Andrew Petrie

Herzog at the BFI: Mad men in the rainforest

Herzog at the BFI: Mad men in the rainforest
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‘I am the wrath of God. The earth I pass will see me and tremble.’ Not my words, Mr Speaker, but those of demented conquistador Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s electrifying Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972). Now back in cinemas nationwide in a restored print that makes its rainforest setting a real feast for the eyes, Aguirre heralds a two-month Herzog season at the BFI Southbank. Five weeks of location shooting in Peru effectively meant the film crew endured the same hardships as the characters: heat, hunger and the unpredictable behaviour of Kinski, scarcely any less a madman than the treasure-seeking Aguirre. The director claims that Kinski only calmed down enough to finish the film after Herzog threatened to shoot the star and then himself.

What’s truly amazing is that Herzog’s 1982 movie Fitzcarraldo shares some of Aguirre’s locations, thereby making the director the only man on earth crazy enough to sail down a tributary of the Amazon with Klaus Kinski and then go back ten years later to do it all again. Oh, and this time in a gigantic steamboat that has to be pulled over a mountain for the sake of the plot, which involves an eccentric Irishman building an opera house in the jungle.

Also on nationwide rerelease (from 5 July) is Herzog’s painterly, philosophical costume drama The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, starring a real mental patient (Bruno S.) rather than someone who might as well have been.

The BFI Southbank’s Werner Herzog season runs until the end of July.