyrric victories) into successes. When Fitzcarraldo loses the ship, you feel like YOU'VE lost the ship! The ending is beautiful and surreal, and would be more melancholy (talk about second prize!) if Kinski didn't appear on the screen with such an incredible, proud grin. It's one of those films, like those of the greats (Tarksovsky, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Scorsese), in which the film will probably mean different things to you at different places in your life. A film that can completely enrich your day-to-day experience, just by the very act of having witnessed it, and keeping it in your memory.

Burden of Dreams is, obviously, just completely fucking insane, as befits a production of that magnitude. Hearts of Darkness seems like the whining of a pampered student by comparison! It's played in less hysterical tones than Eleanor Coppola's, but despite the mannered narration by Maureen Gosling, the atrocities pile up much higher. When Herzog starts jabbering his cack about the sheer hellish miasma of nature, and how all the world is based on fornication and evil, you laugh, but you also realize that if you had gone through what he had gone through over the past four years, you'd probably be mumbling some pretty gooned-out platitudes yourself.

After that, all but a few faithfuls went home, and rightly so. The core curriculum was finished...all from here was basically extra credit. The Dark Glow of the Mountains was an acceptable documentary about the mountain climber Reinhold Messner. A few shots were nice, and about halfway through, Messner gives a few monologues that finally engage the imagination, but for the most part, this felt like it was done to fulfill a contract. Beacuse much of what Messner was doing could not be followed with a film crew (they themselves barely survived!), you get the feeling of someone walking around the side of a house, coming around the other side, behind the garage, and coming back and telling you that they just walked around the entire perimeter of the state of Texas. Uh you say. At this point, I realized that most of what I was going to see from here on would probably have to be re-watched fresh another time. They were all standing in the very large shadow of a steamship sitting halfway up on a mountain.

Where The Green Ants Dream, on the other hand, was, to me, the first fully-qualified failure in the Herzog canon. This movie typified the changeover that so many artists and musicians and creative thinkers made in the 80s: there's a sudden narrowing of focus, an obviousness of message, a flatness of picture. I don't know technical terms to describe it, but it feels like an '80s picture by a classic '70s director. Scorsese made this shortcoming work when he did After Hours: it felt contrained and sugary, but at least managed to breathe some fire. Green Ants is not so much all style, no substance, but mediocre style and simple substance, basically a Midnight Oil song come to life.

An impossibly gangly Australian employee for a mining company is asked to be liason between the company and a group of aborigines who are trying to stop a series of explosions on their sacred lands. They say these are the lands wehre the green ants dream...if the ants are awakened, it will be the end of the world. There are horrible, cliched scenes in which the aborigines are wined and dined in town, bought fancy watches which they cannot get to stop beeping (oh dear, technology is so IRRITATING, gosh!), ride on elevators which invariably break down ("I swear, this has never happened before," says the contrivedly flustered mining company boss - it happens not once, but TWICE, for crying out loud), and finally stand up and say passionate (but incomprehensible) things in front of an Australian court, which inevitably rules in favor of its own interests.

Make no mistake, there are some lovely images here. We see a group of aborigines camped in an aisle of a supermarket, around a place where a sacred tree once stood. There is an old woman who suspect that her long lost doggie has gotten lost in the mines. She sits outside the entrance with a chair, an unbrella, and an open can of dog food, waiting endlessly. And the final scene, in which the mining employee/liason walks out into the desert to start a new life (he's "seen the light" of course) is beautiful enough to remind us of Fata Morgana. The thing is, they're all done in the service of a very one-dimensional and obvious "cause" movie. I'm not saying the cause isn't is pretty rotten the way the aborigines have been treated by the comparatively recent inhabitants of Australia. I'm just saying that these topics could have been turned into something that dealt with more universal human truths, or could have held some elements of character ambiguity. It couldn't have been more different from Herzog's '70s work - it felt like Jodorowsky's Tusk...visually striking, sure, but micromanaged down to drek by imeciles and well-wishers. I know this isn't the last we hear of Werner in the 1980s, but it's already a bad sign of things to come.

