Latest Review – The Werner Herzog Collection (Blu-ray) (BFI)

The Werner Herzog Collection (Blu-ray) (8-Disc Set)

UK Distributor: BFI

Region Code: Region B [Locked]

Certificate: 15

Please Note: Each disc features one main feature only, with the remaining films appearing as special features across the discs. See Special Features section below for a full breakdown.

How do you sum up the career of a filmmaker as prolific as Werner Herzog? A writer and director of extraordinary vision and ambition who has proved himself more than adept in almost every form of cinema.

Far from complete though it may be, this new 8-Disc Blu-ray collection from the BFI presents a strong selection of major works, documentaries, short film and general curios from Herzog’s vast catalogue of work, spanning the years 1968 through to 1987, and goes a long way towards satiating the appetite of Herzog fans, experienced cinephiles and newcomers alike.

***** Below is a breakdown of content, timings and technical specifications for the entire 8-Disc Blu-ray collection, with reviews for some of the features. *****


Disc One:

Aguirre, the Wrath of God [Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes]

Director: Werner Herzog

Year: 1972

Country: Germany

Genre: Adventure | Drama | Historical

Running Time: 91 minutes (1:30:39)

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)

Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC

Image: Colour

Audio: German LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature: German Version] | German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 [Main Feature: German Version] | English LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature: English Dubbed Version] | English Dolby Digital 2.0 [Commentary Track]

Language: German | English [Dubbed]

Subtitles: Optional English (On/Off)

The first of five collaborations between Werner Herzog and controversial leading man, Klaus Kinski, this minimalist, New Wave adventure drama can only be admired for its sheer ambition, technicality, sense of mystery and skill. As an overall achievement, and with regards to the turbulent production difficulties faced – most notably the numerous volatile and often near-fatal outbursts of Kinski – Aguirre is undoubtedly one of, if not the most celebrated, influential and closely scrutinised of all the director’s works.

Largely fabricated due to the scarcity of historical documentation on the life of its eponymous central character, the story imagines the final expedition of Basque Spanish conquistador, Lope de Aguirre, who leads a group of soldiers (and one-hundred Indian slaves) from the newly conquered Inca Empire in the Andes, down the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers and into the jungles of the east, in search of the legendary ‘Lost City of Gold’, El Dorado.

Filmed entirely on location in the Peruvian Rainforest, at the foot of Machu Picchu and on various tributaries of the Amazon River found in the Ucayali region of inland Peru, Aguirre was made on a low budget of around $370,000 (with approximately one third of that total going towards Kinski’s fee) and shot in just five weeks, with filming taking place in chronological order to emulate the journey portrayed in the story.

Filmed from rafts and shot on the rivers themselves during a very dangerous rain season, many moments in the film are of course improvised due to the unpredictability of the conditions, which again highlight’s the adaptability and general skill of the production team. With the river rapids as severe as they were (as seen throughout the film) the crew were often given only one opportunity with which to capture a given shot or scene. As Herzog also states in the commentary, at one point during filming the crew woke one morning to find that their camp had been completely flooded, with rafts destroyed and production equipment washed away – an event which was immediately incorporated into the plot of the film.

There is a powerful sense of reflexion and silence to the film, which seems quite strange considering the mutiny and violence which takes place, though as Herzog says in the commentary, ‘it is world in which they soon learn that silence always means death‘. Part of the central mystery lies in the fact that, for a large part of the film, we never see the native enemy. Our central band are alone, stranded in the unforgiving labyrinth that is the Amazon Rainforest.

Minimalist and often highly stylised – both in terms of narrative, dialogue and composition – Aguirre is an absorbing, hypnotic and strangely ethereal piece of work, beautifully constructed and enhanced by the consuming cinematography of Thomas Mauch, a haunting orchestral score from Popol Vuh and the powerful, engrossing quality of the location itself.

