Wednesday, March 11, 2015

AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972)

AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) 

Label: Shout! Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 94 Minutes
Audio: , German DTS-HD MA 2.0, German DTS-HD MA 2.0, English DTS-HD 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: HD Full Frame (1.33:1) 
Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Ruy Guerra, Helena Rojo

Werner Herzong's Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) begins with a group of forty Spanish Conquistadors whom are sent in search of the fabled City of Gold by Commander Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repulles), whom after conquering the Incan Empire develops a lust for the fabled treasure. The expedition is lead by a trio of Spanish noblemen, commander Pedro de Ursua (Ruy Guerra), Fernando de Guzman (Peter Berling), and Ursua's second in command, the very intense Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski). The men traverse the Peruvian jungle via a rafts under constant threat of disease, starvation and arrow attack from the indigenous people, who have no love the conquering conquistadors now invading their land. 

Along for the expedition are Ursúa's young mistress, Doña Inéz (Helena Rojo) and Aguirre's teenage daughter, Florés (Cecilia Rivera) and priest Brother Gaspar de Carvajal (Del Negro), the latter of whose real-life journal writings are in part what inspired the various accounts depicted in the film to some degree, though Herzog has stated that the film is largely a work of fiction. 

Things opens with a dizzying image of the armor clad conquistadors traversing a perilous, fog-drenched mountain trail which at times has the almost hallucinatory effect of an M.C. Escher drawing. We are definitely knee-deep in the wilds of the Peruvian jungle and this is one of the ultimate man versus nature films, or more accurately, a man versus man versus nature film of which there can only be one winner, because as we all know mother nature is a cold and unforgiving bitch.

Throughout the film men are lost to diseases, mishap and the poisoned arrows of the indigenous people, as things become more and more desperate Aguirre (Kinski) becomes mad with greed and power and through a violent coupe overtakes leadership of the expedition, with no one to protest his leadership he drives the men onward towards certain death in search of wealth and infamy. Against their better judgement the men continue on under the oppressive rule of Aguirre who proves to be quite a tyrant becoming more and more consumed with the idea of conquering South America and laying siege to the fabled lost city of El Dorado.

The final images are potent, we have a supremely crazed Aguirre, alone on a raft full of corpses drifting down the Amazon on a raft overrun with chattering monkeys. Amidst this nightmare scene he launches into an unforgettable monologue that begins with  "I, the Wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I will found the purest dynasty the world has ever seen...".  Yeah, i's a stunner of a film with unforgettable scenes of gorgeous jungles and maddening visions, including a large wooden ship inexplicably stranded among the branches of a large tree. A true masterpiece of minimalist cinema and my personal favorite work from either Werner Herzog or Klaus Kinski.

Given the legendary behind-the-scenes madness it is surprising that Kinsi and Herzog would go onto make four more movies together, a lot of which is discussed in Herzog's documentary My Best Friend and I highly recommend a viewing of it if you have any interest in discovering more about the madness of Klaus Kinski and his work with Herzog, it's pretty fascinating stuff. I could understand accusations of this being a bit of a slow burn which I would agree with, but one the best slow burns I can imagine. A slow and intense build-up without a strong narrative, infected with madness and the dangerous beauty of the jungle, it's a beast of a film and Kinski is ferocious. 

Audio/Video
Shout! Factory present Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God in it's original full frame aspect ratio with an AVC encoded HD transfer, and the results are quite pleasing. Colors are vibrant, particularly the jungle fauna which is all consuming. There's an abundance of fine detail allowing for full enjoyment of the turbulent waters of amazon and the craggy facial features of madman Klaus Kinski, a very nice visual presentation from Shout! Factory. 

Onto the audio we have two German options, a DTS-HD MA 2.0 and a 5.1 surround option, plus a DTS-HD MA 2.0 English option. Of the three I preferred the 2.0 German option, the surround mix was odd to me. The overall complaint would be it felt forced and unfocused, definitely losing some of the potency of the Popul Vuh score, and the dialogue at times had an unfortunate reverb or echo to it that was unpleasant. Stick with either the German or English 2.0 audio options, both are decent. 

Special Features
- Audio Commentary With Writer/Producer/Director Werner Herzog moderated by Norman Hill (In English)
- Audio Commentary With Werner Herzog, Moderated By Laurens Straub (In German With English Subtitles)
- Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) HD
- Still Gallery (40 Images) (5 Mins) HD 

Onto the extras we have two audio commentaries, one featuring Writer/Producer/Director Werner Herzog alone, and another with Werner Herzog, Moderated By Laurens Straub (In German With English Subtitles). Herzog is in fine form in both the English and German commentaries tracks offering a treasure trove of anecdotal filming information and the prerequisite tales of working with Klaus Kinski, a troublesome genius who Herzog threatened with a gun to keep him on set at one point during filming, threatening to murder Kinski before putting a bullet in his own skull if need be, damn, that's some legendary stuff right there. The disc also includes a theatrical trailer for the film and a photo gallery. 

I first came to awareness of Werner Herzog through this film after stumbling upon it at the public library some years ago, and it perhaps ruined subsequent Herzog viewings to some degree by fact that it was Aguirre, the Wrath of God I viewed first, a film I consider to be the director's finest moment. While I enjoy the films to varying degrees each have all paled in comparison to Aguirre, a masterwork of minimalist cinema and what I consider to be the director's finest work. The Shout! Factory Blu-ray looks fantastic with a strong video presentation and the commentaries are intriguing, a recommend of the highest order, a fascinating and potent film anchored by the ferocious performance of one of cinema's most volatile personalities.

 

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