I'm glad Geoff Guy stayed on to watch The Ballad of the Little Soldier with me, because I'm pretty sure I couldn't have endured it myself! A relentlessly sad documentary about the Mesquitos in Central America, who planned on joining the Sandinistas on the frontlines, but who ended up being pretty much decimated by them instead. Their armies consisted largely of platoons of children, ages 9 to 11 (a time when their trainers say "they can be most effectively wiped clean and taught the perfect art of war." "Brainwashed, in other words," quips one of Herzog's crew. "Yes, exactly, brainwashed."). Old women of the village tell of the Sandinistas stealing every single item of value from their house...even cooking utensils, and others talk in graphic detail of their children and parents being killed before their eyes. When they speak to the child soldiers, the children speak of revenge for the murder of family members. When asked if they realize that the Sandinistas have children in their army as well, the children say they know, and they don't care, though their eyes tell a different story.

The film takes no sides, merely reporting what is seen as they go from village to village (Herzog came to Central America thinking he was in support of the Sandanistas, but left with a much different opinion). The most indelible image comes at the beginning, as a child in uniform holds a rife, a radio nearby. The song on the radio sounds like it is sung by a child of a similar age, and the boy sings along, his voice lower, harmonizing with the ecstatic song on the radio. The boy knows the song by heart, but can put no enthusiasm into singing along...he is doing little more than exercising a part of his brain that remembers song lyrics and melody, so that at least part of his mind will not have to dwell on the fact that he is in a jungle training camp wearing fatigues and brandishing a rifle 2/3rds as long as he is. The 5-6th generation graininess of the dub I received further adds to the "smuggled out of the training camp" vibe of the whole thing. Lock of the razor blades for this one, folks.

That's it for weekend one! Please come back and look for more recaps starting this Friday at 7:00, with Herzog/Kinski's final collaboration, Cobra Verde. This weekend will cover 1987 to the present, ending with Grizzly Man and a 1979 documentary about Herzog called I Am My Films.

Congratulations to everyone that won in the raffles this weekend. The rest of you are still eligible to win, even if you aren't present during drawing. And most of all, I would like to thank all of you who came out to see movies....the only thing better than watching this many great films in a row is watching them will fellow film lovers. Humongous thanks and gratitude has to go to Adam Witt, Mike Knapp, Geoff Guy, Les Henderson, Brian Collins, Mike McPadden, Jamillah James, Miss Julie Fabulous, Shylo Bissnet, Brian Sobolak, Peter Cavagnero, Nicole Chambers, Matt Silcock, Mike Slater, Del Dunsmore, Bob Young, and Wendy McClure for enriching the experience a thousandfold.

I might post a few more tidbits this week if I think of anything else, or get any random trivia worth noting, so keep watching just in case. Otherwise, see you in four days!

Schnitt Again

Posted by Chris S.

Incidentally, Mike (and others):

"Schnitt" apparently means "editor" in German, as Herzog notes in the commentary to Even Dwarfs Started Small that Beate Junglinghaus (or something similar...forgot her last name already) was his editor for many years. And a harsh editor she was! Some very good stories in there....she threw out five hundred feet worth of footage that he shot on Signs of Life because "it was so bad, I do not wish to touch it or be associated with it ever again!" She HATED all of his movies, apart from Dwarfs, and thought his cinematography was awful. The reason he kept her on for more than a decade (she's credited through Fitzcarraldo!)? "I do not like to associate with yes-men, or even yes-women!"

Only Werner Herzog would consciously hire a NO-woman to be his editor. Schnitt on, Beate...Schnitt on.

More Blogging by Stiff-Legged Lifer Adam Witt

Posted by Chris S.

Still haven't managed to get off the couch (I'm still sick, beeyotches) to write up Sunday's program (later tonight, probabaly), but I'd like to point out that humongous, gigantic, titanic Stiff-Legged Film Fest supporter Adam Witt has done some very lovely writeups of Saturday's programs (along with lots of fantastic screen-caps!) on his own blog, titled "That's what they want you to think."

