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View Full Version : Aguirre: Der Zorn Gottes (Wrath of God)



tuddorsped
Saturday, April 23rd, 2005, 04:31 PM
I recently purchased the Herzog/Kinski dvd box set. Probably the best 20 I have ever spent. It includes all FIVE of their collaborations together plus the autobiographical My Best Fiend in which the director pays tribute to the sheer prodigious and explosive talent that was Kinski. Most of the films also come with an optional director's commentary, in which Herzog further elucidates his cinematic techniques and enthralls us with numerous witty anecdotes attached to the making of the films.

The centrepiece of this collection is probably their first film together: Aguirre: Wrath of God. Like most of Herzog's epics, the actual making of the movie is almost as interesting as the finished work itself.

The plane originally chartered to carry Herzog and his film crew into the High Andes crashed with no survivors. Luckily, the fortunate film-maker cancelled at the last moment and booked another flight. Herzog also tells us how he sent Kinski the script of the movie to read and, a few days later, is then woken, in the middle of the night, by a mysterious caller who unleashes a torrent of bizarre exclamations, punctuated only by incoherent shouts and high-pitched screams. Only after 45 minutes of listening to this insane cacophony of bizarre noises does he manage to make out Kinski's excited voice praising the script and accepting the lead role in the movie!

The movie itself was filmed on a reasonably low budget. Supposedly documenting the semi-fictitious journey of some Spanish conquistadores into the Peruvian interior in search of the legendary El Dorado, the cast and crew of the movie (including over 500 Indian extras) themselves were exposed to all the dangers and rigours of a jungle expedition. They were often hungry and built their own rafts for the river scenes. When, after a torrential overnight downpour, the rafts were actually swept away, Herzog decided to incorporate the unfolding disaster into the actual movie itself. Herzog himself has never storyboarded in his life (decrying it as a worthless Hollywood device) and has a tendency just to let things 'happen' in front of camera. Sometimes with sublime or deeply alarming consequences.

The opening scene of the movie ranks as one of the greatest in cinematic history. The long indistinct, undulating, serpentine line of conquistadores and Indian porters winds it's way down the steep ridge of a fogbound mountain and, then, as if the Gods themselves decreed it, the mist suddenly veers away to the right, and lets us see a truly stunning visual spectacle in all it's natural glory. It simply has to be seen to be believed. Indeed, Herzog's incorporation of natural wonders, astonishing panoramas and stylised shots of nature's beauty and cruelty are an iconic emblem of his highly individualistic style.

Competing with the raw and beautiful cinematography for our attention is the dynamic primal force and sheer smouldering cinematic presence of Kinski as the doomed megalomaniac visionary Don Lope de Aguirre. He moves about with a crab-like gait, conveying menace in his every movement. His blue eyes blaze with ferocious zeal as he plots his treacheries and drives his men ever onwards, using either appeals to their greed or psychopathic threats, to their inevitable doom.

Faced with a rebellion by his men who have been driven to the borders of madness through hunger, disease and the constant relentless attacks of an unseen and a silent enemy, that seems to almost represent a hostile jungle sprung to life and made flesh, the terrifying Aguirre tells his men in soft, icy, snarling tones:

"I am the Great Traitor! There can be no greater! Whoever even thinks about deserting will be cut into 198 pieces!........Whoever eats one grain too many or drinks one drop of water too much will be locked up for 155 years! If, I, Aguirre, want the birds to drop dead from the trees, then the birds will drop dead from the trees. I am the Wrath of God! The earth I walk upon sees me and quakes!...."

His faustian ambition and bold imperialistic fantasies are thus made plain for all to see. Indeed, you have the feeling that Aguirre is really directing his words, not towards his weary and exhausted men, but the jungle itself. He has made a solemn declaration to subdue nature or else be subdued, and eventually destroyed, by it.

Finally, amidst the devastation and desolation, we see the majestic yet spiderlike figure of Aguirre, oblivious to the bodies of his own daughter and his companions sprawled nearby, defiantly posturing on his raft as he dreams of conquering Mexico and overthrowing Spain itself. His only audience now is the jungle and the hundreds of monkeys who swarm around him in mockery of his grandiose plans.

The film is a visual tour de force, a cinematic feast filled with rare epiphanies, dazzling insights into the more horrifying and lupine traits of human nature, perverse moments of surreal and black humour, brilliant acting and the marvellously complementary visionary insights of a superb and original director in collaboration with an inspirational actor at his artistic peak.

It's slow, dreamlike and haunting rhythm gives the film a truly memorable feel. And leaves you pondering as to where reality truly begins and hallucination and delusion ends.

Insurpassable.

Death and the Sun
Monday, April 25th, 2005, 10:10 PM
Did you really manage to find that box set for only 20?

Here it costs between 65-79 euros (44-53) :mad:

And the individual DVD's are hard to find. In fact, besides this one, the one I am the most interested in is Herzog's version of "Nosferatu" -- I've seen it on television once, many years ago, but I would love to watch it again.

Excellent review. Herzog's and Kinski's love/hate relationship is also a truly fascinating story -- the way they continued to work together, despite Herzog tossing a Molotov cocktail through the window into Kinski's house once!

tuddorsped
Monday, April 25th, 2005, 11:43 PM
Did you really manage to find that box set for only 20?

Here it costs between 65-79 euros (44-53) :mad:

And the individual DVD's are hard to find. In fact, besides this one, the one I am the most interested in is Herzog's version of "Nosferatu" -- I've seen it on television once, many years ago, but I would love to watch it again.

Excellent review. Herzog's and Kinski's love/hate relationship is also a truly fascinating story -- the way they continued to work together, despite Herzog tossing a Molotov cocktail through the window into Kinski's house once!

Yes, I bought it at my local HMV store. They often have box sets for half-price.

Nosferatu is a stunning movie too. I love the scenes shot in the Tatra Mountains. I visited there about ten years ago and would love to go back. The scenery is breathtaking. The use of Wagner's Das Rheingold is extremely effective as is the ubiquitous haunting Popol Vuh soundtrack. Herzog is one of the few director's who understands the strength of landscapes and incorporates them into his narratives as powerful human metaphors. (Herzog I think refers to them as being transmuted into "inner landscapes").

I personally love the shots taken in the Partnachklamm (http://www.allgaeu-ausfluege.de/Partnachklamm.htm).

Yes, Herzog and Kinski were a strange cinematic coupling. All the more remarkable being that Kinski actually stayed at Herzog's apartment for a few months as a lodger when Herzog was a teenager. (Kinski destroyed the entire bathroom in a 24 hour long titanic rage!). I think that sometimes one can be drawn towards people who have an innate and unconscious ability to evoke one's deepest and darkest qualities. This can be not only very therapeutic, but also extremely creative for someone working within an artistic medium, as it tends to unleash primal atavisms and obliterate the conscious self for a while. Unfortunately it usually has destructive consequences. The ability to create and destroy are inextricably linked. Modern society is essentially all about repressing these atavisms and obliterating anything that may transcend the role of passive consumer. Creativity is seen as an enemy.

I suppose most of Herzog's works are fundamentally about transcendence and it's incompatibility with 'civilisation'.