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.