Reviews

The Werner Herzog Collection

5

Never a dull moment to be had. But plenty of insane ones.

These days, even your most hardened cinephile is eyeing their Blu-rays and thinking how streaming is more convenient. Ironic, then, that the time has come for this essential boxset. Werner Herzog has acquired a certain hipster cache in recent years, thanks both to advocacy on popular podcasts and an easily imitable demeanour. There’s way more to him than bleak pronouncements on the murderous horror of existence, though.

This outstanding set bundles seemingly everything the BFI has the rights to into one handy set, from early late ’60s shorts to most of his ’70s work, plus a handful of his major ’80s films. Given the sprawl of Herzog’s filmography, this collection of 18 films and three supplementary documentaries is a weighty package indeed.

Herzog’s most (in)famous films with half-madman/half-genius Klaus Kinski are present and correct (Apocalypse Now precursor inspiration Aguirre: Wrath Of God and boat-hauling epic Fitzcarraldo will both live forever), along with the underseen Nosferatu remake (surprisingly slick, given Herzog’s down-and-dirty rep) and Woyzeck, a ballad about a persecuted soldier that suffers only by comparison with Herzog’s other team-ups with the truculent actor.

If the Kinski films are the bedrock of Herzog’s reputation (and the source of some bonkers backstage footage, included here in Les Blank’s classic doc Burden of Dreams), there’s much else for the novice to get their teeth into. Indeed, one of the pleasures of Herzog is that he is so consistent in content and style, it’s not hard to get a handle on him.

Not one to sacrifice spontaneity for production value, the films have in common a slight scrappiness which you’ll either find charming or crude. Herzog is not a technician, and not exactly a dramatist either – but he’s a born filmmaker, and you’re never far off from an arresting image, or a startling idea given visual expression, or a uncanny juxtaposition between situation and soundtrack.

Most consistent of all, though, is the Herzogian worldview that his more recent documentaries have popularised. He’s a romantic in the proper sense, someone who’s drawn to the extreme, transcendent and crazed. And given how he likes to muse on humanity’s insignificance, it’s ironic how much zest and fascination he invests in the oddballs, impossible dreamers and up-against-it heroes of his movies.

Not once has he put his name to anything that hasn’t been worth watching; he’s one of the most inspirational figures in world cinema. Look, just buy this.

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