Werner Herzog

on

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

 

In "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" Herzog started working with his new star Klaus Kinski according to his infamously typical style - putting the entire film team under seemingly unbearable pressure. The circumstances of Aguirre's production were extremely extraordinary, indeed, for crew and cast were rafting for weeks in unexplored regions of the Peru jungle, hundreds of miles away from civilisation. In a way, they experienced the same conditions as the Spanish Expedition they were about to portray. In Herzog's eyes a story only works and can explain something, if it is real. Herzog creates a deeper look into the essence of human being by discovering its reactions under enourmous pressure in an extremely hostile environmment.
Herzog: "But under this sort of pressure, people reveal their various natures to us. It's exactly the same that is done in chemistry when you have a particular substance that is unknown to you. When this happens, you must put this substance under extreme conditions - like extreme heat, extreme pressure, extreme radiation - and it is only then that you will be able to find out the essential structure of this substance which you are trying to explain and to discover and to describe."
The people, he wanted to explain, discover and describe followed 28 year old director Herzog into the jungle. But they obviously did it not for the money. "Aguirre" was Herzog's biggest and most ambitious project up to then and it was finally made on the unbelievable small budget of 320.000 $. As Herzog points out: "It is never money that moves a mountain. [...] It's faith or spirit - people who fight for their lives - or just sheer guts! But it has never been money that's made my films."

The magnificent scenery, brilliantly photograph(s)ed by Thomas Macuh, combined with a simple, but nevertheless effective script  enabled Herzog to create that haunting film experience, that Aguirre is. The jungle is portrayed like a huge green trap, that simply sucks people in. To symbolize this state of entrapment Herzog uses the image of circles througout the entire film; an expression of the all-futile human attempt to conquer the jungle.What finally makes "Aguirre" unique is, of course, the star, the man, the myth: Klaus Kinski. Nobody else could have incarnated Don Lope de Aguirre in the sheer incredible way, he did it. One can truly sense his intense agression, the madness in his stare gaze; his magalomanic fatality. The film has been critisised on different "formal" points: the story lacks logical content, the characters do not develop, there is no real plot-structure and so on.. But despite of all these weaknesses the fascinating character Aguirre comes truly to life in Klaus Kinski.

However, on Kinski's performance you can guess, which real madness was going on behind the camera. The production of Aguirre, was madness.  As Werner Herzog remembers in "My Best Fiend", a documentary about his strange relationship to Kinski, the eccentric actor started a tantrum nearly everyday for the most ridiculous reasons. One day he was about to leave the set for good. Herzog, afraid to lose his star and with him the whole film, told Kinski, that he will kill him with a gun as soon as he reaches the next river turning. "Eight bullets are for you, and the ninth is for me!" - Kinski did not split. Newspapers and magazines exaggerated the story afterwards to the tale that Herzog directed Kinski, while pointing a gun on him from behind the camera. After all, Kinski' personal memories on that incident are slightly different to Herzog's.

 

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Herzog on...

Nosferatu     Woyzeck     Fitzcarraldo     Cobra Verde