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Cave of Forgotten Dreams

tn_caveofforgottenIt’s been a lackluster-verging-on-so-so movie summer. I kinda liked the X-MEN one, THOR was okay, SUPER 8 was pretty good, TRANSFORMERS was enjoyably awful. Definitely my favorite so far is FAST FIVE, and I love that movie but let’s face it, it’s no RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. We want to see adventure. We want to see thrills. We want to see ancient artifacts, that’s what summer movies is about. CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS is no RAIDERS either, but it’s a worthwhile 3D extravaganza about adventurers exploring the contents of a mysterious cave that went untouched by man for 32,000 years. It’s full of amazing visuals and ideas and raises alot of questions.

I guess I should mention it’s a G-rated documentary about cave paintings directed by that weirdo Werner Herzog. So alot of it is just the camera slowly panning back and forth across the same cave wall while squeaky violins and creepy chants lull you into a trance. In 3D!

mp_caveofforgottenAs much as I loved BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS and as many good things I’ve heard about them I haven’t rushed out to see Herzog’s previous documentaries. But this really is released in 3D and has been playing for weeks at the Regal multiplex downtown. I had to support that. I don’t know if it’s playing in your town or not but I was surprised that it was still playing here when I went to see TRANSFORMERS 3. I might have to see it again to restore my karmic balance.

The subject is a cave in France, discovered by three explorers in 1994. A landslide sealed the entrance and freakishly preserved the oldest known cave paintings in the world, a bunch of fresh-looking drawings of animals like horses, lions and fighting rhinos. The crazy thing is these are great drawings, elegant lines that beautifully capture their subjects. You gotta wonder – how did these cave painters get that good? Before the landslide was the area littered with practice drawings that have been lost to time? Or was this an ancient person (or persons) just born with an incredible artistic gift? And if so how long has this sort of thing been going on? Back in the neanderthal days were there hairy motherfuckers born with the artistic soul of a Michelangelo or a Beethoven or a Michael Jackson? And did they find some way to express it before they got disemboweled by saber-toothed tigers?

How rare or appreciated were these particular paintings back in their day? Was this cave more like a museum, or an abandoned building covered in graffiti? Did we get lucky and the cave that got preserved happened to be one of the best, or were there tons of them as good as this?

Herzog narrates in his weird Peter Lorre-ish voice. He explains the discovery of the cave, who’s allowed to go in and how they’re studying it. Archaeologists tell us what they believe happened in the cave, what the area was like at the time, demonstrate how we believe their hunting weapons worked. Standard historical stuff, but this is Herzog, so he also goes off on some weird notions and tangents. And you will too during all that slow panning across horses and lions as the soundtrack haunts you with its avant garde music, whispers and heartbeats.

For example I started wondering about why all the paintings just show animals. Wouldn’t it be great if we had first-hand testimony of what people looked like back then? Was it taboo to draw humans? Or maybe this/these artist(s) only liked to draw animals, like a girl that only draws Hello Kitty. There actually is one place in the cave that they say depicts a human, but nobody ever saw it until Herzog extended a camera out on a pole to where it could film it. I couldn’t make out the human, but Herzog compares it to some of those old wide-hipped fertility statues you see some time. And he compares it to a BAYWATCH body type, but I don’t see it. Those are some big ladies, and it makes me wonder: does that mean that’s humanity’s natural shape? Is that what we’re actually supposed to look like, but we’ve molded ourselves unnaturally to where smaller is considered healthier? Or is that just evolution, and therefore natural?

How were the ladies getting that big back then, anyway? How much success were the hunters having? I guess maybe there were animals crawling all over the place for this painter to use as reference, maybe it was Meat Lovers Pizza every day. On the other hand why did he bother to paint them if everybody was kicking them out of the way everywhere they went? It would make sense if they were kinda hard to find and that’s why he wanted to share what they looked like.

There’s also a part of the cave that’s just a bunch of dots made out of hand prints. It’s abstract art! So that kinda proves that it’s not just some bullshit made up in the last century, there is actually a long tradition of non-representative art. Like, real fuckin long.

That would be crazy if there was all these antelopes and lions and then in one spot they just got a picture of a bowl of fruit. Or a butt.

There’s more to the cave than just paintings, by the way. There are animal bones, bear scratches, a skull set up almost like an altar. There’s a whole history in there, shit going down over thousands of years. People and bears trading off living in the same cave. I hope the bears appreciated the art in there. There are all kinds of stalactites that formed long after the paintings were made, they look like dripped wax to me. Beautiful.

This would be good in regular D, but I thought it was a good use of the 3D technology. It shows you how the artists used the curves of the walls. Like James Cameron’s GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS, where 3D Imax put you inside a tiny submersible with Bill Paxton, this makes you feel the claustrophobia of cramming into a narrow space with a crew and a bunch of camera equipment. And most of all it just adds that extra sense of being there in this sacred spot to receive a message of expression from a dude 32,000 years ago. I guarantee you this is the most exposure this artist ever got. Appreciated more after his death, like Van Gogh or Brandon Lee.

It does point to some limitations of 3D, though. There’s one scene where they’re walking to the cave, shot with a handheld camera, and that gave me the ol’ Blair Witch motion sickness some people complain about. I don’t usually get that. I can only imagine what those CRANK dudes plan to put us through with their 3D GHOST RIDER sequel. Somebody’s gonna get a detached retina I bet.

