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« Some Rami to Love| Main| Doc Corner: 'House of Z' »
Sep 05 2017

Happy Birthday Herzog

byJason Adams

Film director Werner Herzog is marking three quarters of a century on this planet today - a planet that he has probably explored the weirdness hidden away at every single obscure corner of.We should cherish him while we have him,people - even if some of his more recent efforts have been iffier than most.Go see every damn one,reviews be damned.

Funnily enough last night I was readinga reviewof theTwin Peaksfinale (no spoilers here,don't worry!) that called that series mastermind David Lynch "American pop culture's answer to Werner Herzog,"and I got to thinking about these two directors in relation to each other.Besides Herzog and Lynch easily making my list of Top Five Greatest Living Film-makers I don't usually think about them in relation to each other,but it's not an invalid point.

So here,for Werner's birthday,let's latch him onto the zeitgeist's momentarily hottest art-house auteur,and list three similarities,with one glaring dissimilarity...

Similarity #1 - Little People

It's become morally suspect to link the vertiginously challenged to surrealism nowadays,and with good reason - I do wonder ifThe Wizard of Ozmight one daygo the way ofGone With the Windfor similar reasons?But there's no disputing that both Herzog & Lynch have exploited the uncanny sensation the diminutive instill in the not so.Lynch is of course referring back toOz,because well as a general rule Lynch is always referring back toOz.

Herzog's take,on the other hand,in the form of his 1970 surrealist masterpieceEven Dwarfs Started Small,reads as a much more complicated spin to me - the titular dwarfs are symbols inside an allegory,but they're also,in his humanist hands,people outside of the mainstream that he is entirely fascinated in,which would become the main thrust of his entire career.

Similarity #2 - Grace Zabriskie

Speaking of folks outside of the mainstream,both Herzog and Lynch seem to be the only folks willing to give one of our greatest living actresses roles worthy of her magnificent talents,and able to harnass the riveting electricity she emits on-screen.Her Sarah Palmer onTwin Peaks,both original and new flavors,has been a live-wire of bottomless grief and horror for the actress,and her small role inInland Empireis the sort you never forget.But my favorite performance of hers will probably always remain that of Michael Shannon's twitchy mother in Herzog's underratedMy Son My Son What Have Ye Done,a domestic nightmare made all the more nightmarish by Zabriskie's relentless and transfixing eccentricity.

Similarity #3 - Blond Maniac Breakdowns

All I want to see in this world before I die (well besides a rom-com starring Zabriskie and Udo Keir) is aFreddy vs Jasontype showdown between Klaus Kinski inFitzcarraldoand Laura Dern inInland Empire.An off-center request,to be sure,but now that I have offered it as a possibility (hey isn't this what CG was invented for) I dare you to unthink it.

Dissimilarity #1 - Women

There have been some dunderheaded think-pieces written about David Lynch's "woman problem"over the past several weeks thanks to one too many shrill wives showing up onTwin Peaks,but Lynch has mostly built his career upon his profound love for women and a fascination with pointing his camera at the actresses that play them.(Give me everything Dern has done in front of him or give me death.)

But Herzog,besides a couple of examples otherwise (one of which was our #2 above) has not shown a ton of interest in making movies about women - the main thrust of his career has been about the stereotypical male quest to dive dumbly into the world's hearts of darkness.Think of the uproar that's met the forthcoming reboot ofLord of the Fliesstarring women to get a sense of why his fascinations haven't really meshed with so-called "feminine"concerns.

HisQueen of the Desertwith Nicole Kidman in 2015 was seen as a stab at righting that imbalance,but then the most interesting performance in the movie (by Robert Pattinson as TE Lawrence) showed where Herzog's interests still lay despite the effort,and I left that movie wondering what a proper Herzog remake ofLawrence of Arabiamight've looked like.Alas.

Happy birthday,Werner!Here's to 75 more!

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Reader Comments (5)

Werner Herzog.Gets shot and takes it as if it was nothing.What is more badass than that?

September 5,2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

And "Fiztcarraldo"is amazing

September 5,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

@Jaragon-My favorite Herzog film.He had the balls to drag a steamship on top of a mountain without visual effects.

September 5,2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Excellent post.

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