Sunday, July 27, 2014

Two Recent Werner Herzog Movies

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

While hopefully not a too realistic depiction of the law enforcement profession in one of our more mythologized Southern cities (to which I have still never been), this was pretty entertaining. Some of my acquaintance are of the opinion that Nicolas Cage is perhaps the worst technical actor currently active, and I suppose I can see how he might not be too good at live classical theater, but in this over the top, rather parodic (and subtly artful) take on the Hollywood big city cop film, he is the right man for the job. He inhabits and sells the role to the extent that it is almost believable, at least more than anyone else in the movie. The character of the bad lieutenant of course is quite wretched, as well as frequently indifferent to moral considerations in a way that is viscerally off-putting to obedient bourgeois people, but in contrast to (and to the deep envy of) most such people,  things happen in his life, even if as is the case here, most of them are almost suicidally destructive. He is still a sexual factor in the world as well, which always makes an impression on me, even if physically he is often not in prime condition to finish the job.

The only Werner Herzog movies I had seen up to now were his German New Wave classics Kaspar Hauser and Fitzcarraldo from over thirty years ago. For some years now he has evidently primarily been working in the U.S. and in English. Because he has continued to be so prolific and so consistently strong and probing and unique in his outlook in his movies, and is still at age 72 quite vigorous and seemingly plugged into what is going on in contemporary life rather than a sad, moldy relic from the 70s, he is a figure of almost universal awe in both the film and film criticism worlds, one of the living gods of the medium.
What he has mainly done here is taken the elements of the standard humorless and unengaging police movie and tweaked the more hackneyed aspects of them so as to make them palatable to film buffs and people of above average verbal intelligence. The world of the movie has life in it, and while I might not wish to wake up and find myself in it on a day in and day out basis, I was interested to see what it had in store for Nicolas Cage.

Encounters at the End of the World--(2007)

A documentary in which Herzog goes to Antarctica, interviews various people, some scientists, some skilled craftsman, some support staff, at the American base (one of the American bases?) there, as well as goes on a few excursions out into the southern polar wild. It wasn't bad, but in my view I don't think he quite got what he was looking for out of the project. It would seem that if there was any artistic filmmaker who was smart enough, odd enough, inquisitive enough, and so on, to connect with scientists and draw them out enough to get into the spirit needed to make a really good movie, Herzog would be the guy to do it. But most of them are not really responsive to him, they act as if his questions and observations are odd, that he doesn't really understand and can't understand what they are doing--I suppose you could say that they don't understand what he is doing either, but they seem to me oddly uninterested in the circumstance that one of the top living filmmakers in the world has shown up on the base to make a documentary. So I find that the finished movie lacks the kind of unity and driving purpose that is characteristic of Herzog's fictional films that I have seen. It's still worth seeing, and other writers and film people do consider it another major triumph for the great director.

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