I’m not one of these people (James Cameron, one or two others) who thinks everything will be or should be in 3D. But I hope people continue to use it for interesting things. Hell, I’d even say this is an example of using it for important things. This cave was an awe-inspiring discovery, and it’s already growing mold from the people and air getting in there. It won’t stay preserved forever. They’ve made laser measurements of it, I’m sure they’ve heavily photographed it, but bringing in 3D cameras is a good idea too. Shit, I’m down with smellovision. I want to know what it smells like in there. Unless it smells like cave bears.

If somebody finds an even older cave, or remnants of Atlantis, if they find Al Capone’s other more often used vault, or it turns out there’s a secret porn room in one of the pyramids, or if they land on Mars, I vote Herzog gets first dibs on 3D documentation. We owe it to future generations, and to prehistoric man.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 at 11:46 pm and is filed under Documentary, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

76 Responses to “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”

  1. Excellent. Agreed, and enjoyed. Saw this recently and been working on my own review, but as always, you make that redundant. I can’t outdo “Hello Kitty!”

  2. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    July 7th, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Porn room in the pyramids? Would give a new meaning to MILF.

  3. I´m a big fan of old pulp fiction about prehistoric civilizations and alien gods. And me likes Herzog too. Gotta watch this.

  4. Seeing CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS this weekend finally. Work almost screwed up my streak of seeing all recent Herzog on the big screen, but I’ve been given an extension on this one by a good old independent local art house.

    Vern, you’ve given us much to consider, and for the purpose of further studies I will be stealing many of your questions & musings to share with my movie date. If she laughs at any of it or is amazed at my wondrous insight into the origins of abstract art (“So it’s not just some bullshit they made up in the last century!”) , I’ll, uh, be sure to give you credit.

    I’ll probly avoid mentioning the Baywatch body type, though.

  5. I loved it and I also fell asleep. But it was a lovely nap that left me feeling refreshed and sanguine upon awakening. My sphincter was transcendentally unclenched. This is the curious and rejuvenating effect of the Herzog filmography.

  6. I saw this a few weeks ago after NPR had Werner Herzog, Cormac McCarthy, and Lawrence Krauss on a few months ago.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/04/08/135241869/connecting-science-and-art

    Seriously, it’s one of the very best things I have ever heard on the radio.

    I think hearing what they had to say about this cave and the film made me appreciate the film even more. It’s amazing that people were working on many of these paintings for thousands of years, especially considering most of us are in a country where a building that is 100 years old is considered ancient.

  7. What’s the 32,000 year old equivalent of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” here?  
    “Do Cavemen Dream of Crudely Finger-Painted Sheep?” doesn’t quite work if the drawings aren’t so crude after all.  

    I’m crowdsourcing this.  One of you Phillip Dick lovers can come up with something.  

    Also, I’m reminded of the poignant Banksy piece that Vern claimed was one of his favorites in the EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP review.  I don’t usually like to speculate on dream pairings in the art world or cinema world unless it’s kind of a joke (Verhoeven directing EXPENDABLES 3 — Make it happen!  And Vanessa Hudgens should star in everything!), but it would be badass if Herzog somehow got in touch with the Banksy Collective and they made something.  Just the press coverage on such a venture would be amazing.  

    Interviewer: “Who is Banksy?”
    Herzog: {provocatively baffling response that somehow raises way more questions than it answers, in awesome creepy voice}

  8. I can listen to Herzog speak for hours. And I have. I love it whenever he gets interviewed and the interviewer asks him a question about his filmmaking intentioins that he clearly thought a lot about and hoped would make Herzog respect his intellect and Herzog is just like, “No, I never think about such things” and then proceeds to detail a motivation that is infinitely deeper and yet more pragmatic than that liberal arts bullshit the interviewer was spewing.

    Vern, if you want to try some more of his “documentaries,” I highly, highly recommend LESSONS OF DARKNESS. I used the quotes because the whole movie is a big lie, but it uses documentary-style footage so I don’t know what else to call it. It was shot in Kuwait when the oil fires were still burning after GULF WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM BUSH. The footage (mostly shot from a helicopter) is gorgeous and eerie and epic, which fits Herzog’s typically creepy and hypnotic narration about a planet that had been completely set aflame by a massive world war. It’s got that typical Herzog lava lamp quality but instead of caves or windmills or whatever he’s shooting 100-foot tall plumes of flame. It really affected me in ways I can’t explain, which are often the only ways that count. Check it out.

  9. You granted Verhoeven his own definitive, uh, thing (The Verhoeven Line). Herzog deserves something similar to describe the uncharted awesomeness he occupies & evokes. It is no easy task to arrive at a proper label for this phenomenon, to capture his essence in one succinct phrase. I shall meditate on this.

  10. The Herzogovian Anomaly.

  11. I really want to see this film. Herzog, is at the very least always interesting, and at times profound and thought provoking. Mr. M, I want to check out LESSONS OF DARKNESS. Isn’t Herzog on record as saying that there is fiction in most of his documentaries, and that the literal truth is not as important as the emotional truth.

  12. He calls it the “ecstatic truth,” and yes, he has never made a documentary that doesn’t have a few outright lies in it. But LESSONS OF DARKNESS isn’t really a documentary because it never even attempts to be anything but fiction. It just uses real footage in service of a fake story. It’s one of his unclassifiable sci-fi essay films like THE WILD BLUE YONDER, starring Brad Dourif as an alien from a planet of losers who narrates about the improbability of space travel over vintage film of astronauts and underwater footage taken beneath a glacier (like in ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD) that is supposed to be Dourif’s home planet, which has a liquid atmosphere and a frozen sky. Since Dourif has been my favorite character actor since I was 12, I’m thrilled that he’s now seems to be the Dick Miller to Herzog’s Joe Dante.

