Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dreams and Nightmares

Werner Herzog (b. 1942) on location for Fitzcarraldo (1982) set in Peru
Werner Herzog's fascination with characters living an extreme existence or landscapes providing an extreme shooting environment pervades his search for ecstatic truth. From the Amazon jungle to central Wisconsin in November, the self-taught German filmmaker has crafted his films around his desire to leave behind a record of the state of the human soul. In a text Herzog wrote for wife Lena Herzog's photographs documenting the pilgrimage site Bodh Gaya in Western Tibet (published in 2002 as Pilgrims: Becoming the Path Itself), he wrote of  Mount Kailash:
The mountain itself is not only a very impressive pyramid of black rock with a cap of ice and snow on its top, it immediately strikes the voyager as something much deeper - an inner landscape, an apparition of something existing only in the soul of man. (9)
Plainfield, Wisconsin (infamous for the crimes of the oft-satirized bachelor farmer/killer Ed Gein), says Herzog in Herzog on Herzog, "is one of those places that are focal points where every thread converges and is tied into a knot...where dreams and nightmares all come together." (146)  In his film Stroszek (filmed in Berlin, Manhattan, Plainfield and Cherokee, North Carolina), Herzog blurs documentary and narrative form to articulate his vision and over-arching concept. Starting with a script based on a real man named Bruno Schleinstein, the film evolved during the process of shooting which has long been a part of Herzog's film making practice. Improvising and collaborating with places, landscapes, animals, pimps, doctors, truckers, deer hunters, auctioneers and waitresses he happens upon, Herzog intuits truths about the "universal theme of shattered hopes" (144) and ends up with a film that questions what it means to be human.

Excerpt from Les Blank's 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams

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