Here's the text of the main entry:

And here's an excellent series of stills that show off the beauty of the fart-light in Stroszek:

Watch the reactions of Bruno and the other prisoner. The act itself is funny, but the way nobody else seems to care, or even acknowledge the act, not even the fart-lighter himself, who casually stubs out the catalyst flame and hugs Bruno goodbye.

Thanks Adam! And by the way, you won the Fitzcarraldo book in Sunday's raffle! Congratulations also to the following people who won stuff over the weekend:

- Bob Young: winner of two Nosferatu buttons (Saturday)
- Shylo Bissnet: winner of the English-language VHS version of Nosferatu (Saturday)
- Mike McPadden: winner of two Klaus Kinski buttons, one of Agiurre, one just of Klaus in some movie (Sunday)

Also, Adam...if you don't bring back Buffalo Bill & The Indians and the Cassavetes comp tape next weekend, I'm going to light a fart and set you on fire with it. And it will not be blase. I will laugh like Hombre while I do it! So DO IT!

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Posted by Mike K.

FCC Monkey Band.

And the Werner Herzog theme park, in which the main attraction is the Fitzcarraldo Boat Ride Over The Mountain.

It takes two weeks to finish.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Night 2 Wrap-Up: Kinski to...well, Kinski

Posted by Chris S.

Don't expect anything too damn profound from's 4 a.m., I'm gooned on beer, bronchial inhaler hits, and 15 straight hours of amazing films! But, I felt like weighing in a little bit on the days events before turning in for the requisite stiff-legged five-hour power-nap before we resume tomorrow morning (er, later this morning).

I can't even imagine I need to tell you what a spine-mulcher Aguirre: The Wrath of God is. You probably already knew that long before I did! The malaria fairly radiates off the screen. Among the many images that sear their way into your mind (the long winding trail of people winding down the mountain, the rafter full of little greenish gibbering monkeys, the man whose head is cut off so fast, it finishes its sentence 20 feet from the body), the one I keep thinking about, for some reason, is the abandoned horse. It's a comical, yet slightly eerie image, the horse forlornly staring back at the raft from shore, not only regretting its insolence, but fairly taunting the crew for their actions..."You'll be sorry you abandoned me! Lots of tasty and nutritive flank meat over here. While you assholes are counting corn kernals, I'm getting plump and juicy off this exotic berries!"

Jeezus, that kind of drifted off topic. Don't mind me. Moving right along...

Woodcarver Steiner seemed at first to be a curiosity, but sucked us in rather quickly. The slow-motion shots of ski jumpers in the air, mouths wide with terror, concentration, and, yeah, ecstacy are hard to forget. This one was a strange kind of which I mean my guests and I were absorbed into the competition elements of the story very quickly, as it is constantly revealed that Steiner is being repeatedly handicapped by judges so that his lands will approximate the distances of the other ski-jumpers...when they hit 140 km, he's hitting 170, so they take part of the track out when he competes, to slow him down. Then another piece. Then he starts from a lower spot on the track. Finally, four handicaps later, and he's still beating his competition by over 20 km per jump! The beauty of the shots (and, alas, a lot of montages of jumpers wiping out hard, "Agony of defeat"-style), the passion of the man, and even the post-competition interview/story all give you a very quick but substantive picture of Steiner's great love of life, which is not to win, but to fly.

