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Ferocious Reality

Ferocious Reality: Documentary according to Werner Herzog

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Ferocious Reality
    Book Description:

    Over the course of his career Werner Herzog, known for such visionary masterpieces asAguirre: The Wrath of God(1972) andThe Enigma of Kaspar Hauser(1974), has directed almost sixty films, roughly half of which are documentaries. And yet, in a statement delivered during a public appearance in 1999, the filmmaker declared: "There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization."Ferocious Realityis the first book to ask how this conviction, so hostile to the traditional tenets of documentary, can inform the work of one of the world's most provocative documentarians.

    Herzog, whoseCave of Forgotten Dreamswas perhaps the most celebrated documentary of 2010, may be the most influential filmmaker missing from major studies and histories of documentary. Examining such notable films asLessons of Darkness(1992) andGrizzly Man(2005), Eric Ames shows how Herzog dismisses documentary as a mode of filmmaking in order to creatively intervene and participate in it. In close, contextualized analysis of more than twenty-five films spanning Herzog's career, Ames makes a case for exploring documentary films in terms of performance and explains what it means to do so. Thus his book expands the field of cinema studies even as it offers an invaluable new perspective on a little studied but integral part of Werner Herzog's extraordinary oeuvre.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8201-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Werner Herzog
    (pp. 1-16)

    On April 30, 1999, Werner Herzog visited the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for a public dialogue with film critic Roger Ebert. After they had both been introduced, Herzog walked alone to center stage of the museum’s theater and addressed the audience of more than three hundred people. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said with a German accent,

    before we start this dialogue, I would like to make a statement. It is something that I have reflected upon for many years in the frustration of seeing so many documentary films. When you look at television, you probably have experienced a...

    (pp. 17-48)

    Picture the scenario that precipitated the Minnesota Declaration: a restless night of watching bad television in a foreign hotel room. Surfing the available channels, as Herzog recalls in interviews, he came across “a very stupid, uninspiring documentary, something excruciatingly boring about animals somewhere out there in the Serengeti.” Later, flipping through channels again, he landed on a “hard-core porno,” which struck him as “real” by comparison. “For me,” he says, “the porno had real naked truth.” With that, the filmmaker (who is also a television viewer in this anecdote) wrote down his manifesto on “truth and fact in documentary cinema.”¹...

    (pp. 49-80)

    For a traveling filmmaker who has worked on every continent, Herzog approaches the physical environment with striking uniformity of vision. Combining a passion for landscape views with an insistently inward movement, his ephemeral vistas open up a space of imagined interiority that is also a representation of the physical world we inhabit. Herzog’s films engage us, and we remember them, by their remarkable use of landscape. Of course, landscape can neither be found nor discovered, as if it simply existed in the natural world. Like documentary, it is a product of human interest, perception, and representation. Despite their distinct histories,...

    (pp. 81-104)

    The dramatic use of landscape, the unlikely figures that traverse it, the peculiar ways in which they travel—these are among the most alluring, distinctive, and memorable features of Herzog’s films. The previous chapters endeavored to flesh out the central role of the human body and its environment. Going a step further, this chapter investigates the intensely physical and spiritual relationship of the body to the landscape. Not only the landscape but also the body and its movement can function allegorically.Wheel of Time, for example, calls our attention to the physical ordeal of pilgrimage. Among the many pilgrims in...

    (pp. 105-146)

    The scholarship on Herzog passionately suffers from what is, of course, a more widespread problem of methodology. Again and again, that is, we almost habitually frame the material in terms of certain paradigms as opposed to others and thus see only particular aspects of the films, which consequently become all that there is to see in them. Now that these paradigms—in this case, romanticism and expressionism—are firmly entrenched in the literature, it becomes interesting to explore Herzog’s work through other, less familiar categories and to see what a difference it makes.

    The baroque provides one example. Asked about...

    (pp. 147-180)

    In recent years, Herzog has frequently revisited certain political concerns of his earlier work, including the charges of environmental and human rights abuse that were leveled against him throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the most famous incident being Herzog’s altercations with indigenous Peruvians during preproduction ofFitzcarraldo, a concern that received wide attention at the time, both in print and on film.¹ The various rumors, allegations, and stories that circulated in the press became known in West Germany as “The Case of Herzog.”

    Filming in a remote location near the contested border of Ecuador, Herzog ventured into a political jungle...

    (pp. 181-214)

    Lately, the practice of reenactment has made a certain comeback in documentary filmmaking. By reenactment, I mean the staged reconstruction of a past event, which creates a new and necessarily different event in the present. Claude Lanzmann’sShoah(1984) and Errol Morris’sThe Thin Blue Line(1987) offer only the most well-known examples. Although on one level, their projects are incomparable, both films were taken to signal the resurgence of documentary as a form of historical representation and understanding, owing in part to their innovative and contentious approaches to reenactment.¹ Once widely accepted, as evidenced by such canonical films as...

    (pp. 215-258)

    For decades, Werner Herzog has projected a public image of himself as a director frankly opposed to acts of self-exploration, whether imaginative or therapeutic.¹ The image serves in part to deflect the once frequently leveled charges of narcissistic self-absorption or “ego mania.” Indeed, Herzog even claims to avoid his own gaze in the mirror. “Let me make it very clear,” he remarks in an interview on the subject ofGrizzly Man. “I don’t look at my own navel when I make movies. It’s never a journey of self-discovery. To this day, I don’t even know the color of my own...

    (pp. 259-268)

    A few years ago, Herzog received an artist’s grant from the National Science Foundation to make a film at McMurdo Station on Ross Island, the American base in Antarctica. The result isEncounters at the End of the World, a loose series of personal portraits and moving landscapes integrated into a larger narrative of the filmmaker’s journey to the South Pole. The portraits feature an eclectic group of service, maintenance, and transportation people as well as a host of scientists. Among the many encounters in this film, one stands out in particular: that of a solitary, “disoriented or deranged” male...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 269-320)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 321-335)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 336-338)