  13. Herzog is one of my absolute favorites. No other filmmaker I know can move so amazingly from great documentaries and to great films and back again. Two of my favorite narrative films are FIZTCARRALDO and AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD, and two of my favorite documentaries are GRIZZLY MAN and LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY. All Herzog.
    Vern- I think you’d love LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY. It’s about a German who joins the U.S. airforce, is shot down over Vietnam, is tortured, and escapes the P.O.W. camp only to find himself having to survive the jungle. Like Rambo. (Sorry I just read FIRST BLOOD, and the reason Rambo wins the Congressional Medal of Honor is because he escapes a P.O.W. camp, is wounded, and must fight and survive through 650 miles of Vietnam jungle. Though it seems more like pure survival than honor to me). The man Dieter is a great character, but he does not win the CMOH. Herzog also made it into a narrative film with Christian Bale and Steve Zahn called RESCUE DAWN. It’s a good one, too.
    Majestyk-I’m not sure what parts of LESSONS OF DARKNESS are lies. Sure it’s not structured the same as a normal doc, but all of the footage is real. I’m sure the torture testimony is real, and there’s nothing more really said in the movie except in the V.O. by Herzog, which asks us to IMAGINE what alien lifeforms would think if they were to land on earth and find wreckage, torture victims, burning oilfields, and heavily outfitted men trying to put out said burning fields. They probably wouldn’t be booking holidays here is what he’s sayin.

  14. Herzog also deserves credit for being both intense enough to keep Kinski in line, and shrugged off getting shot by a .22 during an interview because it was “an insignificant bullet.” That is pretty bad-ass.

    So far this was my favorite movie of the summer, and certainly my personal favorite use of 3D to date. Not just because of some notion of importance, but because I felt like I really would have missed out if it had just been a normal documentary. The subject matter is interesting, but the immersion into the cave itself makes it fascinating.
    As odd as it sounds the last time I had this feeling of seeing something new on the screen was probably T2. I was just pulled in off the ground on this movie. My only minor complaint is that I wish there had been more shots like the cemetery open, or from the inside of the car; times when it was clear that Herzog was just kind of fucking around with what he could do in 3D.
    I may also be biased because I was raised by a geologist so I’ve spent more time in caves than most people, and even without the art that cave is pretty goddamn spectacular.

  15. Darth: I’m pretty convinced the testimonials were staged. It just seems like something he would do. And that endless ocean of oil? Just water. And sure, you could say that the narration could be the real thoughts of aliens observing what’s happening, but Herzog is not an alien (hard as that is to believe), which makes it fictional. I don’t think you can call it a documentary at all. It’s more like a real photograph with a misleading but paradoxically enlightening caption.

    marlow: He didn’t get shot with a .22. It was a pellet from an air rifle, not even a bullet. Still cool, but not the same thing as shaking off a gunshot wound.

  16. Jareth Cutestory

    July 7th, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I thought it was well-established among all the alien planets that Earth is “that obscure t-shirt-manufacturing planet.”

    Also, “mostly harmless.”

    I blame George W. Bush for ruining our benign intergalactic reputation.

  17. Majestyk-Thinking that Herzog stages completely fake interviews seems rather disingenuous. I’ve never heard of him doing it before. I need more proof than “it just seems like something he would do”. Also, I would sooner believe that the seas of oil were in fact oil when we see the black stuff spewing from the earth, than I would believe that it was gigantic pools of water in the desert-maybe it’s from the firehoses?
    I think that it is a truthful documentary, in the vein that you brought up–the “ecstatic truth”. He takes the real footage and asks you to step outside of your experience and asks you to specifically pretend that you are taking in all of these images on your first visit to earth. He is asking the viewer-what would you take away from this?

  18. Darth; You’re right, the thing about the testimonials is just speculation. I just find it hard to believe, since both testimonials are so neatly linked to the theme of speechlessness and are so conveniently Herzogovian. I have no doubt that there are kernels of truth in there, but I don’t buy the more fanciful aspects. They have his fingerprints all over them. He often tells his interview subjects what to say to give the film shape, like much of the backstory of THE WHITE DIAMOND or Dengler’s fear of enclosed places in LITTLE DIETER, both Herzog inventions. But I did read (I can’t find where now) that Herzog admitted that the pools of oil are really just water that looks black because of reflections on the surface. He does this stuff all the time. Even the quote from Pascal at the end of the movie was made up. Even if I’m wrong, I think trying to cling to any kind of literal truth in a Herzog film is missing the point. That’s for the accountants, as he would say.

  19. I do like documentaries. I’m a bit iffy on one in 3D but I will definitely give it a try.

    I also love how a review on a cave painting documentary leads into talk of aliens and t-shirts. How do you guys manage to get off topic so well? No, really I want to know.

  20. Darth, as I mentioned in my previous post Herzog has said in a number of interviews that he often “makes stuff up” to better suit or enhance the theme or narative of his documentries. The most recent interview I can think of where he discusses it is when he was on the Colbert Report promoting the CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS. I am sure you can find it on Hulu or comedycentral.com.

  21. Vern, I know this is kind of off topic, but it does have to do with another documentary about great artists. Are you planning on reviewing BEATS RHYMES & LIFE:THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST? I don’t know if you are as big a fan of the Tribe as I am, but it looks like a great documentary.

  22. I agree that this was one of the 3D films where you would have lost something if you viewed the movie in 2D. There are some other examples of well done 3D, like the stop motion film Coraline, Avatar, and Tron (even if the movie was mediocre at best). But despite how integral 3D feels to this film, I don’t think many other directors would have thought about making a documentary about cave paintings in three dimensions. Herzog is truly the mad genius of our times.

