Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1977), directed by Werner Herzog
I’ve seen this twice, but it was years ago. It popped into my head the other day, so I thought I would post it. I remember thinking it was a compelling film, but slow paced. I really like Klaus Kinski, though. There is no one quite like him. Here are some reviews below. - DG
From The Films of Werner Herzog
A film whose shooting difficulties have become at least as legendary as the final product, Aguirre, the Wrath of God became Werner Herzog's international breakthrough film and established an entirely new age of German cinema. Like all of his other films, this one will certainly not appeal to every taste thanks to its slow pace and maniacal, unsympathetic lead character. However, as with all collaborations between Herzog and Klaus Kinski, Aguirre is crucial, unforgettable cinema, and arguably the finest collaboration ever between this volatile pair. In 1560, the depths of the jungles lining the Amazon river are infiltrated by a Spanish expedition trudging through endless miles of green wilderness. They search for the remains of the fallen Inconnu empire, which may lead them to discover the mythical El Dorado, a city of gold. The greedy and incestuous Don Lope de Aguirre (Kinski), who has brought his own daughter (Cecilia Rivera) along on his quest, becomes the tyrannical leader of the rapidly diminishing explorers, who are being picked off by pestilence, cannibals, violent mishaps, and even murder by their own leader when they plot desertion. Still Aguirre pushes on, driven by his own lust for gold and glory regardless of the consequences to himself and his companions.
Firmly anchored by Kinski's fearless and harrowing portrayal, this film spins out one unforgettable image after another, culminating in a justifiably famous final image that will leave most viewers astounded that it was ever committed to film. Reports of Kinski and Herzog's clashes during the filming have now become hopelessly tangled by contradictions, with both parties plotting to murder each other and Kinski's infamous tantrums draining him out so completely that his performance in front of the camera comes across as wasted and introspective. The sublime, unsettling, and often glorious music by longtime Herzog collaborators Popul Vuh sets just the right mood, with the eerie, long opening shots of mountains dotted with struggling human forms accompanied by sounds apparently drifting in from the ether. Unlike Fitzcarraldo, which balanced its insane spectacle with a narrative laced with human warmth and ultimate redemption, Aguirre is essentially a trip straight into hell, a damned expedition whose likes would not appear on film again until the similarly lunatic venture of Apocalypse Now seven years later. Anchor Bay's DVD contains an open matte presentation which offers a little more information on the top and bottom compared to the very mildly letterboxed tape from New Yorker; more importantly, the colours look much more robust and piercing, from the glittering gold and silver surfaces of the armor to those frightening, impenetrable greens within the jungle. Never has nature looked more terrifying. The 5.1 remix does what it can with the limited early '70s sound recording; the music fares best, often drifting ominously from different speakers, while the dialogue and sound effects are a bit more strident. The original mono English dubbed track is also included but isn't worth the trouble unless you absolutely can't stand subtitles. In a priceless gesture for film history, Herzog contributes a commentary track with Norman Hill in which he offers his own linear take on the film's arduous production. Though not a true story, Herzog essentially set out to capture a time and place never seen before, one which seems to burst from western civilization's collective unconscious and mirrors the mad follies committed by inept leaders over the centuries. Of course the irony of Herzog himself often falling into this mad scheme of leadership isn't lost on him, resulting in a peculiar "hall of mirrors" effect when he discusses this film. The original German theatrical trailer is also included, along with an English dubbed variant, neither of which probably went over too well in commercial theatres. The UK disc from Stonevision is full frame as well but features an inferior transfer with no extras.
Quite simply a great movie, one whose implacable portrait of ruthless greed and insane ambition becomes more pertinent every year. The astonishing Klaus Kinski plays Don Lope de Aguirre, a brutal conquistador who leads his soldiers into the Amazon jungle in an obsessive quest for gold. The story is of the expedition's relentless degeneration into brutality and despair, but the movie is much more than its plot. Director Werner Herzog strove, whenever possible, to replicate the historical circumstances of the conquistadors, and the sheer human effort of traveling through the dense mountains and valleys of Brazil in armor creates a palpable sense of struggle and derangement. This sense of reality, combined with Kinski's intensely furious performance, makes Aguirre, the Wrath of God a riveting film. Its unique emotional power is matched only by other Herzog-Kinski collaborations like Fitzcarraldo and Woyzek. --Bret Fetzer