Movie Project #29: Aguirre, the Wrath of God [1972]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God [1972]

Aguirre, the Wrath of God [1972]
Director: Werner Herzog
Genre: Adventure/Drama
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Ruy Guerra and Helena Rojo
Runtime: 93 minutes

The promise of copious amounts of gold can make people do funny things. Especially when said gold encompasses an entire city. In the case of commander Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés), his second-in-command Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) and their large group of Spanish conquistadores, these men have decided to embark on a punishing journey through the heart of Peru in search of the legendary El Dorado, a city rumored to be filled with gold.

Set in 1560, the conquistadores travel down the Amazon River while chasing their dream. As with most ancient expeditions, this doesn’t go particularly well. For one, their attempt to carry cannons and other weapons through the hot and humid jungle, all while wearing heavy armor, proves as difficult as you would expect. They also have to deal with hostile natives and random arrow attacks — not everyone is happy to see them, apparently.

Early on, the commander splits up the expedition and sends a smaller group to continue pushing down the river. This group, eventually led by Aguirre, is given the task of actually finding the city of gold. It doesn’t take long for Aguirre to assert his powers, and he quickly becomes a frightening leader. The man is on a mission, and quitting is not an option.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God [1972]

There is a definite Heart of Darkness vibe to the film, as an overhanging sense of dread lingers from beginning to end. How can this expedition end well, especially when its leader is quickly descending into madness himself?

The filming process for Aguirre has developed a bit of a legend, and I suspect this is part of the reason why the movie is so highly regarded today. Werner Herzog has stated that he stole a 35mm camera from film school, flew down to South America, gathered a large group of locals who did not speak a common language, and took them on a ridiculous trek through the Amazon jungle in order to shoot this movie. The film was created on a meager $370,000 budget, with about a third of this going toward Klaus Kinski’s salary. The hostile relationship between Herzog and Kinski could get a post of its own. At one point, Kinski threatened to leave the set and didn’t change his mind until Herzog threatened to shoot him first and then pull the trigger on himself.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God [1972]

Ultimately, it was worth the fighting and bickering because Kinski delivers an unforgettable performance. His madcap behavior is never presented as over-the-top, as he delivers a more subtle performance. Make no mistake — it’s quite obvious the man is losing his mind, it’s just not in a, say, Nicolas Cage type of way. The supporting cast also performs quite well, but this is Kinski’s film through and through.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a largely methodical film, and this could be an issue for some. It’s worth sticking with, however, at the very least to see one of the more memorable endings in all of film. One can only imagine what those little monkeys were thinking.


The Ten Best Directors of All Time [Relay Race]

A couple months ago I had the pleasure of taking part in a great blogathon known as the Ten Best Actors of All Time Relay Race. That meme is still alive and kicking, but Nostra at My Film Views has added a couple more features, with the most recent one being a version specifically for directors. Dan from Public Transportation Snob sent the baton my way, and now it is my turn to join in on the festivities. Here is Nostra’s description of the relay race for those who haven’t been keeping up with it:

So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the ten best directors. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one director (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best directors.
If you are following the relay race it is also a great way to be introduced to new blogs!

And here are the other entries so far:
My Film Views (The originator of the list, and the ten that he began with were: Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Hayao Miyazaki, Darren Aronofsky, Martin Scorsese, The Coen Brothers, Akira Kurosawa, and Christopher Nolan)
Southern Vision (Replaced Christopher Nolan with Krzysztof Kieslowski)
And So It Begins… (Replaced Darren Aronofsky with Ingmar Bergman)
Surrender To The Void (Replaced Steven Spielberg with Lars Von Trier)
Cinematic Paradox (Replaced Lars Von Trier with Paul Thomas Anderson)
Defiant Success (Replaced Krzysztof Kieslowski with Sidney Lumet)
“…Let’s Be Splendid About This…” (Replaced Quentin Tarantino with Abbas Kiarostami)
1001Plus (Replaced Paul Thomas Anderson with Billy Wilder)
Cinema Sights (Replaced Billy Wilder with F.W. Murnau)
Bill’s Movie Emporium (Replaced Martin Scorsese with Werner Herzog)
Public Transportation Snob (Replaced Sidney Lumet with John Ford)

