Close Up

1 - 29 September 2017: Close-Up on Werner Herzog


Close-Up presents a season of eighteen films from the early career of the maverick director Werner Herzog, alongside two documentaries by his friend and colleague Les Blank, and F.W.Murnau’s classic Nosferatu.

“With a singular vision continually blurring the fine line between reality and fiction, Werner Herzog has become one of cinema’s most controversial and enigmatic filmmakers. A strong authorial presence pervades each of his films, whether fictional features or documentaries. For Herzog, there is no distinction between the two styles – they are all just “films” – because real life and fiction feed off each other for mutual poetic inspiration. His worldview often seems bleak and anti-humanistic, featuring quixotic outsiders who reject or are rejected by society, only to be crushed by the weight of their own ambitions. Civilisation is always teetering at the edge of self-destruction, “like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness”, with faith and superstition minding the tattered border. An air of Romanticism finds human kind dwarfed by the terrifying might and majesty of nature, while strange landscapes exist as reflections of inner mental states. Although keenly aware of his nation’s violent past, Herzog’s films generally eschew specific historical and political considerations in the face of a universe filled with murder, destruction and the demise of the individual. These themes gradually emerge throughout a body of work at once stunning and perplexing. As with the subject matter in his “documentaries”, it is often difficult to separate the “real” Herzog from the myriad fictions that have sprung up around him, either as myths perpetuated in the media or as subtle fabrications maintained by Herzog himself.” – Senses of Cinema

Unprecedented Defence of Fortress Deutschkreuz
Werner Herzog
1966 | 15 min | Colour | Digital

A run-down castle piques the curiosity of four young men. When they discover uniforms and weapons left behind by occupation forces, they start to play war games. Because there’s no enemy available, their aggressions need another outlet. read more

Last Words
Werner Herzog
1968 | 14 min | B/W | Digital

Shot on Crete and the ghost island Spinalonga. A film about a hermit who is brought back to civilisation, where he refuses to speak; meanwhile, other members of society obsessively repeat themselves to the point of nonsense. This film would mark the start of Herzog’s investigation into human language, and his continued steps toward increasing narrative stylisation. read more 

Precautions Against Fanatics
Werner Herzog
1969 | 12 min | Colour | Digital

An outraged old man declares himself the protector of race horses and fights against fanatic trainers. read more

Fata Morgana
Werner Herzog
1971 | 90 min | Colour | Digital

A haunting, sardonic exploration of Africa as it was “in the beginning,” and as it becomes glutted with the wastes of technological civilization. read more

Handicapped Future
Werner Herzog
1971 | 43 min | Colour | Digital

A practical documentary to raise public awareness about the need for disability access in Germany, using recent disability rights legislation in the United States for comparison. During its filming, Herzog met Fini Straubinger, a woman whose deafness and blindness allows her to only communicate via a tactile language. read more

Land of Silence and Darkness
Werner Herzog
1971 | 88 min | Colour | Digital

A life-affirming portrait of Fini Straubinger, a middle-aged blind-and-deaf woman who decides, against her family’s wishes, to work with other similarly challenged individuals. Herzo accompanies Fini and her colleagues on journeys of discovery (a day at the zoo, an airplane flight) as he transmits to the audience the spirit of their uniquely intense existence. read more

Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Werner Herzog
1972 | 100 min | Colour | DCP

Filming in South America, Herzog recreated the exploits of sixteenth-century Spanish explorer Aguirre (Kinski) who, with his retinue, searched for El Dorado over mountains, through jungles, and down a great river. The film is at once documentary-like and deliriously lyrical. read more

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
Werner Herzog
1974 | 110 min | Colour | Digital

Reminiscent of Truffaut’s The Wild Child in theme but decidedly darker in its conclusions, Herzog’s film opens in Nuremberg in 1828, where a grown man is found catatonic in the town square. He is Kaspar Hauser, the ultimate Herzogian outsider: without speech, reason, or memory, and without human contact since childhood. read more

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner
Werner Herzog
1974 | 45 min | Colour | Digital

Herzog’s most memorable films have a euphoric effect, making the audience aware of the full potential of life. In the worlds his films create and observe, anything is possible and even achievable. For example, a simple craftsman can extend the limits of human existence. read more

Heart of Glass
Werner Herzog
1976 | 94 min | Colour | Digital

This entrancing Gothic tale is most famous for the incredible story of its production. In order to obtain the enigmatic, dreamlike performances he desired from his cast, Herzog had his actors hypnotised before each scene was shot. The effect on screen is both disconcerting and deeply enthralling. read more

