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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Summer Film Club: July

Thank you to everyone who made it to our first two films: Heart of Glass and Little Dieter Needs to Fly (and our secret, bonus, third film Lessons of Darkness).  Herzog's films are not always the easiest on first viewing, but I think as we progress, his styles and themes will become apparent and possibly even make his other films easier to understand and enjoy!

Our first film of the month of July is not only one of my favorite Herzog films, but just plain one of my favorites.  We will be watching The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser follows Kaspar Hauser (portrayed by Bruno Schleinstein), who lived the first seventeen years of his life chained in a tiny cellar with only a toy horse to occupy his time, devoid of all human contact except for a man, wearing a black overcoat and top hat, who feeds him.  One day, in 1828, the same man takes Hauser out of his cell, teaches him a few phrases, and how to walk, before leaving him in the town of Nuremberg.  Hauser becomes the subject of much curiosity, and is exhibited in a circus before being rescued by Herr Daumer (Walter Ladengast), who patiently attempts to transform him.  The film follows the real story of Kaspar Hauser quite closely, using the text of actual letters found with Hauser, and following many details in the opening sequence of Hauser's confinement and release.

The film holds a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and Roger Ebert awarded the film 4/4 stars, and added it to his list of Great Movies.  In his review, he said this of the film, "Werner Herzog's films do not depend on "acting" in the conventional sense.  He is most content when he finds an actor who embodies the essence of a character, and he studies that essence with a fascinated intensity.  In Herzog, the line between fact and fiction is a shifting one.  He cares not for accuracy but for effect, for a transcendent ecstasy.  "Kaspar Hauser" tells its story not as a narrative about its hero, but as a mosaic of striking behavior and images: A line of penitents struggling up a hillside, a desert caravan led by a blind man, a stork capturing a worm.  These images are unrelated to Kaspar except in the way they reflect and illuminate his struggle.  The last thing Herzog is interested in is "solving" this lonely man's mystery.  It is the mystery that attracts him."

Our second film for the month of July is Encounters at the End of the World.

Herzog and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger go to Antarctica to meet people who live and work there, and to capture footage of the continent's unique locations.  Herzog's voiceover narration explains that his film will not be about "fluffy penguins," but will explore the dreams of the people and the landscape.  They visit McMurdo Station, talk to an iceberg geologist, travel to a seal camp and even visit the preserved original base of Ernest Shackleton.  

The film holds a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Roger Ebert, to whom the film is dedicated, awarded the film 4/4 stars and said this in his review, "Read the title of "Encounters at the End of the World" carefully, for it has two meanings.  As he journeys to the South Pole, which is as far as you can get from everywhere, Werner Herzog also journeys to the prospect of man's oblivion.  Far under the eternal ice, he visits a curious tunnel whose walls have been decorated by various mementos, including a frozen fish that is far away from its home waters.  His method makes the movie seem like it is happening by chance, although chance has nothing to do with it.  He narrates as if we're watching movies of his last vacation-informal, conversational, engaging.  He talks about people he met, sights he saw, thoughts he had.  And then a larger picture grows inexorably into view.  McMurdo is perched on the frontier of the coming suicide of the planet.  Mankind has grown too fast, spent too freely, consumed too much, and the ice cap is melting, and we shall all perish.  Herzog doesn't use such language, or course; he is too subtle and visionary.  He is nudged toward his conclusions by what he sees.  In a sense, his film journeys through time as well as space, and we see what little we may end up leaving behind us.  Nor is he depressed by this prospect, but only philosophical.  We came, we saw, we conquered, and we left behind a frozen fish."

Though these are very different films, separated not only by time, but also a physical distance, Herzog's themes and ideas can be seen quite clearly in both, as in most of his others.  I hope you are able to join us for these two wonderful films!

Here are the trailers again:

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
Encounters at the End of the World

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