Herzog. Herzog has almost equal importance in the documentary community but of course that’s not counted here. I’m a much bigger fan of his five Kinski collaborations than TSPDT and not as sure on his work with Bruno S. Of course here I rated Herzog better than his compatriots (Wenders and Fassbinder) from the New German Cinema era. His best films are just simply better than Fassbinder’s best films but the depth of Fassbinder is pretty overwhelming so that could change over time. Herzog has three films in the top 500 (very good for this far down on my countdown) and two in the top 100 (ditto!). He’s one of a few filmmakers (Kubrick, Malick, Dreyer, Tarkovsky—maybe a few others) that often sets out to make the greatest film of all-time—even if he largely fails. Aguirre is a giant masterpiece and Fitzcarraldo is one of the best films of the 1980’s.
Best film: Aguirre, the Wrath of God. I wish Herzog had done more and better fiction work in the last 30 years (2 archiveable films since 1987) but I highly doubt he would ever do anything to top Aguirre.
total archiveable films: 10
top 100 films: 2
top 500 films: 3 (Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu, the Vampyre)
top 100 films of the decade: 4 (Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu, the Vampyre, Cobra Verde)
most overrated: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is #524 on the TSPDT consensus list. I don’t have a big problem here and I’m overdue for a revisit. Still, currently this is easily 300 slots too high for me. I’m not a massive admirer of his work with Bruno S. at this point.
most underrated: Fitzcarraldo is #412 all-time on TSPDT? This snuck back into my top 100 (I wrote a long poorly-graded paper in college on this, Aguirre and Herzog).
gem I want to spotlight: Cobra Verde. Fifth and final collaboration between Herzog and Kinski.My first time catching it in 2018 and I’m a little pissed it took me this long- it’s a fascinating film and although it’s not in the realm of Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo in terms of artistic achievement it is certainly a stylistic and narrative match with those two prior masterpieces: it’s odd, surreal, a folklore epic, a meditation on fate, primal violence, ominous (that music is great), a meditation on immortality, features man vs nature and found (both natural and man-made) set pieces. Famous picture taken onset of Kinski attacking Herzog with the African extras behind them—features in doc My Best Friend. Odd opening prologue with a guy playing a violin—and then a long written folklore passage- starts in on a great 360 shot close up of Kinski and then a 360 panoramic of the vast desert mountain landscape. Ruins, a massive castle—the extras (and there are hundreds) are almost like a swarm that makes its own set piece. Lots of Kinski shouting, one random guy intensely staring at the camera and hundreds of topless women fighting. Self-loathing meditation— statement on colonization and civilization. It’s unintentional comedy but Kinski writing around in the tide is hilarious and then a random man with one leg comes along. Extras- non-professionals. Kinski’s character attempts (and accomplishes) an impossible feat just like Fitzcarraldo. The massive amount of crabs made me think of the rats in their prior collaboration Nosferatu. Great location shots in Ghana, Colombia and Brazil. He’s a documentary filmmaker as well and you can see that here- Herzog is in awe of the extras- he lingers on wide long shots of them for long periods of time—Recommend /HR border. Flawed but fascinating auteur cinema.
stylistic innovations/traits: Bizarre and eccentric… spontaneous, ambitious and instinctual… Herzog’s films feel unscripted (some of them were) and adventurous (his top 2 films are actual stories of quests themselves and quite an adventure in the making of the film as it would turn out). His oeuvre is filled with haunting landscapes—usually swallowing up the protagonist (who is typically driven to madness). I guess it’s no surprise he decided to remake Murnau— in the top 3 films on my list Herzog was very clearly and unapologetically trying to make the best film of all-time. I love that about him and his films. Ambition.
- Aguirre, the Wrath of God
- Nosferatu, the Vampyre
- Cobra Verde
- The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
- Bad Lieutenant, Port of Call New Orleans
- Rescue Dawn
- Signs of Life
By year and grades
|1968- Signs of Life|
|1972- Aguirre, the Wrath of God||MP|
|1974- The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser|
|1979- Nosferatu, the Vampyre||HR|
|1987- Cobra Verde||R/HR|
|2006- Rescue Dawn||R|
|2009- Bad Lieutenant, Port of Call New Orleans||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives