Saturday, May 18, 2024

Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer movie review (2023)

Sometimes the movie’s tendency of favoring movie clips and bombastic soundbites doesn’t really matter since the juxtaposition of so many clashing personalities still creates its own lunatic harmony. In the movie’s most disarming and logic-frying transition, we jump from fellow New German Cinema filmmaker Wim Wenders, who seems to be on to something when he suggests that Herzog “shaped the American perception of Germans like no one else,” to Carl Weathers, who says that, “Werner…is a form…of Darth Vader.” I don’t entirely understand what either man’s talking about, but hearing them say this much and in such close proximity to each other seemed appropriately screwy and poetic.

Then again, not every scrap of footage that’s piled into “Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer” adds something essential. Some footage is surreal in a colorful way, like when Herzog’s grandson goes ski-jumping soon after we see footage from “The Ecstasies of Woodcarver Steiner,” Herzog’s 1974 documentary short about Swiss ski jumper Walter Steiner. It’s less amusing to watch Herzog drive around Los Angeles, talking about the city’s fundamental appeal as a place where, “People don’t just talk about it, they actually do it.” Ok, but also huh?

Part of the appeal of a Herzog documentary depends on how much it reflects Herzog’s indelible sketchiness, but why, oh why, don’t the filmmakers ask follow-up questions of, say, “The Act of Killing” director Joshua Oppenheimer, who suggests that, when Herzog manipulates reality in his documentaries, he’s not deceiving us, but rather showing us something that’s “always there that we might not see otherwise.”

Better yet, why isn’t there more interview footage of Stipetic, whose po-faced commentary suggests that he might have been the movie’s best supporting character? (Stipetic on why they couldn’t pay Jack Nicholson five million dollars to star in “Fitzcarraldo”: “That wouldn’t have left much budget.”) Some people might enjoy a solitary clip from a Henry Rollins interview, as well as occasional anecdotes from “Rescue Dawn” star Christian Bale (another Batman!). Others might wonder why we’re watching a chaotic docu-salute to Herzog when we could be watching a Herzog movie instead. 

On VOD tomorrow, December 5th.

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