We saw a lot of amazing films today, but I have to say that The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser wore the crown out of today's contenders. Naturally, Stiff-Leg lifers tend to compare fests from one to the other. If Heart of Glass was this festival's 3 Women, then to me, Kaspar Hauser was its Nashville. Not due to size of ensemble, but just for touching simple human feelings and experiences over and over again. It can't be said enough...Bruno S. is one of the least-affected actors ever. He is without guile, and his face tells 1001 stories with every twitch of the eyebrow or every time he manages to shed tears without contorting his face into the usual agonized laugh/cry face that we all make. Kaspar goes from grunting neanderthal to charming simpleton, to relatively assertive humorist in little time. Notice the considerable (and nuanced) differences in Bruno's face between when he plays Kaspar arriving in the town square for the first time, never having seen people, or civilization, or even understanding the concept of walking, with the second time he takes the exact same stance, posing in the highly abstract freak-show (That's also worth pointing out....what the HELL is with the freak show? Some of the most elaborate stories I've ever heard for the purpose of captivating the children. A tiny king? A man who plays nose flute so that his village will not die? A mozart-like prodidgy that stares into the center of the earth to see black holes?). At this point, Kaspar has learned how to act; how to simulate his initial experiences on a stage. Bruno S. has the skills to play the difficult role, and then to play the role playing an actor! It's all too much for my mind to process at this late hour, but I have to say, this film, and Bruno's performance in it, hit me the hardest today. When Kaspar touches the candle, jumps back, and sheds tears involuntarily, without crying, simply staring off into space, it's hard not to want to squirt off a few yourself. Although I'm sure many images will remind themselves to me tomorrow, most of what I remember are Bruno's words: "Mother, I am so far away from everything." "Why is everything so much harder for me?" Oh, and exquisitely creepy cameo from Popul Vuh's Florian Fricke, and...wait for it.....a super-duper cameo from our favorite small-starting dwarf, HOMBRE!!! All hail the tiny king of the land of Runt!! (I didn't make that up, it's in the movie)

How Much Wood is, as you'd expect, hilarious, inspiring, and totally exhausting. If you know what an auction barker sounds like, imagine over a half hour of uninterrupted mile-a-second barker-babble, and you can see why everybody in the room needed to get a beer afterward.

I missed part of Heart of Glass while getting dinner, and never quite got my equilibrium back, but as I say, this gets the 3 Women award for the fest. Abstract, softly surreal, with deep swaths of menance caressing every actor, it's a non-stop fracas of uncomfortable people. Whether the hypnotism really brought out the cast's inner claustrophobia or what, it seemed like everyone's response to the loss of the city's main export (ruby-colored glass) is to claw at themselves and spin in small circles. I like the ideas people come up with for finding out how to make ruby glass...they bring in the guy who can talk about ruby glass most evocatively, they take all the ruby glass that's left and throw it into the sea (so the sea will turn ruby red) and the sop up the blood of a dead woman to add to the glass. None of these remedies gets them far, and in the end, the road to insanity is more like a long walk off a short pier. Bonus points for abundant hurdy-gurdy use!

My copy of La Soufriere had pretty crappy sound, but this turned out to be kind of a boon...viewers were tightly focused on the action. A lot of laughter and heads shaking incredulously, as can be expected. The three people on the island who would not leave all have nearly the same answers, as if they'd been coached. "Aren't you scared?" "Why should I be? We all have to die eventually." ALL RIGHT! WE GET IT! Naturally, the fact the Herzog and his later-to-strike-out-on-his-own cameraman Ed Lachman are still alive and making movies gives away the ending....volcano? No show.

Stroszek...another winner. As much as it's like the most obvious and typical thing to do in a situation like this, I have to want to compare Kinski and Bruno S. and what they bring to Herzog's films (Since they are the two actors most closely connected with his work), and it's kind of natural. Kinski seems to fill up a screen/shot/room with his immense presence. All scenes with him simply radiate Kinski and his hulking magnificence. Bruno S., on the other hand, seems to absorb everything that is happening in the screen/shot/room and react accordingly. He absorbs pain, wheras Kinski simply gives it, even when he's on the submissive end, a la Woyzek. Although the room went still as Bruno showed the model of his insides, "where people are constantly closing the door on me, politely but constantly," the dark humor easily showed through on this film. The fart-lighting, the dancing chicken, the humiliating act of having someone place a bell on your head and your backside and instructing you to keep still...these are the things we'll be desperately trying to explain to our co-workers on Monday. "He lit a fart...and nobody reacted! It was great!" Again, despite three top-flight Kinski blowouts today, this might have been my second-favorite film in this set.