It is no surprise then to find that the film was such a strong influence on Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Heart of Darkness adaptation, Apocalypse Now.


Disc Two:

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser [Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle]

Director: Werner Herzog

Year: 1974

Country: Germany

Genre: Drama | Biopic

Running Time: 109 minutes (1:49:23)

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)

Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC

Image: Colour

Audio: German LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature] | English Dolby Digital 2.0 [Commentary Track]

Language: German

Subtitles: Optional English (On/Off)

True to its name, Werner Herzog’s dual-titled film (renamed The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser for American audiences, due to issues with translation) opens with some of the most enigmatic imagery to be seen anywhere in the director’s filmography, standalone images which add nothing to the narrative, but perfectly establish the mysterious tone for the forthcoming exploration of the life of one of the great riddles of Nineteenth-Century German culture.

On Whitsunday (26 May) 1828, a ragged young man (thought to have been around seventeen years of age at the time) appeared in the streets of Nuremberg, Germany; he could barely walk, spoke only one sentence and carried with him a letter addressed to the captain of the 6th cavalry regiment, Captain von Wessenig. He claimed to have spent the first seventeen years of his life in total isolation, chained in the confines of a small, dark cellar. Devoid of human contact, an understanding of speech, the existence of people and with no knowledge whatsoever of a world outside his cell, he had only a small wooden, toy horse to occupy his time. A meal of rye brad and water was pushed into his cell while he was sleeping. He said he had not known ‘what a house, a tree or language was’. Near the end of his time in the cellar, a mysterious man entered the room, careful not to reveal his face. The man apparently taught him to write his name, stand, walk and recite a single phrase.

The mystery of his origins remains unsolved to this day’.

Following a short summary outlining the story, we are again presented with a rather ambiguous image, here a bold, green rye field blowing in the wind, and clearly a representation of how the beauty of the world might appear upon looking at it for the very first time. The first twenty minutes of the film then briefly explores Kaspar’s final days in his cell before expanding its focus to the events following his release.

Though closely channeling the real-life story Kaspar Hauser, the one notable exception is of course in the casting of lead actor, Bruno Schleinstein (usually credited as just Bruno S.), an untrained actor and highly skilled musician Herzog discovered in Lutz Eisholz’ 1970 documentary ‘Bruno der Schwarze‘. The son of a prostitute, locked away for nearly 23 years (intermittently), often beaten as a child, and having spent much of his life in various mental institutions, Schleinstein’s own troubled past and apparently unbalanced personality of course bears many striking similarities to the life of Kaspar Hauser (unbeknownst to Herzog when cast in the role), however at the age of forty-one, he is more than double the age of the character he is portraying.

Yes, Bruno plays the character with great skill, delivering the unfamiliar High German dialect with an almost comic ignorance (always straight ahead, rather than directed to a specific person) and exuding a warm, likeable quality throughout, but there is no hiding away from the fact that he is a fully grown man portraying a young, adolescent foundling.

Herzog’s feaure-length audio commentary is highly intriguing and well worth taking the time to listen to, going into great detail about his collaboration with Bruno S, the background of the both film and the character, and the unusual traits and qualities of his leading man.

Still the subject of much controversy and debate to this day, Hauser’s story is nevertheless an utterly fascinating one at that, and one which, no matter how many times you read or hear about, never becomes any less captivating or mysterious.

Bleak and still in its tone, yet often highly stylised, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is very distinctly a Werner Herzog film. Herzog’s directorial voice is clearly felt throughout and his portrait of this obscure figure is as engrossing and superbly realised as one might hope.

Continuing along the theme of isolation, Herzog’s profound 1971 documentary portrait of the deaf-blind Fini Straubinger, ‘Land of Silence and Darkness‘, is also included on this disc as a special feature and makes for a very moving, powerful and enlightening double-bill.