  23. I love what a sensoral experience the film is. The 3-D goes beyond merely depicting an image, probing the texture of the cave and the paintings in a way which is positively tangible. He goes on to focus deeply on the sound of the cave itself in that awesome slow-build scene which starts in complete natural silence. He even gets that weird cave-sniffer guy to talk about the scent! No taste, but I think Herzog deserves some credit for getting four of five senses involved as natually as he can.

  24. Nice review, I really enjoyed this doc and was glad I got to see it in 3D.

    Vern, you gotta dive deep into the Herzog pool, man. I would recommend first watching FITZCARRALDO, followed by BURDEN OF DREAMS (which is a making of doc about Fitzcarraldo, not directed by Herzog but still awesome), followed by MY BEST FIEND, KLAUS KINSKI. That’s a trifecta of awesome movie watching right there.

    One love.

  25. Chris, BURDEN OF DREAMS is a great doc, and it gives you a real insight into Herzog’s crazed determination to make the film. In some ways in reminds me of BLACK SWAN, both films are about artists that are committed to their art despite the physical or mental repercussions that come with that commitment, and both are about artists that end up living the story they set out to tell.

  26. Ah, shit, a pellet isn’t as cool. Oh well. Did they ever find out who did it, or is some guy out there who is unaware that shooting Werner Herzog was the most significant thing he’ll ever do?

  27. This bored me but the narration made me laugh because Herzog is so intense and German!

  28. I guess I’m in the minority here, but while I absolutely loved the use of 3D in CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, it’s actually because I thought 3D made the cave look less real, not more real.

    I mean, I don’t know about you guys, but to my eyes movie 3D looks incredibly artificial. Normal 2D movies already show us, like, depth and stuff, even though it’s a “flat” imagine it presents a reasonable illusion of depth. 3D, to me, creates a weird, eye popping, patently unrealistic depth; one that splits the image into distinct visual planes despite, for instance, being able to keep all those planes in focus if it so chooses.

    I agree that the 3D in this film added a tactile quality, but it was that strange, trippy tactile quality that to me feels unreal, or maybe hyper-real. Which I thought was awesome, it added an extra layer of Herzogian otherwordliness to the whole film. I guess I’m just a little surprised that some folks seem to think it adds some sense of realism or weight or physical presence, when I kinda see just the opposite.

  29. Very interesting guys. I actually like the idea of physically forming the documentary that exists in your mind. What is reality and all that hooey. We have entered Alice’s looking glass.
    That being said, this review offers many more kernals for me to think about than does the TF3 review. I suppose that’s just a reflection of the source material. Great job Vern.

  30. Charles – I definitely plan to see it. There’s a poster for it up at one of the multiplexes, but I haven’t been able to find a date. It opens tomorrow in NY and LA, but not here.

  31. Vern, I figured it would be something you would be into. I don’t know if there is a release date for Austin yet either. I think it has taken a long time to get released because at one point not all of the members of Tribe endorsed the final cut of the film. I think Q-Tip was the one that was really against it (however, I could be wrong), but Rapaport worked with all of them to put together a cut they all support and endosre so it is finaly getting released.

  32. Dan Prestwich- I thought the 3D was particularly well-suited to this movie because it showed that the contours of the rock the stuff had been painted on seemed to actually have been taken into account by the artist. The way a particular bulge of rock would be used to accentuate a bison’s shoulder or something, for example, made the apparent sophistication of the painter all the more mind-blowing. Dunno if that would’ve been quite as easy to appreciate in 2D.

    Vern- with regard to the figure of the woman that was supposedly on the other side of that rock (I couldn’t really see what he was talking about either), I think it’s more that ancient humans idealized the large figure to the point of worship because it symbolized either pregnancy and the growth of their community, or a general idea of robust health in that the depicted woman clearly wasn’t in danger of starving to death. Although it’s funny to think of a bunch of plus-size cavemen lumbering around. Maybe Eddie Murphy can bang out a QUEST FOR FIRE 2 along those lines.

  33. Aside from BAD LIEUTENANT, I’d stick largely clear of Herzog’s feature films. That’ll wind up a few people. But please check out so many of his great documentaries… ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, WHITE DIAMOND, GRIZZLY MAN. And my favourite of all, MY BEST FIEND, which charts Herzog’s relationship/nightmare with Klaus Kinski. Kinski can do his googly-eyed shtick in FITZCARRALDO, AGUIRRE and ANDROID but it’s good to see the guy truly throwing a wobbly in real-life. Herzog’s languid style suits documentaries so much better than movies.

  34. Charles– you’re an Austinite, huh? Big fan of the Alamo Drafthouse I’d imagine.

  35. Jareth Cutestory

    July 7th, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    My experience has been much like yours, Dan – everything I’ve seen in 3D looks like a Viewmaster. I make a point of seeing films in 2D now.

  36. Darth, Yes I do live in Austin, but I grew up in Seattle so I kind of consider both my home. I love the Alamo Draft House, it the best place to see a movie. They don’t tolerate talking or texting during movies, and serve good food and booze. They also do a lot of great screenings and events. Since they take the movie going experience so seriously they attract good audiences to see a flick with.

  37. Murder: I do prefer Herzog’s documentaries to his features because I prefer the man straight, no chaser. But are you honestly saying that Vern is better off not forming his own opinion about films as significant as AGUIRRE and FITZCARALDO? That’s just crazy talk. He might not like them, but you can’t honestly say they’re not worth watching. I mean, the monkeys alone…

  38. AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD has one of the best decapitation scenes ever. (This is scientific fact, though it may seem that my posting such a sentence is merely a ploy to convince Vern to review AGUIRRE. Very well.)

