Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wener Herzog: a History

This week sees the release of Werner Herzog's much-anticipated Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. A remake of Abel Ferrera's Bad Lieutenant (1992), a film which Herzog admits he has never seen, much to the chagrin of the film's director. Who directs a remake of a film they've never seen? How about an auteur who has an almost pathological desire to follow his vision; demanding and uncompromising, Herzog seems detached from many of the traditions of cinema. He doesn't watch very many films and this is evidenced in the originality of the work that he creates. His body of work is unlike any other. He has no particular modus operandi, as he drifts from documentary to drama to horror to comedy. Bad Lieutenant is about as crazy as one might expect from a joint effort between Herzog and Nicolas Cage.

Herzog has occasionally enjoyed critical success for films such as Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: Wrath of God, and documentaries such as Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World but he transcends conventional acclaim and has become accepted as something of an eccentric genius whose work always has something exciting to say but is not always successful. A case in point being his recent effort The Wild, Blue Yonder which has the fascinating conceit of having Brad Dourif play an alien musing at the camera for 90 minutes about life on Planet Earth. While most of this film is insightful and often profound, it's not quite E.T. in the entertainment stakes. ......

Herzog has a deep and often tumultuous relationship with nature, a beast that he seems fascinated with taming but knows he cannot. Many of his films contain themes of nature and he often sees nature as unsurmountable by man despite his best efforts. In Herzog on Herzog he refers to the "embarrassed landscapes of our world" which he clearly respects above all else. They are embarrassed because humanity thinks it can overcome nature, and despite its best efforts all humanity can do is beat, bruise and torture nature. Herzog's films contain beautiful imagery but I suspect their rugged authority is meant to be feared rather than admired. Grizzly Man is a documentary about a man who goes to live with and defend the grizzly bears in Alaska and (here be spoilers!) ends up being eaten by one of them. This is not Disney, this is one man's warning to the world about the perils of trying to overcome nature.

Herzog himself is an interesting character. In 2007, during an interview with British film critic Mark Kermode, he was shot at with an air rifle. Seemingly he had no interest in pursuing the gunman as he was unhurt. He merely mused that the gunman was "not very friendly towards filmmaking". He also famously ate his shoe publicly after betting his friend Errol Morris that he wouldn't follow through on a film idea he had. He went on to proclaim that he was saving his other shoe for when a big distribution company picked up Morris's film for international release.

Herzog is also noted for his fiery creative partnership with Klaus Kinski as documented in his film My Best Fiend in 1999. During the filming of Aguirre, Kinski tried to escape the film set on a speedboat, but when Herzog caught him ye is quoted as yelling "I have a rifle. You might reach the next bend in the river but you would have eight bullets through your head. And guess who gets the ninth?" The friendship flourished in some ways, the two seemed to continuously gravitate towards each other and they were responsible for some of the best work of each others' careers.

One cannot help but wonder if his new partnership with the increasingly eccentric Nicolas Cage will be another match made in creative heaven. Following the lunacy of his performances in The Wicker Man and Knowing, Cage is given free rein in The Bad Lieutenant to be as crazy as he likes. This works to remarkable effect and Herzog brings out Cage's best performance in years as the crack-addicted, morally bankrupt detective. Full of fun and hilariously over-the-top scenarios, The Bad Lieutenant is arguably Herzog's most accessible film to date. Awarded the Special Jury Prize at this year's Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, The Bad Lieutenant is sure to find an audience. By far the craziest film to be released this year, its mix of b-movie guilty pleasure and raw human emotion is volatile and undoubtedly entertaining. With serial killer drama My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done? and drama The Piano Tuner in the works, Herzog shows no signs of retiring. Approaching his 60th di recting gig, will no doubt keep making films until he stubbornly allows the reaper to drag him off to join Kinski in what will undoubtedly be a very odd mix of heaven and hell.

Words: Charlene Lydon (From: www.totallydublin.com)

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