Disc Three:

Stroszek

Director: Werner Herzog

Year: 1977

Country: Germany

Genre: Drama | Comedy

Running Time: 108 minutes (1:47:51)

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)

Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC

Image: Colour

Audio: German LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature] | English Dolby Digital 2.0 [Commentary Track]

Language: German | English

Subtitles: Optional English (On/Off)

Reuniting Werner Herzog and leading man Bruno S. – for the second and final time – Stroszek is an often surreal, comedy drama which sets its primary focus on the struggles of three eccentric figures striving to find a better life for themselves in the so-called ‘promised land’ of America.

Written specifically for Bruno S., in just four days, Stroszek was conceived as a means of compensation following Schleinstein’s disappointment at Herzog’s casting of Klaus Kinski for the title role in his 1979 film, Woyzeck, the film is notable in the fact that it incorporates a large number of biographical details from Schleinstein’s life and is perhaps unsurprisingly one of the more downbeat films in Herzog’s filmography.

When Berlin street musician, Der Bruno Stroszek (‘The’ Bruno being how Schleinstein used to refer to himself) is released from prison following an apparent charge of drunk and disorderly offences, he is warned to stop drinking for his own sake, however almost immediately enters a familiar old haunt, befriending down on her luck prostitute, Eva (Eva Mattes) in the process. Beaten by Eva’s former pimps and faced with the prospect of further physical harassment, Bruno and Eva eventually decide to leave Germany and join Bruno’s neighbour, the elderly and eccentric, Scheitz (Herzog favourite, Clemens Scheitz), who is planning a move to Wisconsin to live with his American nephew.

In contrast to the cold, bleak, wintery streets of Berlin, the opoortunities offered in the USA seem to them almost endless, however upon arriving in the equally cold and dreary ‘Railroad Flats’ (a fictional prairie town, possibly in Madison, Wisconsin) and setting up home in a credit-bought mobile trailer, they soon find that the austere landscape is a far cry from the sun-kissed Nirvana they had previously envisaged, as they struggle to pay the bills and attempt to make the most of an increasingly difficult situation.

It is ultimately a very moving portrait of The American Dream and one which achieves a very effective balance of surreal humour and pathos. Herzog often gives us strong comic moments, offering glimpses of the humorous eccentricities of Mid-Western American life, though he never loses sight of the deeper message, underlying the humour with a profound study of Capitalism, alienation (notably the major language barrier) and shattered dreams.

Primarily comprising non-professional actors and other characters discovered working or residing in the various filming locations, the casting ultimately works incredibly well. Bruno S. delivers another strong and moving performance in the central role and the support from Mattes and Scheitz is excellent.


Disc Four:

Nosferatu the Vampyre [Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht]

Director: Werner Herzog

Year: 1979

Country: Germany | France

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 102 minutes (1:42:28) [German Version] |  103 minutes (1:42:44) [English Dubbed Version]

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)

Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC

Image: Colour

Audio: German LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature: German Version] | German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 [Main Feature: German Version] | English LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature: English Dubbed Version] | English Dolby Digital 2.0 [Commentary Track]

Language: German | English | Romanian

Subtitles: Optional English (On/Off)


Disc Five:

Woyzeck

Director: Werner Herzog

Year: 1979

Country: Germany

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 80 minutes (1:19:45)

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)

Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC

Image: Colour

Audio: German LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature] | German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 [Main Feature] | English Dolby Digital 2.0 [Commentary Track]

Language: German

Subtitles: Optional English (On/Off)


Disc Six:

Fitzcarraldo

Director: Werner Herzog

Year: 1982

Country: Germany | Peru

Genre: Adventure | Drama | Biography

Running Time: 157 minutes (2:37:02)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)

Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC

Image: Colour

Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature: English Version] | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 [Main Feature: English Version] | German LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature: German Version] | German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 [Main Feature: German Version] | English Dolby Digital 2.0 [Commentary Track]

Language: German | Spanish | Asháninka

Subtitles: Optional English (On/Off)


