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Werner Herzog

I’ve had a certain fascination with the German director Werner Herzog ever since I heard he had eaten a shoe. He told Errol Morris that if Morris ever finished his first film, he would eat his shoe. True to his word, at the Premiere of Gates of Heaven, Herzog sat down and ate one entire shoe.

Shortly after we got our TiVo, I had it record a couple films by or about Herzog. Aguirre, The Wrath of God is an utterly engrossing portrait of madness and megalomania during Pizarro’s conquest of Peru. I was reminded of both Apocalypse Now and of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, upon which it is based. It’s all the jungle’s fault, honest! The movie is worth watching for the opening and closing scenes alone. Shortly after watching Aguirre, TiVo recorded My Best Fiend, a documentary about the tumultuous relationship between Herzog and the actor Klaus Kinski, who starred in several of his movies (including playing the title role in Aguirre). Kinski ripped Herzog to shreds in his controversial and ascerbic autobiography. My Best Fiend reveals that many of the nastiest comments in the book were actually written by Kinski and Herzog together.

A couple weeks ago, I finally watched Fitzcarraldo, which tells the story of an Irish-born opera lover (played by Kinski) driven to build an opera house deep in the Amazon jungle. Tonight, I watched Burden of Dreams, Les Blanks, documentary about the production of Fitzcarraldo. Again, I thought of Apocalypse Now, or rather Hearts of Darkness, the documentary of its production. After completing nearly half of the filming of Fitzcarraldo with Jason Robards in the title role (and with Mick Jagger as his sidekick!), Herzog was forced to start over when Robards fell ill, returned to the US, and was forbidden by his doctor from returning to the jungle to finish the film.