Here is the current list:

Alfred Hitchcock

Stanley Kubrick

Hayao Miyazaki

Werner Herzog

The Coen Brothers

Akira Kurosawa

Ingmar Bergman

Abbas Kiarostami

F.W. Murnau

John Ford

My Removal:

This is always the hard part with these blogathons. With such a great and diverse list this time around, it was even more difficult to remove one of these legends. I dismissed the idea of removing those I am unfamiliar with — in this case, Kiarostami and Murnau — and immediately skipped over the “untouchables” — Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Kubrick. After much deliberation, I decided on removing Werner Herzog. Perhaps this isn’t entirely fair since I am only familiar with his more contemporary work, but I have yet to see something from him that absolutely blew me away. I know he has a lot of devout fans in the blogging world, but I have a feeling he will make a reappearance at some point. I will say this, though — I could listen to that man talk all day long.

My Addition:

Speaking of reappearances, I have decided to enter Billy Wilder back into the race with the hopes that he will get a longer run this time around. I have been on a huge Wilder kick lately (thanks in part to the local theater doing a summer marathon dedicated to his work), and I have fallen in love with a number of his films. I don’t give out 10/10s too often, but he has two films that I would easily go all the way for — Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment. Quite a few of his films are not far off, including Double Indemnity, Ace in the Hole and The Lost Weekend. He is one of the all-time great directors, and I believe he is a worthy addition to this list.

Now I am passing this on to Kristen over at Journeys in Classic Film. Good luck!

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans [2009]

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans [2009]
Director: Werner Herzog
Genre: Crime/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

A common misconception is that Port of Call New Orleans is a remake of the Harvey Keitel-starring 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant. It is not; it just so happens that both movies revolve around a self-destructive police officer who exhibits truly appalling behavior. In fact, director Werner Herzog lobbied to have the movie’s name changed before its release, but was unsuccessful.

In Port of Call, Nicolas Cage stars as Det. Terence McDonagh, the degenerate cop in question. After suffering a severe back injury on duty, he becomes hooked on painkillers and pretty much any other drug he can find (heroin, crack, cocaine, etc.). McDonagh abuses his power to get what he wants by frequently bullying citizens and threatening them with jail time if they don’t help him feed his drug and/or gambling addictions. He is the essence of human scum, yet he is considered the best detective in New Orleans. It is this parable that makes it hard to feel attachment to this character, yet at the same time it is difficult to look away from his depravity.

This is Nic Cage at his finest. The man has been in a lot of crap movies these days, and his acting has been questionable to say the least. In Port of Call, he has free reign to go crazy and have this be acceptable. McDonagh is portrayed as a wild man, a reckless individual who Cage takes over the top throughout the entire movie. To say he is entertaining is an understatement; it’s just painfully difficult to like the guy.

Cage is aided by a solid supporting cast. Eva Mendes plays his prostitute girlfriend, Frankie, who shares a mutual love of drugs. Val Kilmer has a small (and subdued) role as his work partner. Xzibit plays a drug kingpin who is involved with some heinous crimes in the city. Tom Bower is McDonagh’s alcoholic father, and his background provides further insight as to how Terence became such a lowlife.

Port of Call New Orleans is a wild ride that knowingly indulges in excess, and thrives because of this. While I would hesitate to call this a *great* film due to occasional laughable dialogue, bizarre character behaviors and the difficulty to actually want to embrace any of these schmucks, I did enjoy the movie quite a bit. I would be remiss not to mention Peter Zeitlinger’s stunning cinematography; there are some truly gorgeous shots of New Orleans that really give the film a strong connection to the area. As an exercise in debauchery, Port of Call is certainly worth viewing. One question though: what the hell was up with Herzog’s reptile infatuations?