Thursday, August 23, 2007


Rolling on the river

By Edward Copeland
Forgive me film fans, for I have sinned. Prior to watching Aguirre, the Wrath of God at the end of last week, as part of my "homework" for the foreign-language film voting, the only Werner Herzog film I'd seen was Grizzly Man. I liked Aguirre a great deal, even if I doubt it would have cracked my 25 nominees if I'd seen it prior to submitting my own nomination ballot.

One thing I loved about Aguirre is how swiftly it moves and, of course, the wonderfully odd title performance by Klaus Kinski. As I watched it, I thought the way he physically moved was remarkable, but I was having a hard time thinking of the correct word to describe it.

Once I listened to the commentary track with Herzog, he said what he reminded him of and provided the word for me: Kinski moves as if he's a crab, jerking with pinched claws as he reels out of control.

Aguirre really proves to be quite a simple, unique film: a Spanish expedition heads down the Amazon in Peru in search of the fabled gold of El Dorado and to convert the natives to Christianity. The terrain is brutal and unforgiving and it's not helped that the second-in-command of the group's exploratory expedition, Aguirre, is barking mad.

It's truly remarkable to watch the film unfold just from a logistical standpoint, especially after you hear Herzog's commentary explaining problems they encountered and solutions. He also recounts many of the infamous stories of his tempestuous relationship with Kinski. One thing I found interesting about this 1972 film, which didn't reach U.S. theaters until 1977, is that it came out the same year as another river story, John Boorman's Deliverance.

The similarities, despite settings centuries apart, are quite interesting. The explorers in Aguirre fall prey to Peruvian Indians they seldom see taking potshots, often with arrows, from the camouflage of the jungle just as the men seeking a relaxing getaway in Deliverance don't see the hillbillies at first taking aim on them with arrows as well. I guess in the early 1970s, river trips were a big cause of phobias.

I regret that I hadn't seen Aguirre before this because it's definitely something I expect I'll return to again some day.

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It's funny you mention that; I just received Aguirre in the mail yesterday with the intention of watching it this weekend. You will not be the only one who's sinned then! As for my Herzog viewing, I'd seen only Grizzly Man and Nosferatu the Vampyre, the latter of which will feature prominently in my Top 25. From what I've read about Herzog and from these two movies, he seems like the kind of director I need to start following rigorously. I figured I'd start with Aguirre and the movie up to Stroszek and Fitzcarraldo. i'll likely have more indepth comments about the film once I've seen it, but your review is compelling me to watch it sooner rather than later.
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Well I put both Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre in my 25 and I love them both.

I love insanity. Real deep, obsessive insanity. I've encountered a lot of it through some, uh, "interesting" relationships over the years, including a first wife that went a little cuckoo with religion on me and wouldn't throw anything away(but I got away, far away). I had to get something from the apartment months later in early summer and there was the Christmas tree, brown and bristly, surrounded by discarded wrapping from gifts unwrapped some five to six months earlier. Okie dokie. And maybe because it's so painful to deal with in real life I enjoy when someone can crystallize it for me on film. And that's why I love pretty much all Herzog and connect to his films deeply.

And I found it hilarious that they were German speaking Spaniards. I guess we're not the only ones here in America who thrust our own language onto every nationality portrayed in a movie.
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