Disc Seven:

Burden of Dreams

Director: Les Blank

Year: 1982

Country: United States

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 95 minutes (1:34:46)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)

Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC

Image: Colour

Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono [Main Feature]

Language: English | German | Spanish | Portuguese

Subtitles: Optional English (On/Off)


Disc Eight:

Cobra Verde

Director: Werner Herzog

Year: 1987

Country: Germany

Genre: Adventure | Drama

Running Time: 110 minutes (1:50:12)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)

Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)

Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC

Image: Colour

Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Stereo [Main Feature: English Version] | German LPCM 2.0 Stereo [Main Feature: German Version] | German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 [Main Feature: German Version] | English Dolby Digital 2.0 [Commentary Track]

Language: German

Subtitles: Optional English (On/Off)


Special Features:

32-Page Booklet: Featuring an extensive essay on the life and films of Werner Herzog by Laurie Johnson, full production credits, presentation notes and production stills.

Disc One:

Stills Gallery (0:02:03)

Theatrical Trailer (0:03:09)

Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill

The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz [1967] (0:14:53)

Last Words [1968] (0:12:41)

Precautions Against Fanatics [1970] (0:10:39)

Fata Morgana [1971] (1:13:15):

  • Special Features: Original German Narration with English Subtitles; English Narration; Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Crispin Glover

Disc Two:

Stills Gallery (0:02:29)

Theatrical Trailer (0:02:50)

Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill

Land of Silence and Darkness [1971] (01:24:31)

How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck [1976] (00:46:16):

  • Special Features: Original German Version with Narration by Werner Herzog; English Language Version; Optional English Subtitles

Disc Three:

Stills Gallery (0:02:29)

Theatrical Trailer (0:03:23)

Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill

Heart of Glass [1976] (01:34:03):

  • Special Features: Stills Gallery (0:01:54); Theatrical Trailer (0:03:34): Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill

Disc Four:

Stills Gallery (0:03:25)

Theatrical Trailer (0:01:58)

Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill

On-set Documentary – Werner Herzog talks about the making of Nosferatu the Vampyre (00:12:36)

Disc Five:

Stills Gallery (0:03:25)

Theatrical Trailer (0:01:58)

Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill

Handicapped Future [1971] (00:43:43)

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner [1974] (00:45:41)

Huie’s Sermon [1981] (00:41:48)

Disc Six:

Stills Gallery (0:04:24)

German Theatrical Trailer (0:03:08)

English Theatrical Trailer (0:03:08)

Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill

Disc Seven:

Theatrical Trailer 1 (0:06:39)

Theatrical Trailer 2 (0:02:05)

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980) – This short documentary directed by Les Blank sees Werner Herzog honour a wager he made with filmmaker Errol Morris that he would eat his shoe if Morris managed to make a documentary film he had planned. Morris duly completed his film about a pet cemetery, Gates of Heaven, and Blank’s film captures Herzog eating one of his shoes – after it had been boiled with garlic, herbs and stock for five hours – before an audience at the Gates of Heaven premiere. [00:20:19]

South Bank Show: Werner Herzog (1982) – Made around the time of Fitzcarraldo’s release, and produced and directed by British filmmaker Jack Bond, this long-unseen documentary follows Werner Herzog on a journey across France and Germany and sees the director talk at length about his life and films. [00:55:52]

Disc Eight:

Stills Gallery (0:03:34)

German Theatrical Trailer (0:03:19)

English Theatrical Trailer (0:03:19)

Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill

God’s Angry Man [1981] (00:45:32)

The Guardian Lecture: Werner Herzog in conversation with Neil Norman (1988) – An audio recording of an interview with Werner Herzog conducted by the critic and playwright Neil Norman. Recorded on stage at the National Film Theatre on 7 September 1988 as part of The Guardian Lecture Series. [01:22:21]


Release Date: 25 August, 2014

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