Werner Herzog’s voice is the very first thing we hear as we step into the darkish house of the Eye Filmmuseum’s spectacular retrospective. Regardless of the director is definitely saying, he at all times sounds as if he’s saying an imminent disaster that none of us will survive. Herzog’s movies are stuffed with gloom and gravitas and so is that this present. However that’s not all there’s. ‘I shouldn’t make films any extra,’ Herzog says in his inimitable Bavarian-accented English within the first clip that greets us: ‘I ought to go to a lunatic asylum.’ The excerpt is taken from the documentary Burden of Desires (1982) and Herzog is chatting with digital camera. He’s sitting on a ship in the midst of the Peruvian jungle in the course of the shoot of Fitzcarraldo in 1979, an early function and amongst his most well-known, out of some 70 documentaries and options. The tone and topic of the scene could also be acquainted, however the present wherein it’s enjoying is not any mere homage. It’s a immediate to see Herzog’s film-making in a brand new gentle.
The exhibition is unfold out throughout a single huge room with just a few alcoves. In the principle house giant screens dangle down from the ceiling or are hooked up to the partitions and present a choice of fragments from movies together with Nosferatu (1979), Little Dieter Must Fly (1997), Grizzly Man (2005), Encounters on the Finish of the World (2007) and The Fireplace Inside (2022). Standing within the room, you may see all of the scenes enjoying concurrently, which is kind of one thing. Herzog’s movies are extraordinarily stunning, a facet of the director’s work that’s not at all times recognised as a result of his topics are so engrossing. The fabric will not be organised round a particular set of themes past the overarching title of the present; ‘Ecstatic reality’ is Herzog’s time period for the deeper verity that may be reached by cinema, however not through standard types of behaviour or investigation. There’s a chronological ingredient, however this comes within the type of archival materials in glass display-cabinets: objects from movie shoots, non-public images, correspondence, notebooks and – a gem – Herzog’s diary from the troubled shoot of Fitzcarraldo, which he printed as Conquest of the Ineffective in 2009. The unique pages are extraordinary as a result of though Herzog was writing to deal with the horrors of the shoot, he additionally wished to hide them from himself and so decreased his handwriting to microscopic measurement. When he picked up the pages years later, he wanted particular optician’s glasses to decipher what he had written, which we see him do in a comical second from Radical Dreamer (2022), a documentary made by Thomas von Steinaecker, which is now screening in one of many cinemas on the museum.
The focus of sound is especially notable right here. The Eye’s director of exhibitions Jaap Guldemond has labored with Steve McQueen on his video installations, and the expertise reveals. Guests can watch a fraction – on common every lasts between 15 and 25 minutes – with out being distracted by the observe from one other close by. This can be a welcome distinction to the standard auditory chaos of exhibitions about cinema, wherein the tracks from varied screens are inclined to bleed into one another. Right here the technical accuracy is spectacular, with sound ranges rigorously set and audio system positioned in such a approach as to make sure immersion in a single clip however to not the extent that one loses the attention of the broader Herzog universe throughout.
The Eye chosen the scenes in dialogue with Herzog however not beneath his path. It has additionally drawn from, however not replicated, the retrospective in 2022 on the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin, which can be the everlasting residence of the Werner Herzog Archive. The chosen materials works very nicely collectively, despite the fact that every extract is so completely different: we go from penguins waddling on ice to exploding volcanoes to Nicholas Cage with blood throughout his face. There may be a lot to take pleasure in, however there’s additionally loads to hassle us: take, for instance, the excruciating 13-minute sequence of an grownup dwarf forcing himself to chuckle uncontrollably within the function Even Dwarfs Began Small (1970).
Herzog, who will flip 81 in September, has at all times made movies about excessive behaviours and characters. He has achieved a heroic standing in cinema for making the close to inconceivable occur – and demonstrated loads of excessive behaviour himself. The exhibition actually conveys the folly, willpower and bravado that characterises each the person and his work. The excerpts from Fitzcarraldo actually seize this, by reminding us simply how outrageous the mission was, but in addition how typical its obvious insanity was of its maker. The plot of this movie, in any case, includes a European businessman who needs to construct an opera home within the Peruvian jungle and to take action orders a full-size ship to be hauled throughout a mountain. It’s a wild story acted by a wild man, Klaus Kinski. Fitzcarraldo could also be pure cinema, however the transportation of the big white boat within the movie was very actual, involving pulleys and trolleys and massive human effort and struggling.
Whereas Herzog’s movies have attracted nice admiration they’ve additionally provoked a whole lot of criticism and the present boldly addresses this in a strand known as ‘Controversies’. This consists of smaller screens displaying both speaking heads or related sections of the movies beneath scrutiny accompanied by quick wall texts discussing the issue at hand. The 5 costs towards Herzog may be summed up as follows: exploiting folks with disabilities, manipulating materials for dramatic impact, beautifying horrific acts or occasions, trying on the world by a colonial gaze and, lastly, the collaboration with Kinski; a mentally disturbed man who, some would say, ought to by no means have been put in entrance of a digital camera within the first place. The present presents and illustrates all these arguments in addition to their counter-arguments, however leaves us to achieve our personal verdicts. The result’s a genuinely troubling, invigorating expertise. In relation to a director like Werner Herzog, it appears completely acceptable to stroll away from this exhibition each awed and disturbed.
‘Werner Herzog – The Ecstatic Fact’ is on the Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, till 1 October.