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Werner Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God"
November 24, 2011 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Despite appearing early in his career, Aguirre, the Wrath of God is for me the quintessential Herzog movie. ... It deals with possibly the most obsessed group of people in history, the Spanish conquistadors, and their desperate hunt for the most magic of all Grails, the elusive golden land of El Dorado – leaving destruction and death to millions in their wake. A few lines in an old chronicle is all that remains of the historical facts, thus leaving plenty of room for Herzog to employ his imagination and re-arrange the facts. In short: an ideal topic for a visionary director, tackled with just the right crew, and on a location guaranteed to make the shooting an ordeal in itself.
posted by Trurl (40 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Burden of Dreams is a must see: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burden_of_Dreams
posted by marvin at 9:46 AM on November 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


See it double-billed with "Fitzcarrado."
posted by No Robots at 9:47 AM on November 24, 2011 [10 favorites]


The English also seems "dubbed" even though it was shot in English. Herzog couldn't get good souns with the raging river there, and had to re-do it post. His great brother and artistic partner Kinski demanded some outrageous sum for the extra work, so some random schlub says his lines instead.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:53 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Soundtrack by Popol Vuh. Amazing.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:55 AM on November 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just saw it again on Tuesday. Seemed funnier than usual this time around -- there's a great streak of absurd humor running through it. Also noticed just how much Apocalypse Now owes to Aguirre. Fantastic.
posted by muckster at 10:27 AM on November 24, 2011


I really need to see it again. It is a tremendous film.
posted by therealshell at 10:31 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh that Klaus Kinski -- what a nut!

There's another great documentary all about him, the name of which escapes me at the moment.
posted by mikeand1 at 10:40 AM on November 24, 2011


> See it double-billed with "Fitzcarrado."

I actually did that. After "Wrath" I was very surprised by how "Fitzcorolldo" ended.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:42 AM on November 24, 2011


Oh I remember now: My Best Fiend
posted by mikeand1 at 10:43 AM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Those Spaniard were fucking nuts. I read Brutal Journey a few years back, about Cabeza de Vaca, and good lord. What the hell were they thinking? I wonder how much this film influenced Mosquito Coast. From the trailer, they seem to have a similar look. I will seriously hunt this down - looks pretty wild.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:59 AM on November 24, 2011


Saw it once, twenty years ago. Every frame, every line was seared into my skull.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:13 AM on November 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


If I had a pet hedgehog, I'd name him Werner.
posted by acb at 11:18 AM on November 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


I love this movie. It's one of the best movies ever made. Maybe the best. It really is. I have nothing snarky to say about it. The opening music by Popol Vuh is absolutely gorgeous too.

Fitzcarraldo gets a little sluggish and, I dunno, caught up in itself--- still a fine movie, though. But Aguirre is perfect.
posted by xmutex at 11:22 AM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing I'm always struck by when I watch it is how beautiful the film is. The mountains of Peru are glorious. You have all this madness and murder and misery in what looks like the heart of heaven.

Here's the end of the movie if you don't mind spoilers.

I read Brutal Journey a few years back, about Cabeza de Vaca, and good lord. What the hell were they thinking?

I recently read a history of mining in Colorado that covered Coranado's trek from New Mexico to Kansas. They traveled roughly 500 miles on the word of one well-spoken slave; one they'd proved to be lying before the journey began. They were so obsessed they followed him anyway, and killed him only when they were finally exhausted enough to forget their mad dream. Every tribe they encountered could tell they were being led on a goose chase, though. They all wished them well and told them they were going in the right direction.
posted by clarknova at 11:26 AM on November 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Aguille is really one of my favorite films, too. I tell people it's the best movie about german speaking spanish conquistadores ever made.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:27 AM on November 24, 2011


Also noticed just how much Apocalypse Now owes to Aguirre. Fantastic.

Someone once described Aguirre as Apocalypse Now with Kinski playing both Willard and Kurtz at the same time.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:28 AM on November 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


LaLaLaLaLaLaLah.
posted by Elmore at 11:40 AM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Those Spaniard were fucking nuts. I read Brutal Journey a few years back, about Cabeza de Vaca, and good lord.

On that subject, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España is worth reading (and a large-ish excerpt from Google Books).
posted by curious nu at 11:44 AM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oof, messed up that google books link; you can go back as far as page 130.
posted by curious nu at 11:48 AM on November 24, 2011


That man is a head taller than me.




