sat 20/04/2024

Blu-ray: Werner Herzog - Radical Dreamer | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Werner Herzog - Radical Dreamer

Blu-ray: Werner Herzog - Radical Dreamer

Conventional doc brings Herzog back home to his roots, hinting at myth and magic

Herzog returns to Germany and reflects

Weird, quirky Hollywood Werner can obscure the fierce visionary who warred with Kinski in the jungle. This is even true of many of his own features since moving to LA which, like his peer Wenders, usually pale next to his reverent, supernal documentaries. Thomas von Steinaecker’s conventional doc emphasises his latter-day, parodic cult stardom but, thanks to Herzog’s enthusiastic engagement, still gets valuably close to his heart.

Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer Blu-ray coverStar-studded talking heads including Christian Bale, Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson and Chloe Zhao offer makeweight superlatives, but it’s von Steinaecker’s physical trip into Herzog’s past, faintly echoing his intrepid subject, which grips. Bombed out in the war, the Herzogs migrated to Sachrang, a farming village and post-war ski centre. Herzog shows his wife Lena his home there, sketching its shape from the outside, but not crossing the threshold. Venturing into the forest, he finds the waterfall which was “the landscape of my soul… that’s where I belong… that’s me”. Perhaps his Amazonian adventures began here, but he flinches from finding the water’s source. As with his home, some mystery, some essence must remain.

The forest is a German fairy tale place of youthful transformation and voyaging, and in the German half of his career, Herzog was a Romantic fit for Goethe or Grimm, sinking into nature’s extremes. As Fitzcarraldo’s steamboat madness mounts, he declares: “I live my life, or I end my life with this film.” His 1974 walk from Munich to the Paris bedside of his ailing mentor Lotte Eisner, a “pilgrimage” meant to save her by sheer will, similarly sits somewhere between Nietzsche and magic. He is “a truly mythological character,” Wenders believes.

From the second-hand madness of Grizzly Man (2005) to the fatal volcanic abyss of The Fire Within (2022), the gentle, quizzical Werner beloved of The Simpsons still seeks what he calls “ecstatic reality”. Watching Sachrang’s daring ski-jumpers following in his boyhood footsteps, he explains: “You have to lean into it… you have to transmute yourself into a bird… it’s an injustice of nature that we do not have wings.” Fixing von Steinaecker with a challenging gaze, the old madness burns.Klaus Kinksi in Aguirre, The Wrath of GodHerzog’s blessing lets von Steinaecker interview his brothers, Till and long-suffering producer Lucki Stipetić, and first wife Martje, and roll Forties home movies. Volker Schlöndorff, Wenders and Herzog convey the sclerotic ’60s German cinema they smashed with “ganz neue Bilden” (whole new forms). Prime Herzog scenes then conjure his often Klaus Kinski-embodied, quixotic personal quest, born from “pain… not pleasure” (pictured above, Kinski in Aguirre, The Wrath of God).

Though not a filmmaking match for its subject, Radical Dreamer is elevated by Herzog’s affable, curious presence. Extras include essays, a poster gallery and revealing interview offcuts. Bale recalls shots on Rescue Dawn (2006) blown by Herzog plunging into rapids with his star. America-adoring Wenders envies fearless Werner as New German Cinema’s sole LA migrant, following Murnau, whose Tabu (1931), he muses, could be a Herzog adventure.

Herzog was a Romantic fit for Goethe or Grimm, sinking into nature’s extremes

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters