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Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes, 1972
[Aguirre: The Wrath of God]

Kinski/RiveraAguirre: The Wrath of God opens with an astonishing landscape shot of a mountain side in the heart of the Amazon jungle. Images of men, reduced to size of imperceptible dots, descend along the precariously steep trail, briefly disappear into the horizon, and reemerge into the foreground of another mountain. It is late 1560, and an expedition led by Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repulles) has set out from the Peruvian highlands in search of El Dorado, the mythical city of gold. Faced with difficult terrain and dwindling rations, Pizarro dispatches an exploratory crew for a one week survey of the surrounding area. Pizarro tasks Don Pedro de Ursua (Ruy Guerra) to lead the survey crew, and appoints Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) as second in command. Insulated from the threat of retribution from the Spanish government, Aguirre begins to subvert Ursua's authority. Aguirre dissents on the rescue of a crew aboard a raft stranded on the side of the river. He instructs the men to gather materials without Ursua's knowledge or consent. He orders the death of a soldier loyal to Ursua. However, the path to El Dorado proves to be elusive as the crew fall victim to treacherous currents, inconspicuously laden traps, and Indian attacks. Driven by the promise of wealth and conquest, Aguirre forces a mutiny when Ursua decides to retreat into the mountains.

Werner Herzog creates a visually stunning and haunting portrait of obsession and madness in Aguirre: The Wrath of God. Using recurring animal imagery, Herzog distills human behavior to its base, primeval instincts: the transportation of caged chickens down the formidable mountain; the mistreatment of a horse on the raft; the capture of a wild boar at a deserted village; the relocation of baby rats by its mother; the plague of monkeys in the final sequence. In essence, the noble ideal of propagating civilization and enlightening the indigenous people are manifestations of a deceptive goal - a rationalization for the innate greed and narcissism of men. Inevitably, the Spanish expedition's "altruistic" cause - like the legendary city of El Dorado - proves to be a false, unattainable illusion.

© Acquarello 2000. All rights reserved.

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Jeder fur sich und Gott gegen alle, 1974
[Every Man for Himself and God Against All/The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser]

Bruno S.There is an ominous, impressionistic cadence to Werner Herzog's The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser: an obscured man in a rowboat, a woman rubbing clothes against a washboard, the sound of warbled music from a warped phonograph record. A brief, incidental foreword chronicles Kaspar Hauser's mysterious appearance in a Nuremberg town square one Sunday morning in 1828: a young man who has spent his entire life locked in a cellar, devoid of any social or educational skills, cast onto the street. Then a static shot of an open field yielding to an occasional sweeping breeze, and a transitive question appears: Don't you hear that horrible screaming all around you. That screaming, men call silence? The young man immovably stands in the middle of the square, clutching a note in his outstretched hand. Unable to decide a course of action for the displaced stranger, the police place Kaspar Hauser (Bruno S.) in a makeshift room from a converted jail cell, where physicians and scientists examine and chronicle every aspect of his life. Soon, he becomes a public spectacle as townspeople line up to catch a glimpse of him. In an attempt to profit from public interest, he is turned over to a circus ringmaster, where he becomes a carnival sideshow exhibition. He is rescued by a well-intentioned Professor Daumer (Walter Ladengast), who attempts to civilize him with scientific, philosophical, and theological instruction. He is introduced in social circles, where he is adopted by the wealthy as a cause celebre. However, his fame proves to be a burden, preying victim to two assassination attempts. Note Kaspar Hauser's "physical" regression after the first beating, where he is returned to the cellar. Herzog approaches Kaspar Hauser's story as a portrait of alienation and the inevitable tragedy of forced conformity, trivializing the political and conspiratorial specter that has often overshadowed the enigmatic young man's legacy. Note the use of interspersed pastoral images to punctuate Kaspar Hauser's gradual loss of innocence, from a conversation with Professor Daumer on differentiating dreams from reality to the physical abuse of the unprovoked attacks. In the end, all attempts at civilization prove to be nothing more than a crushing of the human spirit, and Kaspar Hauser sinks into the sanctity of his bed, delusional - regressing to his primeval soul, lost in his dreams - a broken man.

© Acquarello 1999. All rights reserved.

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