Ah, Nosferatu. What a presence Kinski has! I can't even compare his demonic count to any dracula character I've seen...even Murnau's original demon seems kind of one-dimensional by comparison! He walks, glares, and gnashes like Murnau's demon, but his expressive face tells so many stories....for all his bravado and bluster, Kinski can really dial it down when the mood dictates. Least mugging dracula ever? Probably not, but definitely unsettling and otherwordly (Side note: he HAS to have been on platform heels or something! Kinski's body shape here, impossibly tall and ruler straight/thin, is so different from Aguirre, who was all shoulders and limp, squat and focused. Here, he almost hovers off the ground). I don't know my original Stoker (or Murnau!) all that well, but I didn't think most Dracula stories focused so much on the whole dracula/black plague parallel...rats! Rats everywhere! Eating the town alive in macro, just as the Prince of Rats (as he's called) gnaws away in micro. Also the sleaziest throat-blood-suck (for Eva Harker) I've ever even imagined seeing!

The three of us that made it all the way to Woyzek though we would be slowing it all the way down...maybe half watching, half-napping, mixing up some dreams and on-screen images, but to our surprise and delight, we got a happy little bum-rush, courtesy some Million Tongues Festival exitees! Thanks guys and gals!! So great to see you. The jolt really got us all the way focused on poor Kinski's most submissive role, the perpetually shat-upon soldier Woyzek. The compact running time allowed for a strangely brisk storytelling...lots of information is thrown at you to help explain why Woyzek would eventually want to kill his unfaithful wife (this is based upon a play from 1829, by the way). All of the reasons (including a weird sort of army-mandated experiment being conducted in which Woyzek is fed abnormal diets and asked to perform stressful actions, like catching a cat that's thrown from the second floor of a building (more animal cruelty! Werner, what's with you? [don't worry folks, Klaus katches the krazy kat]). But the image (and the example of the most intense cruelty perpetuated by those in power above him) comes during the frantically hilarious/brutal/raw-nerved opening credit sequence, in which Kinski is slapped, thrown to the ground, made to do pushups, kicked in the ribs, told to do more pushups, kicked in the head, more pushups, etc., until he completely collapses in a heap. If Bruno's Stroszek is perpetually left behind, no matter where he goes, Kinski's Woyzek would be okay if ONLY he was left alone. To each according to what he can bear, Kinski is given overt violence, Bruno a series of neglects and failures, until each reacts in a way consistent with the style of actor: Kinski kills another, while Bruno kills himself (but not before putting a lot of quarters into the "Dancing Chicken" machine! Oh my God, the DANCING CHICKEN! And the RABBIT FIRE CAPTAIN! And the DUCK THAT PLAYS PIANO! AND THE ONE THAT PLAYS DRUMS!!! ARRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!)

And on that note, it's only about six or seven hours until it's time for Reverend Huie to take the pulpit, so I'll sign off. Bye!

Where'd Everybody Go?

Posted by Chris S.

Little light on the live blogging today...combination of Blogspot being off for a few hours and (mostly) the assembled throng being glued to the TV, BLOWN THE FUCK AWAY BY ONE AMAZING FILM AFTER ANOTHER. Nosferatu is on now...recap of the day in a few hours!

Everybody would like me to remind you that the fart-lighting in Stroszek is definitely a cinema milestone. Not just the act, but the blase way it is received, and then the way it is simply forgotten. "Okay, good luck on the outside, Bruno."

My gift to you. Enjoy it, friends.

Incidentally folks....

Posted by Chris S.

Peter's comment would have been posted right after Aguirre, except that Blogspot conveniently decided to go down for several hours this afternoon, causing some bloggus interruptus. Perhaps Don Lope de Aguirre caught them being treasonous and caused some heads to roll?




Posted by Peter C.

Like Aguirre himself, Chris S. runs his festival like an iron fisted conquestador (sp.). We are all trapped here, headed on a course for certain death.

One more Bon Mot I forgot

Posted by Chris:

For the credits of Even Dwarves Started Small: "All animals were harmed during the making of this picture."

Night One: Final Recap

Posted by Chris S.

Wow. The night happily spiraled out of any control, as the Stiff-Legged Film Festival hit its largest concentration of people at one time ever...a whopping EIGHT! Someone even had to sit on the floor, and get stiff legs!