    The words for the essence of the experience of Herzog & his cinema still elude me, and probably rightly so, as such a venture to reductive semantics should always be doomed to fulfill only the purpose of self-defeat, of failure, of realization of a necessary period of self-mockery for ever thinking it was possible or worthwhile in the first place.

    That being said. . . WERNER HERZOGOVINA (n.) —

    1. [occurs when / the place where] one is implacably elevated to an understanding of an inarticulable specific objective truth while also experiencing a semi-conscious perpetual descent toward a newly imperfect sense or perversion of a universal truth

    2. presentation of a perfectly understood anomaly

    3. the past, present, and future of post-postmodernism in cinema

  39. Dammit, when is this coming to Vancouver? I’ve been waiting for this since before Cannes.

    A few random RE:s from a huge Herzog groupie…

    My favorite bit of unreliable narration from LESSONS OF DARKNESS is when the firefighters re-ignite one of the oil fires, and Herzog ponders “has life without fire become unbearable for them?” There is a practical explanation for why they were doing this that I simply forget, but I just love that he could care less about that and has his own bizarre interpretation.

    Was watching the RESCUE DAWN commentary the other night and one of the things he said really drives home why he blends narrative into his documentaries and vice versa: “a filmmaker is not an accountant of the facts” (paraphrased). Like Majestyk noted, he’s more concerned with the “ecstatic truth”, which I interpret to be a sort of quasi-poetic distillation of the material into something more profound, or artistically transcendent, or whatever. I heard he included some totally unrelated footage of albino alligators in CAVES and made some totally false point with the footage but I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t really comment on that. The image is paramount to Herzog, he’s all about capturing new images and smashing tired old cliched images to smithereens.

    Many of my favorite Herzog films have been mentioned already, but I thought I’d recommend a few more that haven’t come up. On the documentary side: LA SOUFRIERE, in which Herzog visits an evacuated Guadalupe as the local volcano is set to explode. He interviews the handful of people who decided to stay, scales the mountainside despite toxic gases, etc. He considered it a failure because the volcano didn’t blow. THE GREAT ECSTASY OF WOODCARVER STEINER is about ski-jumper Walter Steiner, who set some serious Ubermensch records in his sport despite coming in as an underdog. Features some pretty uncanny ultra-slo-mo shots of ski-jumpers hurtling through the air set to weird ambient Popol Vuh music. WOODABE: HERDSMEN OF THE SUN is about a tribe in Africa who think they are the world’s most beautiful people. Among their beauty rituals: using battery acid from a fallen airplane as makeup. On the narrative side: STROSZEK, a masterpiece about the failure of the American dream. NOSFERATU, Herzog’s homage to Murnau. And THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER, about, well, the enigma of Kaspar Hauser. First priority, however, should be the one-two punch of AGUIRRE and FITZCARRALDO.

    That said I have seen almost all of Herzog’s films (I think I have about five or six left to go, not counting a couple that are either completely unavailable or missing English subs, usually German TV) and I don’t think I’ve ever actively disliked anything he’s done. I’m not too crazy about some of his “point the camera at an interesting public speaker(s)” films like HUEY’S SERMON or JAG MANDIR, but even these films have interesting, thought-provoking moments. Herzog will go down as one of the most prolific, intriguing filmmakers in history in my opinion. I’m glad he’s having something of a late career revival, even finding more popularity than he had in his heyday.

  40. Jareth Cutestory

    July 8th, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Nice to see you posting again, Gwai Lo. I was beginning to worry that the next time I’d see you would be bound and gagged in a Tub Girl video.

  41. Thanks Jareth. I’ve been around and reading Vern’s reviews and the comment threads, just trying to limit my time spent posting on the internet in an effort to maximize my time spent screenwriting. I’ll always pop in for a Herzog thread though. :)

  42. Please do, Gwai Lo! You were one of those people I remember really elevating the comments on this site.

    I agree with you about Herzog. I think he’s brilliant and is easily one of the best and most important directors alive and active today.

    I think this discussion about Herzog’s documentaries and how he intentionally favors a good story over reality interesting. Thinking about art, music, novels, poetry, and other forms of artistic expression it seems to me that they all misrepresent history to tell a good story and no one is too bothered by it. Why is Herzog expected to do otherwise?

  43. Casey — you bring up an interesting point, because are their truly any works of art that can claim 100% fidelity to history? Take someone like Paul Greengrass (who I like, don’t get me wrong, despite whatever unpopularity his camera shaking antics may have earned him among the action fans here). A film like UNITED 93 attempts to present itself with raw verisimilitude, like a document of the facts. But we have no way of knowing how close it gets to what really went down, even though it has this veneer of authenticity due to Greengrass’ naturalistic style. That’s an example of a narrative film– documentaries usually try to assume this stance of “nothing but the facts” by design. But since films are always a constructed product, and the filmmaker is able to selectively put together a subjective viewpoint, even when using “nothing but the facts” as their raw materials…

    If anything, Herzog’s approach is more honest, because he’s coming at it from a place that blurs fiction into fact and makes no bones about it. Although he makes stuff up to serve his artistic needs I wouldn’t say he’s dishonest… it might be more dishonest to attempt a truthful account of history/facts in cases where such a thing is impossible. I recall a quote from him from somewhere that I probably won’t accurately relay here– “I am a filmmaker, why would you trust me?” It’s like that old adage about the American West. When the legend is more interesting than the truth, print the legend.

