25 August 2014

Blu-ray Review - Werner Herzog Collection (2014)


Genre:
Various
Distributor:
BFI
Rating: 15
BD Release Date:
25th August 2014(UK)
Director:
Werner Herzog
Buy:Werner Herzog Collection (8-Disc Blu-ray Box Set)

BFI has compiled a Blu-Ray boxset of Werner Herzog’s features and shorts (both fictional and documentary) from the 60s to his final collaboration with Klaus Kinski Cobra Verde. BFI previously released Aguirre, the Wrath of God and his version of Nosferatu, I reviewed those films here.

The discs includes along with the aforementioned films The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, Stroszek, Heart of Glass, Woyzeck and Fitzcarraldo along with 8 short films and two feature length documentaries. Every film pushes the boundaries of cinema, 6 of the films are complete masterworks and should be seen by any fan of cinema. However even the ones that don’t quite make “the masterpiece” cut they still are more interesting, haunting and thought provoking than most people’s entire bodies of work.

My personal favourite film in the set is Stroszek which over the years has became most associated with Ian Curtis of Joy Division as it’s was the film he watched the night he committed suicide. Despite the sad connections with Ian Curtis’ suicide, it’s actually a bizarrely hilarious comedy. It concerns 3 Berliners a mentally handicapped street performance called Stroszek (Bruno S.) who has just been released from Prison along with an eccentric old man and a prostitute Eva (Eva Mattes). Her pimps harass Stroszek and after they destroy his accordion, Stroszek decides to move to America with Eva and the old man.

The film is an achingly beautiful film about the failure of the American dream. It’s somewhat a “road” film but it’s as far from the Wim Wenders road movies of the 70s as you can get, it’s a surreal, grotesque and has a dancing chicken. A lot of the film was inspired by the star Bruno S.’s own life experiences. Despite being based on the historical case of Kasper Hauser, The Enigma of Kasper Hauser shared some similarities with the life of Bruno S. (who plays Kasper) who identified so much with the character he often slept in his costume during production.

Bruno S. was also supposed to star in Woyzeck but Herzog realised that his best friend Klaus Kinski was more suited for the part. It’s the story of soldier is humiliated constantly who slowly losing his mind and having visions. The performance from Kinski remains of his most frenzied but also one of his more affecting and Eva Mattes is also fantastic at his wife, she won best actress at Cannes for his performance.

Fitzcarraldo remains of Herzog’s most well known and most loved films. It’s a film almost parallels what Herzog does on many of his films; he tries to make the impossible possible and/or reach the most inaccessible places on earth. It’s about Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald who wants to build an opera house in the middle of the Amazon jungle. He has to make it rich from the rubber business and his plan includes tugging an enormous boat over a mountain. Klaus Kinski is at his most frenzied maniac best as Fitzgerald, and the cinematography throughout is to die for. Kinski and Herzog famously fought throughout the film, Herzog in his documentary about their relationship My Best Friend tells about how one of the native chiefs seriously offered to kill Kinski. He declined but only because he had to finish shooting. The troubled of the shoot is documented in Les Blank’s brilliant documentary Burden of Dreams that is included in the set.

The set climaxes with Cobra Verde, which was the final film Herzog, and Kinski made together Kinski would die only a few years later. Kinski plays a bandit who is banished to Africa after impregnating a plantation owner’s daughters. The plantation owner decides not to kill him but send him off to Africa hoping he will die in the process, but he is able to trade guns for slaves. However he is the only White man on the island, and is tortured and loses his mind in the process. The film is considered by many to be a lesser Herzog; it may not quite be up to the usual standards of Herzog and Kinski’s previous efforts, but it is still solid as a rock and visually brilliant; Kinski is calmer than usual which is fascinating. The film naturally was a problematic shoot, the original cinematographer walked off due to Kinski’s behaviour.

The boxset includes many bonus features as well; the feature films include commentaries with Herzog with other participations. It also includes an audio lecture with Herzog from 1988, a South Bank documentary on Herzog from 1982, the hilarious Les Blank short doc called Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (which he does just that) along with some other features. The transfers are all fantastic as you would expect from BFI and a many of the films include both English and German dubs. The German dubs are far superior, however it’s worth noting a great majority of the Kinski films were actually shot in English so both versions are dubbed.

It’s a worthy package of one of the finest living directors who is still hard at work today even if it’s mostly documentaries he is making today. The only problem with the boxset is it’s sadly missing Even Dwarfs Started Small, My Best Friend, the making of Cobra Verde documentary Herzog in Africa. It’s would have been nice to also include Signs of Life and Where The Green Ants Dream which were made in the set’s timeframe and Herzog still owns the rights too and haven’t even received a UK release on DVD never mind Blu-Ray. Hopefully BFI may have a second boxset down the line.

★★★★★

Ian Schultz


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