Category Archives: Medieval

10. Joint 90th – ‘Aguirre, God of Wrath’ (1972)

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.

Watching Aguirre

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.

Thoughts:
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.

Creative:
Diary format
Landscapes with obscured parts
Too close or tilted images of the world.

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7. Joint 93rd – The Seventh Seal’ 1957

I have seen The Seventh Seal before and actually used it in lessons when teaching Chaucer’s context and my recent Medieval lyrics lecture. I love the feeling of the middle ages that it gives – harsh and sparse and it is also really useful when describing the black death, the dance of death and death poetry (that I did for my dissertation) However, although I love Scandinavian pretty much everything, Ingmar Bergman is director I am not that familiar with, although one of Uncle John’s books was about him, so I will try to rectify that.  I already like that his favourite American director was Billy Wilder.

Doing my lecture on Medieval poetry.  I used a clip from this film.

Doing my lecture on Medieval poetry. I used a clip from this film.t

Of course my first knowledge of it was from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey when I was about seven. The opening sequence on the beach is still great and so iconic and I love that my enjoyment is a mix of high-brow and low-brow. I have also recently been teaching The Exorcist and it is great seeing Max Von Sydow so young and virile, even though it was only sixteen years before. It is also a parallel role, he is still concerned with the reality of God, but this time he is the doubting Agnostic.  I love the questioning of religion. Bergman seems to have picked this period as so heightened and intense that everyone must have been questioning it. It’s an endless question and the chiaroscuro seems to heighten the philosophy.

Watching The Seventh Seal

Watching The Seventh Seal

I really like how dry and funny Death is. When my inevitable death does happen, I kind of hope it is like that. It’s great when the knight thinks he is confessing to him and he gets him to reveal all his chess moves and when he starts cutting down the tree while someone is still in it.  His impish face and glinting eyes are suitably mischievous.

The black and white cinematography is beautiful. A shiny black and pure white, I think the Swedish white light must be helping it. A Scandinavian summer is so beautiful and the scenes of the circus performers enjoying it are idyllic.  Mixed with that the large landscapes with cloudy skies are beautiful.

One of my favourite scenes, and the one I used in my Medieval poetry lecture, is the chanting procession.  I love the contrast created by the juxtaposition of performers and the religious flagellation party. That scene could be ancient, it has feelings of Griffith’s Intolerance and the 1928 The Passion of Joan  of Arc by Dreyer. Some of the close-ups, especially of women crying and the long high angle shots create a timeless feeling.

Other thoughts:

  • The scene where the actor is bullied in the tavern is horrible and made especially frightening by the oppressive camera framing and heavy shadows.
  • This is continued with the dark scenes of the girl who has been accused of bringing the plague.
  • The reactions of everyone at the knight’s home when death finally appears is amazing. The way they are so calm with almost angelic close-ups and are then taken off on the dance of death across the skyline is a great moment. No-one can resist it forever.

Creative:
Black and white
Huge landscapes
Period setting
Game playing
Holy relics and questioning faith