WERNER HERZOG: EARLY SHORTS AND DOCUMENTARIES Rating: NNNN
If you've come to the great Herzog via his recent films like Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn, you're in for a treat. The Goethe-Institut and the Stephen Bulger Gallery offer a rare chance to view the German master's early shorts and documentaries in a theatre setting.
While most of the films are available in the director's six-disc DVD set, you definitely need to see them on a big screen. That's especially true of a film like Lessons Of Darkness (screens October 10), his look at the post-Gulf War raging oil well fires in Kuwait.
Narrated with prophet-like seriousness by Herzog himself, the film looks like a sci-fi horror movie set in some post-apocalyptic world - think Mordor from Lord Of The Rings. The bombed out landscape looks unrecognizable. Is this the moon? Another planet? Herzog and his cameraman make collapsed oil refineries look like canvas bags and construction equipment look like dinosaurs.
His human subjects offer few words. In fact, muteness is a theme in the film. Herzog lets his disturbing images speak for themselves, and it's all underscored by music by Wagner, Mahler, Part and others. While watching this, it's hard not to think how Iraq is being similarly annihilated.
One of the director's big themes is man taking on nature, explored in The Great Ecstasy Of Woodcarver Steiner and The Dark Glow Of The Mountains (both October 9). In the former, Herzog looks at Swiss woodcutter/ski-jumper Walter Steiner, and in the latter he chronicles Reinhold Messner's trek up two of the world's highest mountains.
Are these men brave or stupid? Are the films psychological studies or portraits in survival? Herzog lets us make up our own minds, and allows his subjects to maintain their dignity and mystery even in the face of adversity.
Screens October 8 to 10 at the Camera.