How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck
Werner Herzog
1976 | 45min | Colour | Digital

At the World Livestock Auctioneer Championships in New Holland, Pennsylvania, contestants test their verbal skills and speed. Beyond the competition and an interview with the winner, Herzog also touches on the Amish population located in the area. read more

Werner Herzog
1976 | 103 min | Colour | Digital

Of all the immortal eccentrics populating the Herzog canon, perhaps the most touching and tragic is Bruno Stroszek. Herzog’s quietly devastating portrait of stranger-in-a-strange-land alienation is laced with his indelible moments of crackpot poetry: a writhing premature baby, a dog garlanded in a plastic lei, and that unforgettable dancing chicken. read more

Nosferatu the Vampyre
Werner Herzog
1979 | 96 min | Colour | DCP

Nosferatu is Werner Herzog’s homage to F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic version of the Dracula tale. Herzog is not interested in a mere remake of a film he loves: he calls it instead a "rebirth," bringing his own eerie sense of decay, longing, and mysticism to the Nosferatu story. read more

Werner Herzog
1979 | 80 min | Colour | Digital

Werner Herzog’s adaptation of Georg Büchner’s unfinished play about a tormented soldier, driven slowly mad during the course of the film, was famously filmed a few days after the completion of Nosferatu the Vampyre. An exhausted cast and crew assembled in Prague for the shoot, and to mitigate their fatigue Herzog tried to capture scenes in as few takes as possible, resulting in the film’s urgent, theatrical atmosphere. read more

Werner Herzog
1982 | 160 min | Colour | Digital

One of Werner Herzog's most acclaimed and audacious films, Fitzcarraldo tells the incredible story of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an opera-loving fortune hunter who dreams of bringing opera (specifically Caruso) to a remote trading post on the heart of the Peruvian jungle. Evocative of the troubled circumstance of its own production, Fitzcarraldo is both a confessional self-portrait of Herzog the adventuring artist and a grandiose paean to those who dare to live out their wildest dreams. read more

God’s Angry Man
Werner Herzog
1980 | 46 min | Colour | Digital

“Americans," Herzog once observed, "believe that they are normal, that they make sense, and that the rest of the world is exotic. They do not seem to understand that they are the most exotic people in the world right now.” read more

Huie’s Sermon
Werner Herzog
1981 | 43 min | Colour | Digital

Filmed at the Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Brooklyn, this short film is the record of a single sermon delivered by charismatic pastor Huie Rogers. read more

Cobra Verde
Werner Herzog
1987 | 111 min | Colour | Digital

The final collaboration in that most combustible of cinematic partnerships - director Werner Herzog and leading actor Klaus Kinski - is a typically wild adventure. Kinski plays “Cobra Verde”, a fearsome South American bandit hired to negotiate a new slave route with an African tribal king. Once there he inspires a mutiny, enlisting and training an army of female natives to overthrow the despot. read more

F.W. Murnau
1922 | 93 min | B/W | Digital

This film marked the first appearance on screen of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and remains arguably the eeriest and most magical of the many film versions of this famous supernatural tale. Murnau’s use of real locations instead of stylized studio sets to create atmosphere, his deployment of special effects such as negative exposure and fast-speed motion to suggest a ghostly ride, and his casting of Max Schreck as the gaunt, spectral figure of Dracula make this one of the director’s most formally innovative works. read more

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe
Les Blank
1980 | 22 min | Colour | 16mm

In 1979, Les Blank took a detour to film German filmmaker Werner Herzog honouring a vow he made to Errol Morris that he (Herzog) would eat his shoe if Morris ever actually made one of his films he was forever talking about. Stung to action, Morris directed Gates of Heaven and Herzog, true to his word, returned to Berkeley to consume one of his desert boots at the UC Theater. Blank's film documents Herzog's strongly expressed belief that people must have the guts to attempt what they dream of. read more

Burden of Dreams
Les Blank
1982 | 90 min | Colour | 16mm

Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo was an eccentric project, to say the least. In fact, Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams, a film about the making of Fitzcarraldo, is a much more enlightening piece about an obsessed man battling the forces of nature. Based on a true story, Fitzcarraldo stars Klaus Kinski as a Caruso fanatic determined to build an opera house in the Andean jungle; his money-making scheme involves hauling a steamship over a mountain. read more