Shout! Factory’s newly launched media streaming network – Shout! Factory TV – is celebrating the work of Werner Herzog, making sixteen of the director’s most pivotal and unique works available for streaming starting March 2 and 6. The list of films is vast and impressive, compiling an admirable Herzog masterclass for even intermediate students of his works.
Most audiences will know Herzog best for his insane masterpiece Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), in which volatile leading man Klaus Kinski plays the title character Aguirre, blindly forging a demented and futile journey down the Amazon river to discover the fabled land of El Dorado. Demented and futile are descriptors common to the Herzog oeuvre, but there is also a humanity and hope to the fierce passion and determination with which his subjects pursue their futile dreams. Such is the case in even Herzog’s documentary works, like The Land of Silence and Darkness (1971), in which he documents the lives of the blind and deaf and their attempts at human connection.
Herzog is also known for unusual and colossal feats of ingenuity in the name of his filmmaking. One of his most famous works, Heart of Glass (1976) had the entire cast performing under hypnosis, while for Fitzcarraldo (1982) Herzog hauled a 360 ton ship up a 40 degree mountain slope, despite warnings from professionals. Accomplishments like these led Herzog to proclaim himself “Conquistador of the Useless,” a fitting title for the insane passion Herzog and his film subjects share for achieving the truly pointless.
Some other of Herzog’s works to be made available on Shout! Factory TV will highlight the filmmaker’s penchant for pushing people to their limits – both physically and emotionally. Immediately after spending weeks of playing the title character in Nosferatu, The Vampyre (1979), Klaus Kinski was called on to play the title character in Woyzeck (1979), a mentally disturbed soldier who mysteriously kills his wife. Herzog knew Kinski was exhausted from Nosferatu and intentionally started filming on Woyzeck immediately afterwards so as to use Kinski’s overtired energy and strained nerves to his advantage. This unusual relationship between director and actor, including Herzog’s calculated manipulation of his performers, is uniquely displayed in Herzog’s documentary about his frequent collaboration with Kinski, called My Best Fiend (1999). The documentary conveys the struggle the two famously strong willed men had in working together, the unusual dynamic between Kinski’s volatile temper and Herzog’s cool-headed logic, and the debt the two reluctantly owe to each other in creating some of the most compelling films in existence.
These films and more will be available for streaming on Shout! Factory TV starting March 2 and 6. It is a unique opportunity to have easy access to such a large chunk of Herzog’s work, some of which is not usually so readily available. I would urge viewers to seize their chance to steep themselves in Herzog’s world of insanity.