  44. Psychic Hits,

    Yeah, that’s the argument I keep hearing, but I’m not sure if I agree. Although 2D may be a “flat” imagine, I think it still does a fine job of portraying depth, curvature, etc. And there are plenty of 2D filming techniques that can accentuate these things as well. Although, granted that Herzog and company wouldn’t have been to, say, do a handheld close up of the rock and movie the camera around the curves considering the restrictions they had set on them. So maybe 3D was the easiest way to do that.

    Honestly, though, I really like the otherworldly look the 3D gives the movie (I kinda feel like Herzog is all about making the real look unreal), so I’m not complaining.

  45. FWIW, from:

    http://www.archaeology.org/1103/features/werner_herzog_chauvet_cave_forgotten_dreams.html

    ARCHAEOLOGY: Why did you choose to film in 3-D?

    HERZOG: 3-D was imperative because I initially thought there were flat walls and paintings in the cave. But there are no flat areas. The drama of the bulges and niches was actually used by the artists. They did it with phenomenal skill, with great artistic skill, and there was something expressive about it, a drama of rock transformed and utilized, in the drama of paintings. This is why it was imperative to shoot in 3-D.

    **

    However, I choose to believe Herzog shot in 3D because James Cameron will be giving him 200 million dollars for the project of his choosing soon, and wanted to allow him a test run with 3D cameras.

  46. To Herzog’s credit, he’s pretty upfront in interviews about adding a lot of bullshit to his documentaries. I don’t think there’s anything ethically wrong with what he does, the only problem is that not all audiences are as familiar with Herzog as we are. I know to take his documentaries with a grain of salt, to appreciate them for what they are trying to do and not look at them as reliable resources for facts. Other folks, however, might not get that, so there is the minor concern that his films can spread misinformation. It’s not a major concern because, even though some of his documentaries have reached something of a popular audience, it’s not exactly like they’ve reached Michael Moore levels of media saturation. Still, I guess I wish he’d do a little more in his docs to signal to the audience that they maybe shouldn’t be treating the films as an educational experience.

  47. Jareth Cutestory

    July 8th, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Just keep the 3D out of the hands of the horsefuckers, please. And Tub Girl.

  48. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 8th, 2011 at 9:19 am

    I have not seen this (and the chances that it will play theatrically in my area are slim) so I can’t really chime in on this except to say that I really DO want to see this.

    Any thoughts on INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS? I thought it was clever and pretty damn hysterical. The scene where Zack Penn was facing Herzog down with a flare gun (Spoiler) had me rolling.

  49. Love INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS. Wasn’t too hot on THE GRAND, but LOCH NESS is almost the perfect mockumentary to place Herzog in the middle of. Of course he would hunt the Loch Ness monster. It’s kind of odd… of all the working screenwriters/filmmakers in Hollywood, Herzog befriends Zak Penn, who is mostly known for writing superhero flicks and LAST ACTION HERO. It’s an unlikely pairing. Harmony Korine and Crispin Glover make way more sense as apprentices, since they’re both total weirdos.

    Dan — yeah, Michael Moore is a good point of comparison, since he is also well known for stretching the truth, or at least ignoring any opposing viewpoints to his own. But as far as I know, he doesn’t openly admit the extent of his subjectivity… which is key, since he likes to examine subjects (politics, etc.) where accuracy is paramount.

    Jareth, now that you’ve brought it up, I may not be able to abide by a world where Tub Girl and Equinophiliacs are confined to only two dimensions…

  50. INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS was actually my first exposure to Herzog. He was really good in it. He was funny and authoritative and sincere and badass. He made the movie work because he was completely natural and believable as a man of honor put in a compromising position who then had to deal with real danger. I would totally watch an action-adventure movie starring him.

    Correction: I would punch a pregnant woman in the face to watch an action-adventure movie starring him.

  51. Now I’m picturing Herzog delivering the whole “I will find you and kill you” speech from TAKEN. I’m also crying a little.

  52. Also kudos to Penn for playing the role of the creatively bankrupt Hollywood schmuck to perfection, while proving simultaneously with the movie we’re watching that he is anything but.

    “Zak, why exactly am I wearing a g-string bikini?
    “Because you are a model and you’re a sonar operator. “

  53. Is it too late to CG Herzog into CAPTAIN AMERICA as the Red Skull?

  54. INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS was also where I first heard of Herzog

    my mom rented it because she thought it was real and we promptly turned it off when we realized it was a joke, sorry guys, but that was not a very good movie at all

    of course there was a deleted scene where the Native American woman took her bikini top off, so that was nice

  55. Griff — its a great movie once you realize it’s actually a comedy. I think. For whatever weird reason AICN put up a series of posts claiming that it was real and that people had actually died making it, and strenuously argued with anyone who suggested otherwise. I guess they were trying to have some fun with the mockumentary concept but I think they hurt it more than they helped, since going in believing it’s real will only lead to frustration and confusion. But, they did make me curious enough to see it so maybe that was the point. It’s vastly funnier if you know Herzog’s work enough to see how completely perfect he is for that role (in fact, thats pretty much the movie’s only joke so without that its just a completely confusing experience, I’d imagine).

  56. My first exposure to Herzog was Fitzcarraldo. I remember being 8 years old and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen played constantly on AFRTS and I would constantly watch it as only a little can. The Exchange had a little VHS rental spot and I saw the cover to Fitzcarraldo and thought it looked like something from Munchausen and I had to rent it.

