Friday, August 25, 2017

JRO's #71: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Herzog, 1972)

Starring: Klaus Kinski, Ruy Guerra, Helena Rojo
Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog
Release Date: 29 December 1972 (West Germany)

IMDB Synopsis: In the 16th century, the ruthless and insane Don Lope de Aguirre leads a Spanish expedition in search of El Dorado.


First Time
I'm pretty sure that it was around 1999. I can't remember if I watched this on my own first or as part of the Art & History of Film class that I took. I definitely watched it for the class. I just don't know if I had seen it before then. Houghton College, a small Christian liberal arts school, had a surprisingly great film collection at its library. I watched many, many things for the first time while there. I also watched a ton of X-Files.

Why it's on the List
I'm beginning to doubt my list. I hadn't seen this film since maybe 2007. It held up then. But why haven't I re-watched it since? Why did it take me so long to re-watch this one in the past month or so? I kept putting it off. I didn't want to watch it. Why not? Part of it is that it's a demanding film. It is an immersive film. My viewing habits at home have become poor, fractured. I think that maybe I was afraid to set aside the time to be demanded, to be immersed.

I wrote the above a few weeks ago. Here's some more from today:

I couldn't sleep last night. For some reason, I thought that this was a perfect time to catch up on this 100 project. From 3ish to 5ish, I watched Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, a movie I've been putting off watching for over a month now.


I think it's leaving the 100.

I no longer love the film. It feels hollow, empty. It doesn't bring me joy any longer, so the mystical little Asian lady who folds her clothes funny and talks to her belongings tells me to tidy up my soul by getting rid of it.

The cinematography remains gorgeous and the blocking is always perfect. Herzog is a minor deity of directors; every Hollywood superhero film director should be forced to watch Herzog's entire filmography before they are allowed to start any work. The use of sound is spot-on. The paving and editing is perfect.

It's the narrative itself that no longer connects to me.

I've been contemplating lately the fact that I am specificially interested in masculinity and male identity in the films I love. Entertainment, which I wrote about on the other blog, is about more than this but definitely not less than this. Breaking Bad, which I have been re-watching sporadically the past few months (I'm currently near the end of Season 4) is about as muscularly masculine as these things get.

Klaus Kinski is magnetic, wonderful to look at, but his Aguirre is one note. The character lusts for fame and power. That's it. Whatever it takes. It becomes Aguirre versus humanity, Aguirre versus nature, Aguirre versus God. But Herzog never gives us an "in" to relate to Aguirre. Aguirre is presented as obviously unhinged, selfish, and blindly self-destructive. His is such a distorted manhood (pretending to godhood) that there is no fall, no struggle, only a steady demonic presence.

I don't know. I'm still grateful to this film for what it taught me about cinema the first time I watched it (and each subsequent re-watch). It was one of the earliest films that taught me patience, that trained me to pay proper attention to rhythm (editing) and the importance of the camera, its movement and meaning. I had been a budding cinephile all of my life. Herzog taught me to reckon with film as an artificial construct, each film the work of a team of skilled artificers. My biggest and most potent early dose of auteur theory was simply being exposed to Herzog.

Additional Notes/Stats

Nothing. Nada. Finito.