That may change.

posted by louche mustachio at 12:24 PM on November 24, 2011


A couple more reviews & articles:

- J. Hoberman
- Roger Ebert
- Stuart Jeffries
- Nick Schager

A few videos:

- Herzog on the obscenity of the jungle
- Klaus Kinski - Wutausbruch am Filmset von "Fitzcarraldo"
- Unmögliches Interview Mit Klaus Kinski
- Klaus Kinski: Entspanntes Interview, Anfang 80er

Also, a great great Kinski blog I just discovered, Du Dumme Sau. Kinski would have celebrated his 85th birthday last month, and yesterday was the 20th anniversary of his death.
posted by muckster at 2:11 PM on November 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Every Herzog thread requires a link to "Herzog brings us Jackass for intellectuals".
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:29 PM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was lucky enough to have a history teacher in 7th grade who was a survivor of the 1968 student protests in Mexico (we had our own version of Tiananmen Square mas acre in the Tlaltelolco Square, with hundreds of murdered students). He made Historia Verdadera required reading. Columbus Day and Thanksgiving have never been the same.

There is a 1991 movie called Cabeza de Vaca whus is beautiful and stunning and captures the craziness in a very different way.

I highly recommend both.

Herzog's movie i have to agree is one of the best movies ever made.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 3:02 PM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Opening shot of the film--a chain of people winding their way up that mountain--counts for me as one of the greatest shots I've ever witnessed.

Changed for me my appreciation of film as a visual medium. Herzog does stuff that viscerally taps into my brain in a way no other filmmaker can, except perhaps Bunuel. He can film Kinski just standing around in the middle of some set in a way that leaves me stunned and wondering how one ever learns to do this, to film in this perfectly intuitive way, and that I think in Herzog's instance you just have to be born with it.

The problem is that after consuming Herzog's films for a large portion of my life, most visuals in movies seem incredible forced, silly, and hollow. The range of mountains in a Herzog film is a living organism, and elsewhere they're usually about as epic as a postcard.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:37 PM on November 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


The ____ of Justice is spot on about that opening shot - simply put, it is everything that film can be.

Pure genius. One of the greatest movies I've ever seen.

I first saw it at an old art-deco cinema in Melbourne (The Astor) many years ago - it was a Herzog double bill with The Enigma of Kasper Hauser showing first.

After the first movie was done I thought - this Herzog guy is some type of genius (I'd never seen anything of Herzog's before).

After Aguirre was done I was just stunned - I remember looking at the screen as the lights came up, unblinking, still hypnotised by the movie, the music, scenery, and Kinski.

Still can't describe the movie without just saying to people that the the first 5 or so minutes, and the last 10 or so minutes, are utter mastery of the medium.
posted by chris88 at 3:51 PM on November 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


utter mastery of the medium

The West German premiere took place 4 months after Herzog's 30th birthday.
posted by Trurl at 3:56 PM on November 24, 2011


I named my standard wire-hair dachshund Herzog. True story.
posted by No Robots at 3:57 PM on November 24, 2011


Of course, if we are talking about Kinski's madness, Herzog was/is just as mad in many ways.

Herzog Eats his Shoe might be a case in point.
posted by chris88 at 4:00 PM on November 24, 2011


Still can't describe the movie without just saying to people that the the first 5 or so minutes, and the last 10 or so minutes, are utter mastery of the medium.

Chris88, my comment above is absolutely disgraceful because I didn't mention the last shot.

How the hell someone can put TWO perfect shots in a single movie...I don't fucking know.

*weeps*
posted by The ____ of Justice at 4:09 PM on November 24, 2011


Ok, I'll be the first to break this streak of positive reactions. I get hung up on the way Herzog uses nature and particularly the jungle as symbol of the dark side of the human unconcious -that whole "Heart of Darkness" thing. It's not so objectionavle in this movie, since the plot is largely surreal anyway -though notice the natives come as part of the jungle, making them also symbols of the Spaniards' madness - but holy cow did it ever cheese me off in Rescue Dawn, which has a nominal plot. To the people who live in the Amazon or in Vietnam, the jungle isn't a metaphor for insanity, it's where they live.

Love love love My Best Fiend, though.
posted by subdee at 4:27 PM on November 24, 2011


While I agree that Aguirre is one of the greatest movies I've ever seen (I can't make the claim for best movies ever made because I really haven't seen very many movies), Fitzcarraldo left me cold. If I recall correctly (I saw it many years ago) I felt there was a certain sentimentality to it that curtailed its more existential dimensions.