Signs of Life was still unattended, and was an appropriately slow and contemplative film for one person in a dimly lit basement apartment. Already, Herzog's films are full of his trademark indelible images....most people mention the man hypnotizing the chicken and the rotating shot of the city of 100 windmills which causes young Stroszek to begin his breakdown. But I'd also like to add the little girl who is asked to sing for the camera, and who, as she gets increasingly more nervous, twists the front of her skirt up into a tight, neurotic bunch, finally pretending not to know any more of the song. Also, the fireworks/explosions scenes are way the fuck more beautiful than that retarded bullshit Antonioni pulls at the end of "Zabriskie Point," if only because it comes from a place of emotion, rather than some bit of faux-revolutionary idiology. I love watching the sparks spiral and land perfect into the boats on the water! A lovely, truly personal film.

Precaution Against Fanatics was over before it began, and again, with no English, it didn't make much sense. I did like watching the people with horses talking, and then the little fat man with the suit walking into frame to...I don't know, contradict them or something. The Flying Doctors of East Africa, on the other hand, was almost too intense at times. The real surgery footage we see is made all the more horrific precisely because it is M*A*S*H special effects, that boy in front of you is really dying, and there's nothing these doctors can do about it. At the same time, the depictions of the difficulties of educating the Africans about eye health and general hygiene is quite illuminating. Not being accustomed to drawings, and not being Western educated like their children, the adults aren't able to absorb the importance of keeping flies out of your eyes....showing a picture of an eyeball means nothing to them. Some see the sun, some see a fish.

Ah, but then the crowd gathers, and the mayhem begins. Even Dwarves Started Small, while indeed every bit the "glooooooomy" movie that the director describes it as, there is endless black humor to be found in the performances, and I think we're really just carried along by the obvious glee that the actors are having with the role. There's also that reflexive giggle that John Waters also gets...the atrocities pile up to such an extent, the only response is vaguely horrified laughter. More never-to-be-forgotten images here than I could even begin to describe. How about when the two women who killed the pig stand stock still and refuse to say how they did it? Or the endlessly circling abandoned car, which runs and runs even after the posse has completely forgotten about it? Or the car being suddenly (and quickly) dropped into a large pit in the ground without fanfare? Or the chickens eating the other dead chickens (I think this was the second or third film this evening to make prominent use of chickens!)?? And of course, the endlessly laughing presence of Pepe, who will no doubt hover in the corners of my dreams tonight. The only scene that didn't work for me is when the headmaster runs out into the forest and commands the tree to stop pointing at him. Also, I'd like to point out that....uh, I think it was Chekov that said "you never put a midget on a full-sized motorbike on stage unless you intend to use it." Herzog disobeyed that BIG TIME. A lovely and gruesome film...the final procession through the smoke of the buring plants tops off all the built-up tension and ends on the appropriate note of ritual. All the damage done was ritualistic, so it only follows that those angry little Dwarves would end in a final processional.

The abrupt change into Land of Silence and Darkness was a little hard to handle for some...I'm remembering the time some friends of mine and I rented Pink Flamingos and Dead Man in the same night. Trying to "slow down" into Dead Man after watching...well, you know....was like trying to get back from sixth gear back into first in a split second. The doc starts out a bit kitschy, with the blind-deaf reciting poems at a dinner, but the ecstacy starts to really hit about 25 minutes in, starting with the translation glove that allows newcomers to learn the elaborate "tapping on the hand of the blind-deaf person to create language" system. Looking at the glove, it looks like one of those old phrenology drawings of the human skull, archaic and scientific, but also sort of Dada. The glove has all these spirals and arrows, pointing out that the tips of each finger represent A, E, I, O, and U, and that four fingers in the middle of the palm is a "K." Then we get to a series of increasingly difficult cases, all watched over and assisted by the Angel of Mercy, Fini Straubinger, who is herself blind and deaf, though she had sight and hearing until she was 15, when she fell down the stairs ("the fall on my was so loud, the neighbors thought a gun was fire"). Going from a young boy who was afraid of putting his head underwater, we then see a woman who was not only deaf and blind, but had not spoken in years...since her mother died, she had not discovered any new way of communicating. Fini brings the simple and perfect gift of human touch back into her life, and her obvious joy radiates through even the shitty dub of this film that I have. Even more amazing is the boy who is not only blind and deaf, but appears to have Down's Syndrome. After an interminably long sequence, wherein the boy rolls around in a bedroom and does the "pbbbbbbbt!" rasperries sound, Fini comes in and begins to touch him and try to get him to communicate. "Though he may never use language, he will at least understand." She finally gives him a radio, and my God, the expression on that young man's face as he cradles the radio in his arms, putting his forehead against the side.....I swear, I wish I could say otherwise, but I'm pretty sure I have NEVER enjoyed music as much as he was enjoying the vibrations of music at that very moment. And it wasn't even Bach or Blind Faith or anything...sounded like Enoch Light or something. Already, Herzog's various obsessions are beginning to take shape...this one will obviously develop further tomorrow, with The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.

