“Werner Wednesdays” bring German New Wave director’s work to campus

By Oliver Mosier

Many students look forward to the new Doc schedule. Disappointed by this winter’s output, I couldn’t wait for the spring schedule. (The nights of Kung Fu soccer last quarter were not enough to drag me to the movies.) Nonetheless, redemption appears to have come in the form of the German New Wave. Now, Wednesdays stand for Werner.

Werner Herzog, the illustrious and controversial German director, is the subject of a weekly showing this quarter. In fact, many weeks have two films from, about, or connected to the acclaimed filmmaker. Instead of opting for the obvious choices, Doc Films gambled correctly in favor of the unconventional.

Each Wednesday should draw the attention of people usually found outside Max Palevsky Cinema. Herzog is not only for the film fanatic. He is also for the scientist, the writer, the anthropologist, the sociologist, but, most of all, the curious. Herzog’s own curiosity is what makes his films ingenious. He has made a career of locating, documenting, and finally scrutinizing people with truly interesting stories to tell.

Doc has chosen to focus on Herzog films of the nonfiction variety. Understanding his body of work as a whole necessitates a greater appreciation for the artist himself. Herzog is one of those rare directors who possess a keen insight into the human condition, which illuminates his works of both reality and fantasy. One must not separate Klaus Kinski’s portrayal of Don Lope de Aguirre in Herzog’s 1972 fictional Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre: The Wrath of God) from the real-life Timothy Treadwell in Herzog’s 2005 documentary Grizzly Man. Upon viewing each, one understands explicitly that Herzog finds reality in the fantastic and fantasy in the most unfortunate of realities. He understands the bond between these two universes and never shies away from crossing over from one realm to the next.

Herzog’s directorial prowess is his personal stamp. His style demonstrates that truly original directors piece together narratives with the fluidity a great author brings to the page. Herzog challenges both his subjects and himself, and the audience benefits from such a relationship.

The evening of May 3 brings insanity, chaos, and brilliance with Les Blank’s 1982 Burden of Dreams and Herzog’s 1999 Mein Leibster Feind (My Best Fiend). Each film is a careful but distinct examination of humanity. Burden of Dreams documents Herzog’s obsessive production of his 1982 biopic Fitzcarraldo. Blank’s documentary cues into the strange (yet productive) relationship between Herzog and Fitzcarraldo star Klaus Kinski.

Burden of Dreams is the perfect introduction to My Best Fiend, a striking portrayal of Kinski by his chief artistic partner. In this instance, a viewing of Fitzcarraldo may be required homework to fully prepare for May 3. That would be a clearer look into the eccentric genius of Kinski. To quote Herzog, “People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other’s murder.”

Herzog is often unintentionally hilarious through his odd and sometimes disturbing world view. Fascinated with everything, especially people, he remains the preeminent cinematic iconoclast of his generation.