    I didn’t realize it was Herzog until 5 or 6 years ago when I saw it again as an adult. My first Herzog movie where I knew who it was and could appreciate it was Nosferatu which I think is still one of his best.

    He’s one of those few directors where I am excited for whatever it is he does no matter what.

    After hearing him and Cormac McCarthy on NPR I would love to see him do Suttree or Outer Dark.

  57. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 8th, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Griff,
    Are you in the habit of watching deleted scenes on movies that you couldn’t even make it through the ACTUAL movie for?

    I’m not judging, just asking.

    Actually, I am very fond of listening to commentary tracks on god-awful movies. “I’m sorry, I’ve got to see what these inept motherfuckers have to say for themselves about this dreck.”

    Boll commentaries are the best.

    Sorry you didn’t dig the movie. Do you think it was because of expectations about what it was/wasn’t going in?

    I understand. Even though I like water and I like Sprite, if I pick of a water thinking it is Sprite (or vice versa) it is automatically going to cause a near-spit take because it was not what I was expecting.

    You ought to give it another shot from the beginning now that you know what’s what with it. It is a really fun and clever mockumentary.

  58. Even though I listened to that NPR interview I never thought about connecting Herzog with McCarthy. I have to say it’s an intriguing proposal. When I read SUTTREE I pictured Michael Shannon as the titular character, and Herzog has worked with him twice now (BL: POCNO and MY SON MY SON WHAT HAVE YE DONE). If something like that happened it would be perfect.

    The Coens really nailed McCarthy with NO COUNTRY though. I’d love to see them do more of his work. I’d love to adapt Part I of THE CROSSING myself some day. Just the section with the wolf. I think that would make an amazing movie. Isn’t James Franco doing BLOOD MERIDIAN or something? And by doing, I mean writing/directing? I think I remember hearing that he shot some test footage for it and has been lobbying for the job. I can’t say I’m not nervous… a towering masterpiece like BLOOD MERIDIAN really needs a visionary at the helm.

  59. I had heard Franco was trying to do it as well, Mr Lo. This was during the two or three weeks where James Franco was in the news for everything, though. I have nothing against him but I can’t imagine him doing a good Blood Meridian. I can’t really imagine anyone doing a good Blood Meridian, though, so I guess he’s no worse than most other people.

    At best I imagine a Blood Meridian movie to be like The Road movie. It will work well as a companion to the book but I don’t think it will work well as a movie. The book is too attached to how it is told to be adapted. Even still, I would like to see what someone could do with the material if they worked to make it their own and do something interesting with it.

    Mr Grinning Chris, Boll commentaries are awesome. I may be the one person in the world who manages to enjoy the experience of watching his movies but his commentaries are even better.

  60. I don’t see how BLOOD MERIDIAN could be made without a huge budget and no rating. Maybe animated in a style that hasn’t been invented yet. Of course, if I had read a novel of say, HOLY MOUNTAIN I might have told you the same thing.

  61. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 8th, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Oh Casey, I love watching Boll movies too. I have seen all of them that have had wide theatrical releases in the theater and own several on DVD just for the sheer “this is so insanely awful, I need to have this around to show people” aspect. And yes, the commentaries make them even better, especially when he starts hyping himself up and showing that he truly believes his movies are great and then downing far better films and filmmakers in the process. Making excuses for gaping continuity errors blah blah blah… Classic.

  62. I think between THE ROAD and THE PROPOSITION, John Hillcoat has written his resume for BLOOD MERIDIAN. He could probably pull it off. But you’re right Casey… some of McCarthy’s novels, like NO COUNTRY or the first part of THE CROSSING, are written in a relatively straightforward, plot-centric style that translates easily to the screen. Others, like BLOOD MERIDIAN or SUTTREE, are brilliant books because of their prose, but don’t have readily adaptable movie plots in the text. A good writer/director could bring the cinematic aspects to the forefront, but it would be no easy feat.

  63. I have 9 mutual friends with Uwe Boll on Facebook. I don’t know if I’m doing something right, or doing something horribly, horribly wrong.

  64. I totally agree, Gwai Lo. I like The Road and think The Proposition is one of the best films of the decade. I think The Road (film) had a lot of strengths but does not come close to the power of the novel. I don’t think anyone could make a movie that could succeed in that. When I say it made for a good companion piece I mean that in the best way. I just can’t imagine someone appreciating the movie without having read the book first.

    I very much agree that No Country made for a fantastic movie. Wasn’t it originally designed as a screen play and then made into a book? I think I remember reading something to that effect.

    I almost think Malick could do a good Blood Meridian. If he managed to shoot the horrors of the book in a very matter of a fact way while having narration on top I could see it working. Still, I would be more apprehensive than excited for an adaptation of it from anyone.

    I do think Suttree could be adapted and that Herzog’s sense of humor would work well in it. It would have to be adapted and he would have to excise a definite story out of it but I think he could.

  65. Grim Grinning Chris

    July 8th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I have one common friend on facebook with Christine McGlade (Moose) from YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON TELEVISION. Heh. I need to add Boll.
    Does he post much?

  66. Malick can do whatever he damn well pleases with McCarthy. That would be a hell of a match-up. See, I think that the only way to really evoke the beautiful prose of a writer like McCarthy– prose that doesn’t really find its way into a plot– is to make the cinematography gorgeous enough to be an equivalent to the prose. But it’s not a direct translation, great minds would have to sit down and figure out how to translate the prose into visuals. Malick and magic hour sensibilities are exactly what’s required.

