Happy Birthday, Werner Herzog, and here are our five favorite Herzog films!

Happy Birthday, Werner Herzog!  This innovative, feisty and fearless filmmaker turns 77 on Sept. 5, and Art House Film Wire is celebrating the day by proudly claiming our five favorite Herzog films!

5. “Stroszek” (1977) – Bruno Stroszek (Bruno S.) is repeatedly bullied in West Germany, and with no prospects or a perceived future, he immigrates to the U.S. along with a prostitute and a neighbor.  Bruno discovers, however, that American streets aren’t paved with gold, and money does not fall from trees.  Herzog’s “Stroszek” is a surreal and troubling depiction of the immigrant experience, where the right connections for success sit in some faraway, unknown place.  Meanwhile, it’s impossible to take your eyes of Bruno S., including his hypotonic, one-song musical performance in a dank urban courtyard, and note that Herzog refers to the man as the “Unknown Soldier of Cinema.”

4. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (2010) – An explorer at heart, Herzog and a small team enter the Chauvet Cave in France, where they film several cave wall drawings that scientists have dated to be 30,000 years old. Admittedly, outside of the core reveals, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” is an otherwise ordinary documentary, but actually seeing the drawings is a heart stopping and wholly remarkable experience.

3. “Grizzly Man” (2005) – How the Academy neglected to nominate “Grizzly Man” for a Best Documentary Oscar is a head scratching mystery.  Herzog pieces together the head scratching true tale of Timothy Treadwell, a rebellious Californian who spent several summers hanging out with grizzly bears in Alaska.  Treadwell left several tapes of his highly-questionable adventures, and Herzog edits them for audience consumption while narrating – as only he can – the story of this blonde-haired animal lover who repeatedly attempts to cheat death.

2. “Fitzcarraldo” (1982) – Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald – who is also known as Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) – has two passionate pursuits:  the rubber business and the opera.  On the surface, they don’t tie together at all, but in Peru, they do!  Fitzcarraldo loves the opera, which has a place in the middle of a Peruvian jungle (if you can believe it), but he also wants to quickly make a pile of money in rubber, so he acquires a steamship and heads down the Amazon to claim some spongy treasure.  Herzog’s massive effort – complete with shooting on location, adding hundreds of extras, actually trying to haul the aforementioned steamship all over the place – plus Kinski’s odd but infectious protagonist-performance equals one of the most unique epics ever placed on screen.

1.“Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972) – Herzog travels to the Amazon again (and, actually, he made this trip before “Fitzcarraldo”) to tell the tale of Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) and his quest to find the Lost City of Gold. Taking place in the 16th century, Aguirre and his Spanish contingent mire in the muck, rain and unforgiving wilderness on a completely foolish errand, and as prospects grow dim, Acquire becomes increasingly irrational. This is a purposely-troubling picture that will deter just about anyone from embarking on a simple hike for a least a week, and Herzog captures two astonishing bookend shots that will sear into your brain forever.  Like “Fitzcarraldo”, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” is a monumental achievement.

Image credit:  Rolling Stone

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