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 Michael Bergeron
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Herzog: The Collection

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Herzog: The Collection (7/29, Shout! Factory) assembles 16 of Werner Herzog features and documentaries in a stunning Blu-ray box set. The films cover Herzog’s career from 1970 through 1999.  Included are Even Dwarfs Started Small; Land of Silence and Darkness; Fata Morgana; Aguirre, the Wrath of God; The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser; Heart of Glass; Stroszek; Woyzeck; Nosferatu the Vampyre; Fitzcarraldo; Ballad of the Little Soldier; Where the Green Ants Dream; Cobra Verde; Lessons of Darkness; Little Dieter Needs to Fly; and My Best Fiend.

Herzog is so prolific you could box a set of an equal number of films he’s done in the new century. In fact his latest feature, Queen of the Desert, premieres this fall starring Robert Pattison, Nicole Kidman and James Franco. Another film, Rescue Dawn, which Herzog made in 2006, is a narrative version of his earlier doc Little Dieter Needs to Fly.Herzog-and-Kinski-001

In the commentary for Little Dieter, Herzog explains how he’d originally wanted to do the fictional version but was only able to raise funds for the documentary. The commentary tracks in and of themselves provide hours of listening pleasure and fill in a lot of blanks. Most of the films feature commentary, some with different German and English tracks. The commentary for Dwarfs and Fata Morgana teams up Crispin Glover with Herzog. There’s also extras like the German television doc Herzog in Africa, which accompanies Cobra Verde, itself an indictment of the slave trade with a blazing lead turn by Klaus Kinski.

Kinski figures prominently in six of the films. My Best Fiend chronicles their turbulent relationship that starts with Aguirre. In Best Fiend Herzog admits that the South American Indian extras seriously offered to kill Kinski as a favor to the director. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) was a perennial favorite at repertory houses and I must have seen it a dozen times in the ‘70s and ‘80s, at which time such theaters were pushed aside by VHS rental stores and cable television. But I hadn’t seen it in over 20 years, and the Blu-ray transfer brought back all the great memories of this epic journey up the Amazon by crazy conquistadors searching for gold in the 1500s flick. Taking atmospheric cues from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, we witness Aguirre (Kinski) mutiny against the expedition’s leader and his subsequent journey up the river of no return. Coppola’s journey in Apocalypse Now bears more than one similar scene.200925_06_01_03_06-1024x637

Back in 1992, I was invited by the local Goethe Institute to have lunch with Herzog (along with Chronicle film critic Jeff Millar) at Little Pappasito’s on Richmond. Herzog was in town showing his then new Iraq war doc Lessons of Darkness at the Rice Media Center. In Lessons, Herzog’s free-floating camera wanders over the vast landscape dotted with fires and oil rivers. Herzog spoke of the time his mentor Lotte Eisner (who also narrates Fata Morgana) had a stroke and instead of flying from Berlin to Paris he walked the distance in a straight line over a period of four weeks, knowing that she would not die during that time. And she didn’t. Herzog also talks about this incident on the Fata Morgana commentary.

Herzog also talked about a film that at the time he had recently wrapped, but is not on this set and is rarely screened, and in fact is a bit of a mountain-climbing potboiler. Herzog has all but disowned the film. Cerro Torre: Schrei aus Stein (Scream of Stone) feature a cast that includes Mathilda May, Brad Dourif and Donald Sutherland. Herzog recounted how he and members of the crew were caught in an avalanche and dug themselves into the snow and waited over 50-hours before they were rescued. Herzog is a filmmaker that talks the talk and walks the walk.

- Michael Bergeron

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