I spend far too much of my time walking the beach and The Haight. In fact, in recent months many of the folks who work at Amoeba Records in San Francisco have come to know me and my tastes. Today, I was looking through their blu-ray art film selection. As I was examining a rather suspect used David Lynch blu-ray of ERASERHEAD when one of the Amoeba dudes said, “Yo, man. Did you know that Shout Factory is releasing a blu-ray box set of Werner Herzog film?” I did know this and the two of us began to chat about Werner Herzog and the upcoming box set of classic movies.
I adore Herzog’s work and I never pass up an opportunity to read or listen to him. An extremely gifted and unique artist, Herzog is also that rare person who appears to be both intellectual and intelligent. He is also just to the left of sane which always makes for a fascinating perspective on any topic he might drift into. From eating shoes to health clubs, Werner Herzog is always entertaining and informative. The man is a natural storyteller and would seem to have absolutely no fear. He has also crafted some of the most intriguing films of the 20th Century. Like many film artists of his generation, while he is a cinematic genius — he is also prone to wallowing in his own obsessive interests. Of course, this is a part of a filmmaker’s charm. It can also be something that often drags his work down to the point of tedium and excess.
In my opinion, he is the only filmmaker who ever managed to tango unforgettable and powerful work from Klaus Kinski. He even re-examined their notorious relationship in a strange documentary.
1999’s MY BEST FRIEND is a brilliantly entertaining exploration not only into his dear friend/enemy, Klaus Kinski, but also a revealing self-examination. Whether or not everything he tells us is true or exaggerated is not important. That is all a part of Herzog’s cinematic ride. This film is included in the massive Shout Factory box set. The only point I would make is that this was not a film that really needed a remaster to hi-def technology. Nor, like many of Herzog’s films, it is something I would imagine watching again. Once was enough. For me, the same can be said of nearly every film he has made.
There are three exceptions:
AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD – A masterful and stunningly beautiful trip of a movie that I could watch over and over again.
FITZCARRALDO – Once again, a meditative and intense glimpse into obsession and man vs. nature. This I have seen a couple of times. However, it does tend to go a bit too long.
NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE – Now, this is my personal favorite Herzog film.
I know there will be people who will mention GRIZZLY MAN. And, I completely agree regarding the power and brilliance of that documentary. However, it was upsetting enough the first time I viewed it. I don’t think I’m up for watching that tragedy again. Besides, it is one of the few films missing from the box set.
NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE is the perfect storm of a Werner Herzog film. Released in 1979, I did see it with my father. I was 13 and I was immediately drawn into the screen, imagery and sounds.
Despite critical acclaim, I suppose this film was just a bit too “artsy” and surreal to work for the American Box Office at the time. I remember my father bitching that there was no fucking, no nudity and no gore. My twisted father was not happy with it. However, I loved it. At some point in the early 1990’s I was able to catch a screening of this film at The Harvard Film Archive. I was probably about 25 years of age and not only did I still love it — I understood what I was seeing.
The role of Nosferatu was perfect for Klaus Kinski. Being a rather deluded method actor, Kinski was forced to subdue himself to the movements of the despairing living dead afraid of the sun. Kinski is hypnotic in the role. He is also the creepiest Count the cinema has seen. At once painfully human and an equally reptilian-like monster roaming the dark. Isabelle Adjani is actually more walking dead than Nosferatu but impossibly beautiful in the most disturbing of ways — under Herzog’s command, she is really little more than a gothic porcelain doll waiting to be a victim. And, this was the last time we would see Bruno Ganz still looking kind of hot. Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein captures every movement with incredible light and scope. All the while, Werner Herzog is pushing the limits of his story to create atmosphere and metaphor within the limitless boundaries of his dark imagination and the Art of Cinematic Surrealism.
Luckily, The Shout Factory, had the insight to know that not all of us would be willing to spend $160.00 for 12 disc set to own one movie. They are issuing NOSFERATU: THE VAMPYRE separate from the box set. It is retailing for $24.99. And, I can’t wait!
Of course, there will be many cinephiles who will rush to secure the full box set. And, who can possibly blame them. Artists like Werner Herzog appeal to those of us who are to the left of center and a bit obsessive. It’s just this isn’t the artist that would drive me to watch his work repeatedly. Now, give me a properly re-mastered box set of Ken Russell, David Lynch, Claire Denis, Luis Buñuel, Claude Chabrol or David Cronenberg — and I will be first in line!
Meanwhile, I have been putting away $5 a week for a month now to reserve my copy. Being unemployed and on Disability is no fun, kids. But this is $25 purchase will be worth it! But I raise my glass of Diet Coke to those of you who will be purchasing the full box set. …Better order now because The Shout Factor is a Boutique Label that does not exaggerate. It is a limited edition. Word on the street is that they are only pressing one thousand box sets.