I have to admit that I have been putting off watching Aguirre, Wrath of God. I had only watched Herzog’s documentaries and enjoyed them, but was slightly nervous about watching this from its legendary, should I say notorious, status. I had heard a lot about this film and Fitzcarraldo, especially concerning the volatile relationship between Herzog and Klaus Kinski. I had also heard about the influence it had had on Apocalypse Now in 1979, which didn’t help as I’m not a huge fan of that film, with its bloated storytelling and self-indulgence, so I started watching with trepidation.
As soon as I did, aided by a very old DVD that immediately started the film, I felt plunged in to the incredible landscapes, actually feel slightly anxious for the actors involved, especially watching them come down the rapids on rafts in full armour or carrying a sedan chair through mud. Herzog seems to like making his actors and crew work for their money, almost as if the suffering won’t be genuine if they aren’t experiencing it. I’m not convinced and this kind of realism debate reminds me of the filming of Marathon Man when Dustin Hoffman was jogging around to appear tired and Laurence Olivier suggested he ‘try acting, dear boy’. Although it does clearly works for this film and I’m not surprised that Cecilia Rivera, the actress playing Aguirre’s daughter, never made a film again!
This style mirrors this physicality of production and some shots have water flying in to the lens or obscuring the shot. These are contrasted with very static shots when focusing on the human story or the controlled spiraling around the boat towards the end. Kinski is also frenetic. He never seems to stand upright, but is constantly leaning over or tilted. It reminds me of Olivier’s Richard III, not sure why he is in my mind so much this week… Kinski is also always so close to the other actors. His face is strangely hypnotic, a constantly invading presence.
The story line is actually a very easy diary format, this simple narrative thread allows an episodic structure and gives some coherence for the audience to allow the madness to unfold. That it contains maniacal, egotistical and ambitious men seems suitably matched to the humble diary format, it shows them off and allows their obsessive dreams to be described, rather than prescribed.
A metaphor of the trap of power, money and religion, shown by the ridiculous difference between the emperor and the soldiers.
I question why Herzog wants to punish himself, his actors and his crew so much? I love that Herzog shot it in sequence to show the deterioration.
Love the oneiric qualities of the final scene, the monkeys are amazing.
The soundtrack felt strange and difficult at first, but seemed to make sense by the end.
Landscapes with obscured parts
Too close or tilted images of the world.
Un Chien Andalou (1927) by Bunuel and Dali is a shocking, challenging and confusing watch. I have taught this film at least three times and probably watched it twenty times so it is difficult to create an independent response and remember how I initially felt about it. I actually used this film today, along with some art by Picasso, to explain Modernism, before we started learning about Post-Modernism. It’s all high-brow around me don’t you know! It isn’t a film I would watch this regularly if I didn’t teach it, but I definitely appreciate its place in the canon.
I really love watching this film with students and have used it as part of the showreel to sell film studies this year. It quickly got around school that I was showing the most disgusting clips, which surely can only help! The student reaction to the eye-cutting sequence is brilliant. The most hardened horror fan will still squirm when the eye is cut in to. I don’t think they expect it to really happen. It’s amazing how quickly people forget that film is a construct and that it can’t really be happening. On the viewing this afternoon one of my students sat open-mouthed throughout the entire thing. Perfect.
Obviously, I love the initial eye-cutting sequence and all its references to the hypnotic and damaging power of mainstream cinema. I also love the close-up on the beach sequence where the man’s hand is held up next to her face and she seems to stare at his watch. However, my favourite sequence is the one that Dali seemed to be most in charge of. I love the male character trying to drag the two pianos, two priests and two dead horses. It’s such a perfectly visual image and I would love to imagine what it would look like in colour. Although I love the grainy black and white generally, it’s nice to imagine this as a Dali painting.
This short film is clearly about a break with narrative structures and no matter how often you try to suggest to a class that there isn’t a clear plot and the narrative is deliberately confusing they won’t have it. I love how it plays around with time, including the intertitles that say ‘eight years later’, ‘in the spring’ in an illogical way. The changes in tempo are dramatic and unnerve the spectator, clearly a plan.
A close-up on the eye.
A short film that disrupts time and place.
A chaotic written piece.
I thought I would try to write a poem to represent the creative side to Touki-Bouki. I found the long, handheld shots on the abattoir scenes upsetting and tried to represent that with the refrain and the single long sentence. As I have said in a previous blog post, I am not a fan of writing, but I think it is good to test yourself.
The rope cuts in to his side as
He is laid on a brown, caked floor
And his wild eyes glint in
industrial lights as the men hold his head back
To reveal his sinuous grey neck
And hack with the unsharpened knife
To reveal the red muscular pipe
That moves and breathes
And gushes with a thick, viscous redness
As the rope cuts in to his side.
I have never watched a film from Senegal. Shamefully I have seen very few films from the whole continent of Africa, which this top one hundred list will hopefully change. Touki-Bouki is the very reason I started this blog – to try something new and see films I had never heard of. Brilliantly, I also watched a restored version of it free on mubi.com. I have been a member of this site for a while and it is absolutely amazing.
Touki-Bouki was made in 1973, directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty with a Government grant of $30,000. It stars Aminata Fall as Aunt Oumy, Ousseynou Diop as Charlie, Magaye Niang as Mory and Mareme Niang as Anta.
The film starts with a rural scene and pipe music, immediately contrasted with a hideous abattoir scene where they slaughter cows by cutting open their windpipes and then city scenes. Throughout the film there is a contrast between ancient ways and modern life and in the early scenes they kept using sound bridges of modern sounds (traffic, planes) over images of timeless farming or nature.
The style of the film is unusual. It is really split between a naturalism and consciously filmic. At some points there doesn’t seem to be any obvious sets or lighting. The shots (very often long shots or close-ups) linger and frequently handheld. There is often very little dialogue. At these points it has a feeling of Cinéma vérité or even Dogme 95 about it. However, at other points it has a frenetic energy with a pounding soundtrack and juxtaposing montage. You can really feel the heat and dust of the market scenes and it feels like a French New Wave film, especially when we are following Mory and Anta around – it almost seems a parallel to À bout de souffle.
I loved the way the film never clarified what was dream and reality and instead consistently paralleled the suffering of humans and animals. There was an hypnotic quality to the montages of cruelty and violence and a desperately heartbreaking ending. It was made even more so by the stoic and under-played performances.
I found some of the film difficult to watch. The killing of the animals, although clearly important to the film, was harrowing. I also found the representation of women, African poverty and gay men difficult to deal with. The stereotypes were obvious and worryingly negative – especially the portrayal of the gay, rich Charlie.
Poem – particularly of the abattoir juxtaposition scene – long sentences, a refrain
Word cloud – chaotic and confused
A juxtaposed portrait of age and modernity.