    I’m not actually friends with Boll on Facebook, I just have a bunch of mutual friends (film industry folks) with him so he always pops up in my “People You May Know” area.

  67. only Vern would have back to back reviews of a Michael Bay film and a Werner Herzog film, I love this place…

    anyway Uwe Boll to me makes the kind of movies that are entertaining for about 15 minutes, but then become so irritating that you have to turn them off

    there’s a difference between movies like Troll 2 and The Room which have a certain insanity to them that make them entertaining and Uwe Boll’s movie which are just downright shoddily made and piss you off

    I actually watched a little bit of Far Cry on tv while on vacation and I did find it hilarious that he changed the tropical island setting of the video game to Canada, because God forbid Boll shoot a movie outside of Canada

  68. Gwai Lo – real quick comment regarding “truth” and the documentary. The idea that a single documentary can wholly represent the Truth of the world has largely been dismissed in the past couple of decades. It is impossible to represent the world without also bending it in some manner. Documentaries, like all films, create a lens through which we can see the world. I would go even farther and say that even individual subjects do not have direct access to objective Truth. Everything we see and read are always filtered through whatever prism of media we are surrounded by. Perhaps some documentaries are closer to a truth than others, but pure objectivity is a myth.

    With regards to Moore and Herzog, I actually think that their documentaries share much more than you might suspect. Moore’s politics often take center stage, but I think he did some radical stuff with the form of the documentary by infusing it with some of the New Journalist techniques of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolf. He personally narrates the film and puts himself in front of the camera, allowing the viewer to see that he is in complete control of what the viewer sees. The same can be said of Herzog who casts and indelible print on all of his documentaries. The form of both of their films admit that they are representing the world from a particular point of view. As far as Moore playing loose with the facts goes, those claims are largely overstated. He even posts sources for all of his facts online. I would argue that he’s much more accurate than your nightly news, and light years beyond cable television. I’m reminded of the time that CNN’s Sanjay Gupta attempted to “fact check” Moore’s film Sicko, and Gupta ended up having to post a retraction: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/07/10/355968/-Michael-Moore-Debunks-Sanjay-Gupta

    I would argue that Ken Burns and the myriad number of documentaries like his are probably the biggest perpetrators of pretending like they’re presenting “objectivity.” I don’t hate Ken Burns, but the authoritative voice and the reverent use of old photographs attempt to establish a kind of trust that no documentary should possess.

  69. Herzog – ON THE ABOSLUTE, THE SUBLIME, AND ECSTATIC TRUTH. http://www.wernerherzog.com/52.html

    Almost impossible to read without hearing it in Herzog’s voice.

  70. Hearing Werner Herzog’s voice whenever you read anything sounds like it should probably be a requirement actually. They should have him do audiobooks. It may make people actually get back into fucking literature again even if they won’t be reading. OK maybe not but seriously that shit would make hack bullshit like THE ALCHEMIST & THE DA VINCI CODE something actually worth revisitng if you ask me. Will increase their worth dramatically cause of that distinction. Hmmm now I’m thinking of re-reading WHITE JAZZ just to read it with Herzog’s voice regardless of who’s speaking at the moment.

  71. Thanks for this review, Vern. I didn’t know that this finally made it to theaters in this country, so your mentioning it means I will go see it tomorrow instead of completely missing it…

    BTW, Brodie, Herzog recently did a reading of a children’s book:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3xFZ0A15Bg

  72. RBatty — good points all around. Re: Michael Moore.. I do agree that he doesn’t really play as loose with the facts as his detractors would have us believe, my take on him is more in line with what you’re talking about, that he is simply very selective about how he crafts his arguments. The example that comes to mind is always the “Canadians don’t lock their doors” scene from BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. If I didn’t lock the door to my apartment I’d probably be robbed by crackheads within the hour. Otherwise I am totally on board with what you’re saying, as I don’t think Ken Burns style documentarians have any more claim to “the truth” than subjectivists like Moore and Herzog. I think Herzog’s “ecstatic truth” philosophy is intriguing, that one can be manipulative if the end result somehow captures something intangible about a subject that the textbook facts would not be able to convey.

  73. Gwai Lo – I think you bring up a good point earlier about the different purpose of a Moore film and a Herzog film. Moore is playing in politics, which makes it difficult for him to raise questions of truth and subjectivity, even if it is somewhat imbedded in his films. Herzog, however, has not such restraint. He can go on about different kinds of truths all he wants, and people are willing to accept it.

  74. This Herzog doc being the best 3D movie of 2011 (based on my limited judgment since I missed the Justin Bieber 3D thing, sadly), I believe I’ve just seen the 2nd best 3D movie of 2011. (SEX & ZEN 3D is a close 3rd.)

    It’s called RA ONE, a Hindi film that is like a kiddie version of TERMINATOR 2 with a dash of TRON and one of those awful Jackie Chan family comedies. It makes use of the Bollywood conventions of a 170 minute runtime and well-produced song & dance breaks, because, damn it, the Indian people are going to get their money’s worth when they get a movie ticket.

    There’s a lot of crazy shit going on in this movie, only half of it good & entertaining, the other half horrible & stupid & entertaining. I’m rarely good at summarizing stuff unless I’m being paid to do so, so here’s Andrew O’Hehir’s review & recko:
    http://www.salon.com/2011/10/28/pick_of_the_week_bollywoods_blissful_idiotic_ra_one/

    And all I’ll add is that all the sexy ladies in RA ONE probably weigh 10-15 pounds more than the sexy ladies we’re used to seeing in American films, so I figure Vern might appreciate it.

  75. So can anyone explain the albino alligator epilogue in this film?

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