Werner Herzog, prolific director and documentarian, has had a long and controversial career. One that would be balked at how he was able to pull off some of his stunts, were it not so well documented. And thankful, Shout Factory is putting together The Werner Herzog Collection with full cooperation of the director.
The inaugural entry is his classic film AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD from 1971 starring his regular collaborator Klaus Kinski. Kinski, known to be a difficult actor to work with, had only worked with other directors once, however Herzog worked with him on 5 features, and also completed a documentary about their tempestuous relationship with MY BEST FIEND.
Written after reading a half page story on Don Lope de Aguirre, a Spanish conquistador, Herzog wrote the story over 2 1/2 days during a trip with his soccer team, losing a few scenes due to his goalie vomiting on the typewriter and part of the script. Based off of that half page story, and a few letters that Aguirre had written, Herzog wrote the story about a doomed search for the fabled city of El Dorado. Set as the diary of Catholic monk Brother Gaspar de Carvajal telling the tale, Herzog was badgered by historians as to where he got the diary. He held up the facade for a long time saying that he found it in a book somewhere, but in actuality, he fabricated the whole story.
River trips on film rarely end well, and this tale is no exception. On rudimentary rafts, a group of 40 started off in search of a golden city, to claim it in the name of Spain. Dealing with flooding on the Amazon River, the rain season, and being randomly attacked by natives, you’d think that would be enough to deal with, but instead they are also dealing with mutiny, slaves, and starvation. Paranoia and megalomania just add more fuel to the fire.
“What are they shouting?” “They are shouting ‘Meat is floating by.'”
Kinski as Aguirre is a force of nature. He tears through scenes like a tornado, leaving almost nothing as it started. Herzog originally imagined him as a hunchback, and Kinski took that and his direction to give an almost spider-like approach to walking around, unnerving the audience and the remaining cast as well.
The Blu-Ray transfer for AGUIRRE is beautiful, really showcasing the cinematography by Thomas Mauch, another frequent collaborator with Herzog. They had a small crew, so between Mauch and Herzog, they handled the majority of the work, with Mauch leading the way as he knew how to properly film the jungle amidst the various terrains and weather.
The real highlight of the Blu-Ray is Herzog’s commentary. Extremely candid and informative, Herzog’s monotonous delivery makes some of the stories all the more entertaining, as hilarity just pops out in the dry delivery. We get both an English and a German commentary track with subtitles.
AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD is available on Blu-Ray March 17th, 2015, as well as currently streaming for free on Shout! Factory TV along with 15 other Herzog classics.