The room cleared considerably for Fata Morgana, but those of us that stayed were rewarded with a cavalcade of beauty, wonder, life, death, civilization, isolation, and heat mirages by the dozens. Oh, and about 50 sightings of those glasses from Even Dwarves Started Small! If this is a failed movie (and it SORT OF is, as much as I hate to admit it), it's probably the most beautiful and memorable failed movie of all time. The question is whether you want to invest the time in trying to untangle the completely ungainly narrative vs. the desert isolation shots vs. the shots of people holding up unusual animals vs. abandoned foundations in the desert vs. a couple playing piano and drums in what looks like a VFW hall, or whether you just want to let the pure cinematic invention just cascade over your submissive cerebrum. If you choose the latter, give yourself a gold star, because you will have more fun in this life. There's no way that describing this movie will EVER do it justice...I'll just leave it with this. The narrative, soundtrack, and myriad cuts back and forth between reused images and new beauty seems less like Downey Sr.'s Turquoise to Taos (i.e. sloppy and surreal on purpose) and more like Makavajev's W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism ("I have no idea what this means, but I think the director does, and I think it's really fucking big"). Soundtrack jumps from Third Ear Band to Bach to Blind Faith to Leonard Cohen to the aforementioned piano/drum duo, and is a vital character in the film.

If the idea of film (for some) is to take you to a different and completely self-contained existence, then tonight's fest took me far and wide enough to need two passports. Thanks for reading! Hope to see some of you again tomorrow.

Oh yeah, and the raffle winners: Tonight's second prize winner (a couple of buttons with Herzog's face on them) go to Nicole Chambers. Second prize winners get put back in the bucket for more potential wins. First prize, a copy of Signs of Life, goes to Mr. Matt Silcock, who is now out of the running for any more groovy prizes. Congratulations to you both!

Third Ear Band

They rule in Fata Morgana -- Sienko guessed 'em right. Blind Faith is in there too -- I guessed them right!

Posted by Larry D.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Top Five Most Intense Scense Ever

Posted by Mike K.

And it ends with the deaf/blind/Downs Syndrome kid feeling up the Angel of Mercy.

"Oh, be a good boy now!"

And the telling smirk on the boy's face. Magic.

On The Land of Silence and Darkness

Posted by Wendy

It's silent! It's dark! It's all in German!

Seriously, and I may go to hell for saying this, I was hoping this movie about blind and deaf people would be more like The Miracle Worker. Because that Helen Keller sure was spunky.

Oh wait, they're petting a monkey now...


Posted by Wendy

They totally crucified a monkey.

That is all.

Even Dwarfs Must Laugh

Posted by Archibald Q. Leachington, also known as Michael A. Knapp, Grand Ledge High School Class of 1991, just so anybody googling "Grand Ledge" ends up on this site eventually, so long as this blog isn't censored by Big Brother Jake

This film is certainly on the "Not Approved" list of both the Archdiocese of Chicago (and everywhere else), as well as the various SPCA's and Humane Societies.

Launching chickens. That's so classy.

Lemur on a crucifix. Even better.

I'm so going to have to go to confession one of these weekends.

I'm not so sure I won't burst into flames when I go to Mass Sunday morning.

Maybe to be safe, I'll attend an Episcopalian service.

The weird old laughing dwarf reminded me of Dr. Mephisto.

Turn Left circuit.

And the freudian implications of the (self-left-turning) car plunging into the deep hole, immediately followed by the shot of the two mountains on either side of the scene.

Vague homoeroticism between the "headmaster" whoever the f#$$ he was, and Pepe, esp. w/Pepe being tied up in the chair.

He never really did anything to Pepe, although he had quite an animated conversation with a rather dead tree stub.


Posted by Mike K.

Wendy stole my frickin seat while I was figuring out what to put for the previous entry.



Posted by Mike K.

Nothing profound at this point; I beat That Jeff Guy by about five minutes.

Jokes about Nigerian email spammers were well received, even though the movie was about ill Kenyans.

African landscapes are very visually striking.

Who wears short shorts?

Posted by Blog-Meister Chris

The first three shorts just finished. Nobody is here yet, and frankly, I think that's for the best! As mentioned on the page, these early films contain NO english subtitles!

It was no great hassle for Herakles, which was mostly footage of musclemen at the gym, interspersed with shorts of dead bodies being carried away from explosion sites, the Le Mans race, and other visual effluvia, all to a cool jazz score. Only a few titles proved daunting.

Last Words on the other hand, had a LOT of last words...actors/participants simply stared into the camera and talked. A lot. On an island in Greece, apparently. All I could gather was that certain phrases were being repeated 4 and 5 times in a row by certain speakers, as if perfecting their last words (or reinforcing them in their mind, so they'd be ready when the end comes). Diagnosis: I don't know.

The Unprecendented Defense of the Fortress Deutschkreutz was rather wordy, but was also pretty visual and easy to follow. A bunch of youths find an old building, don army clothes, and defend the place from non-threatening attackers (at one point, one youth looks through a telescope to see the "enemy" on the horizon, and through the telescope, we see a tractor riding through the field, while the sound of a non-existent machine gun fire is triggered). Maybe this is about the futility of war, or the "They're everywhere, just waiting to get us" mentality, but I thought of it personally as just a meditation on the vividness of the imagination of young people at play. What can I say, I'm optimistic like that (without an English translation, it's anybody's guess really! I caught something about "the enemy has betrayed us!" at a point where they look out and see no enemy on the horizon). It seemed to me that the fortress was a real-life manaifestation of the play-fort type of war-games that kids have always liked to play, rendered realistic by Herzog's imagination. And of course, since you weren't here and didn't see it, you're in no position to contradict me...ha HA!

Next up, Signs of Life. This is also said to be pretty slow, but one of his better early films. It begins in 15 minutes. See you there!

Sunday, October 30, 2005


What it's all about:

This is a blog for the Stiff Legged Film Festival's event THE FILMS OF WERNER HERZOG. This is a private event for my friends in which we will watch nearly all of the films of Werner Herzog, chronologically.

The blog will allow our hearty film travelers to provide "reports from the field" as the event progresses. Anybody in attendence at the festival is welcome to post their thoughts, impressions, recollections, favorite images or moments. That way, those of you who cannot be here can at least see what we're getting ourselves into!

The blog-Meister reserves the right to delete any posts that involve how mad you are that so-and-so stole your good seat on the couch while you were in the bathroom.

Thanks for coming! Here's Friday night's list of films:

- Early short films: "Herakles," "Last Words," and "The Unprecedented Defense of the Fortress Deutschkreutz" (7:00 p.m.)
- Signs of Life (8:00 p.m.)
- More short films: "Precaution Against Fanatics" and "The Flying Doctors of East Africa" (9:45 p.m.)
- Even Dwarfs Started Small (11:00 p.m.)
- Land of Silence and Darkness (1:00 a.m.)
- Fata Morgana (2:40 a.m.)

Thanks for reading,
Chris S., Blog-Meister