doc films
facebook twitter instagram newsletter

WEDNESDAY - Conquistador of the Useless: The Films of Werner Herzog

Programmed by: Cameron Poe

“You’re all wrong!” While Werner Herzog meant these words for the Berlinale critics panning Lessons of Darkness (his haunting documentary about the aftermath of the Gulf War), the same could be said to anyone trying to explain the infamous director. A man that prefers novels to films and wuxia to Godard, Herzog remains one of the most unique and strange people to touch a movie camera. At its core, his filmography is concerned with the philosophical implications of human civilization reacting against, yet still belonging to, a violent, entropic, and uncaring universe. How does this characterize our relationships with friends, strangers, fellow members of the animal kingdom, and the natural world that surrounds us? While not providing a definitive answer, Herzog excels at telling compelling stories that attack this issue at its heart. The fact that his films are aesthetically gorgeous, deeply emotive, and often as bizarre as they are funny are bonuses that aid the importance of his project.

This series attempts to analyze Herzog's thesis about human nature by covering both types of Herzog’s films: fictional narratives and documentary work. Kaspar Hauser is pitted against Grizzly Man, Klaus Kinski in Aguirre against Klaus Kinski in My Best Fiend. You'll laugh at the strange movements of hypnotized actors in Heart of Glass, be moved by the tragicomic Stroszek present in all of us, and feel awed by Herzog's stunning shots of wilderness from Alaska to Peru. There’ll be something for everyone, but it’ll still be a strange, strange journey… and Fitzcarraldo’s steering the boat.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Germanic Studies

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) still

Werner Herzog · 95m · DCP

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is Herzog's defining film. This early work incorporates everything now commonly associated with the director: bushwhacking through the jungle, the abusive actor Klaus Kinski, and a pseudo-historical, hallucinatory plot. Herzog's stolen 35mm camera (true story) follows Aguirre and his 16th century crew of conquistadors as they float down the Amazon in search of El Dorado. You'd have to be as crazy as Kinski to miss this film!

Wednesday, January 3rd 7:00PM · Friday, January 5th 9:30PM

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) still

Werner Herzog · 110m · DCP

Titled in German "Every Man for Himself and God Against All," Kaspar Hauser realizes Herzog's idiosyncratic ideas of Man and Nature through the real story of Kaspar Hauser. In 1800s Nuremberg, Hauser is raised in a cell with little external interaction, save a few wooden toys and a mysterious man who feeds him. Released into society at 17, the effects of his odd upbringing are studied by academics, while he is targeted by clandestine attackers.

Wednesday, January 10th 7:00PM

Heart of Glass (1976)

Heart of Glass (1976) still

Werner Herzog · 94m · DCP

How do you make the characters in your film seem like they're in a dream? The answer is obvious if you're Werner Herzog: hypnotize them. Heart of Glass charts the fall of a small 1700s Bavarian town after its master glassblower dies. The townsfolk fall into a bizarre trance as production of the magical glass stops. The mystic hermit Hias, one of the only actors not under hypnosis, prophesies that the glassblowing factory will soon burn down.

Wednesday, January 17th 7:00PM

Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Fitzcarraldo (1982) still

Werner Herzog · 158m · DCP

"The trees here are in misery, the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain." (Werner Herzog) Fitzcarraldo is about Nature's callousness in the face of Man's grandiose plans. Would-be rubber baron Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski), in order to fund an opera house for a city in the Amazon, tries to haul a 320-ton steamship over a mountain. Herzog attempts the feat in real life, bringing hell on Earth for cast, crew, and characters.

Wednesday, January 24th 7:00PM

Stroszek (1977)

Stroszek (1977) still

Werner Herzog · 115m · DCP

Stroszek is Herzog's eclectic and tragic entry into "American Dream" films, packed with classic Americana: bank robbery, conspiracy, turkey, animal magnetism, truckers, and mobile homes. Bruno Stroszek is a down-and-out Berlin street performer who takes up life in Wisconsin with Eva, a prostitute, to escape abuse from her pimps. Hoping for a better life in the land of the free, he instead faces a bleak reality of bank loans, repossession, and infidelity.

Wednesday, January 31st 7:00PM

Ballad of the Little Soldier (1984) // Lessons of Darkness (1992)

Ballad of the Little Soldier (1984) // Lessons of Darkness (1992) still

Werner Herzog · 46m // 54m · DCP

Herzog has a singular approach to talking about war, and in this double feature, he centers unconventional voices. Ballad of the Little Soldier meditates on the loss of innocence in Nicaraguan child soldiers fighting against the Sandinistas. Lessons of Darkness has as its main characters inanimate objects — from tools of torture to burning oil fields —, recontextualized to present Kuwait as a hellish, alien planet following the suffering of the Gulf War.

Wednesday, February 7th 7:00PM

Grizzly Man (2005)

Grizzly Man (2005) still

Werner Herzog · 103m · DCP

Timothy Treadwell, the eponymous Grizzly Man, was killed by grizzlies in Alaska following a controversial career protecting bears from poachers. Using Treadwell's own footage and interviews with those who knew him, Herzog presents a complicated portrait of a man's attempt to find kindness and civility in the wilderness. In this tragic and humanizing account, Herzog advances his thesis of Nature's omnipresent coldness to humanity's best intentions.

Wednesday, February 21st 7:00PM

My Best Fiend (1999)

My Best Fiend (1999) still

Werner Herzog · 95m · DCP

The actor Klaus Kinski was a psychopath, an abusive father, and a general scourge to any film set. He was also capable of some of the most powerful performances ever put on screen. My Best Fiend is Werner Herzog's documentary about his work with Kinski. By revisiting filming locations, interviewing actors, and reminiscing on moments of rage, Herzog unrolls a narrative that says just as much about Kinski's violent and dominating side as it does his own.

Wednesday, February 28th 7:00PM