Werner Herzog (#110 of 56)

Toronto Film Review Werner Herzog’s Salt and Fire

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Toronto Film Review: Werner Herzog’s Salt and Fire

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto Film Review: Werner Herzog’s Salt and Fire

Werner Herzog’s fiction filmmaking in the 21st century has struggled to live up to his quest for the “ecstatic truth,” producing a spate of strange, out-of-step experiments that never cohere like his documentaries. Initially, Salt and Fire, about the abduction of UN-appointed ecologists by the company responsible for the man-made disaster they’re sent to probe, is every bit as enervating as some of Herzog’s recent fiction. Characters are established via blunt, awkwardly extraneous exposition, and everyone speaks lines with obvious discomfort, as if the actors had been handed the script just before the camera rolled, with no time to internalize the material’s meaning. Some of the dialogue suggests that Herzog himself has grown accustomed to being a meme, as when two of the captured scientists eat bad food and develop diarrhea. Or, as Gael García Bernal’s Dr. Fabio Cavani puts it: “There’s hordes of protozoans swirling in my digestive tract!”

BAMcinemaFest 2016 Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

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BAMcinemaFest 2016: Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Magnolia Pictures

BAMcinemaFest 2016: Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

A theme unites all of Werner Herzog’s films, fiction and nonfiction alike: that life, which is so beautiful, painful, dangerous, and strange, isn’t to be taken for granted, as every portion of every element of our existence is wild and extraordinary. Such a theme is maudlin in the wrong context (watered-down variations of it fuel most Oscar winners, after all), but Herzog emphasizes in life the ecstatic and the unconventional; he’s too much of a showman and a poet to let his curiosities calcify into signifiers of platitude. In his hands, casual objects achieve timeless resonance, such as the bucket of water that hauntingly reflects the protagonist’s face in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. In Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, Herzog turns his exploratory gaze toward the Internet, shaking us out of complacently accepting as a given its now all-consuming presence.

Berlinale 2015 Queen of the Desert and Queen of Earth

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Berlinale 2015: Queen of the Desert and Queen of Earth
Berlinale 2015: Queen of the Desert and Queen of Earth

Theoretically, the subject of Queen of the Desert could hardly be more Herzogian in nature. With her passionate spirit of ceaseless adventure, Gertrude Bell—a British writer/archeologist/map-maker who, among her many achievements, played a major role in British imperialist foreign policy—would seem to be a kindred spirit to a director like Werner Herzog, who in both his fiction and nonfiction features exudes a willingness to follow even the nuttiest of protagonists to the ends of the earth and their outer psychological limits. This is, after all, a filmmaker who, during the making of his 1982 epic Fitzcarraldo, famously followed the path of his opera-loving protagonist, created an actual massive boat, and had people lug it over a real mountain in Peru.

The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies

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The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies
The 10 Greatest Vampire Movies

From Bram Stoker to Anne Rice, from Nosferatu to Buffy, it’s safe to say our cultural fascination with the blood-sucking undead isn’t going away anytime soon. Not unlike zombies, those other revivified metaphors that feast on the living, the template afforded by these folkloric beings allows for no shortage of insights into the human condition, with the topics of sexuality, addiction, and mortality chief among them. By far the most famous of these, Dracula, is often cited as the most popular fictional character in all of cinema, with nearly 200 separate film appearances according to IMDb. Of course, the legend of these creatures extends far beyond just this particular icon, and those who are quick to mock the Twilight franchise for allowing its fanged characters to appear in full sunlight, unperturbed, are clearly unaware of the elasticity they’ve exhibited throughout both print and film history. Here, a fairly strict definition of the corporeal undead has been employed (apologies to Louis Feuillade and Claire Denis). These 10 films highlight not just great vampire films, but great films, period, and for each that made the cut, there was at least one more vying for inclusion.

Summer of ‘89: Vampire’s Kiss

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Vampire’s Kiss</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Vampire’s Kiss</em>

Beginning with Nosferatu, the vampire has been depicted on film largely as a symbol of pestilence visited upon cities. Just as disease wreaks greatest havoc on places of densest population, the classic vampire sought out the most crowded hunting grounds—the better to find an abundance of prey and the security of anonymity. The traditional movie vampire terrorizes a chosen city, plunging it into despair and either mobilizing it into search-and-destroy retribution, as in most Dracula-based films, or annihilating it utterly, as in Werner Herzog’s fierce reimagining of Nosferatu from 1979, Nosferatu the Vampyre.

But in the summer of 1989, vampirism became instead a symbol of contemporary urban angst. Far from a city in terror, the New York of Robert Bierman’s Vampire’s Kiss is indifferent to, if not completely unaware of, the menace lurking in its midst. Face it: It takes a lot to faze a New Yorker, especially in the era of Gordon Gecko. In Vampire’s Kiss, no one is afraid of, or even especially impressed with, the vampire Peter Loew has become. Or thinks he’s become.

An upwardly mobile white-collar white male from a privileged background, replete with phony mid-Atlantic accent (listen to him pronounce his surname) and sick to death of being always an agent and never an author, Peter Loew was the perfect vessel for a still-young Nicolas Cage to cap his growing reputation for over-the-top characterizations. For both Cage and Loew, self-induced madness becomes the highest form of creativity.