That said, the long shot of the gigantic boat getting tossed about in the rapids has never left my memory. As much as I felt "meh" about the rest of the movie, it was worth watching just for that.

And on a rather unrelated note, has anyone seen the Herzog short documentary about a lone man who refused to vacate a volcanic island that was about to erupt? I've never forgotten that either. I believe it's this one, on this DVD.
posted by treepour at 4:36 PM on November 24, 2011


subdee - I might be the odd one out here, but I never actually saw the jungle in that way in Herzog's movies (or at least in the ones I've seen).

I've often looked at "the jungle" in his movies as just another part of the world that was driving already half-mad or obsessed people further round the twist.

The jungle doesn't symbolise the dark side of human unconscious, but is actually something in these characters' consciousness that further fuels their madness/obsession/ etc.

But I can definitely understand where you are coming from.
posted by chris88 at 4:38 PM on November 24, 2011


chris88: see Muckster's link above for Herzog's famous comments on the obscenity of the jungle/nature. This speech/idea has always bothered me as well. I put it down to the fact that Herzog is making movies in that environment, and I would imagine lugging all that stuff around and trying to create a beautiful film in it might put you off somewhat. The fact that he loves to go for long walks rather tempers his soliloquy, I think.

treepour: That's the film, yes. I just watched it again about a week ago, and I love the interview with the men who refused to flee the volcano.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:14 PM on November 24, 2011


I'm totally willing to believe that Herzog sees all the trees and underbrush and dampness etc as an obstruction (haha) to his craft, which in his madness he personifies so that it is a malevolent force, a source of evil, and also the enemy he is obsessed with, which he can struggle against but never defeat. But that Heart of Darkness idea is out there as well, and Vietnam is still a place where people live, no matter how Herzog feels about it.
posted by subdee at 5:47 PM on November 24, 2011


My Best Fiend is an absolute must see if you've seen any of Herzog's/Kinski's movies. Or even if you haven't. One of the best documentaries I've ever seen.
posted by zardoz at 7:19 PM on November 24, 2011


All this stuff about Herzog's attitude about the jungle being disturbing... I think it's a slight misreading of Herzog's tone, though a very understandable one. First, Herzog has the blackest sense of humor possible. I read him as being self-aware about his own seriousness and joking about it with some of the insane hyperbole in that clip... The land God made in anger? That's hilarious.

Second, I think it's partially his Germanness, but he almost speaks without regard to connotation. he uses all these words that in English have negative connotations. The obscene lack of order, the stars being a mess. Well, that's a very good description, if you don't take it to be him passing judgement on the stars. Plus, he spends five minutes describing all of this in seemingly the most hideous terms possible, and ends it all up talking about how much he loves and respects the place.

Herzog accepts that things are the way they are and, by definition, nothing could be more beautiful.
posted by cmoj at 8:01 PM on November 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tiny correction: in the opening shot of Aguirre, the expedition comes down the mountain -- they descend out of the fog, Popol Vuh humming, down into the jungle. A cannon drops and goes off. Says Aguirre: "Von nun an geht's bergab."
posted by muckster at 3:17 AM on November 25, 2011


To the people who live in the Amazon or in Vietnam, the jungle isn't a metaphor for insanity, it's where they live.

I don't see Herzog as using the jungle as a metaphor for insanity; it's just the place where these characters' insanity manifests itself. Herzog's expresses his take on nature beautifully at the end of Grizzly Man: "what haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature."

Aguirre also confronted the overwhelming indifference of nature, and it drove him insane. That doesn't mean that the jungle would drive insane those who grow up in it and know how to live there. I've personally never thought Herzog was suggesting otherwise in his films, whether Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde, or even Rescue Dawn.
posted by rory at 5:38 AM on November 25, 2011


One of the best documentaries I've ever seen.
I really like Herzog's movies (including Aguirre), but I think it's a stretch to call his documentary-like movies "documentaries". It seems to me that essentially nothing he puts in those movies can be believed; it seems like he's always cutting stuff up and putting his own made-up voiceovers before or after it to give it completely new context.

Maybe some of them really are documentaries, but he has lost the benefit of the doubt as far as I'm concerned. Again, I do enjoy his movies, including the supposed documentaries, but I enjoy them more now that I view them as fiction rather than as documentaries, thinking "that can't possibly be true" when I'm watching them, and then looking it up later myself and finding out yeah, Herzog made that up.
posted by Flunkie at 1:32 PM on November 25, 2011


Flunkie -- call them "essay films" and avoid that problem?
posted by muckster at 3:33 PM on November 25, 2011


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