Werner Herzog:
Visionary at Large

From February 2 through 28, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents Werner Herzog: Visionary at Large, a tribute to the remarkably individualistic and durable German director.

While his colleagues in the 1970s New German Cinema movement have died or declined, Werner Herzog stands taller than ever. With the upcoming release of the Christian Bale-starring RESCUE DAWN and a recent spate of acclaimed documentaries topped by the hit GRIZZLY MAN, the 64-year-old Herzog finds himself one of the most revered working filmmakers, universally admired for the uncompromising integrity of his vision.

The ten-film series samples all phases of Herzog’s extraordinary career, from his early cult film AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD to the premiere run of his recent sci-fi docu-fantasy THE WILD BLUE YONDER. No filmmaker has produced such a significant body of work in both documentary and narrative cinema (although Herzog has denied the difference between the two). The films in this series illustrate the rich, often paradoxical relationship between the factual and fictional sides of his work--and his ability to blur the conventional boundaries between them. Herzog’s legendary creative/combative collaboration with the volatile actor Klaus Kinski is represented by four of the five films they made together. Nearly all of the films in the series are presented in newly struck 35mm prints that showcase Herzog’s poetic powers as an image-maker.

“Mission to the Outer Fringes,” one of the section titles in THE WILD BLUE YONDER, could apply to all of Herzog’s work. Whether fact or fiction, his films seek out the extreme boundaries of existence. His main characters are rebels, outsiders, overreachers, sacred monsters, and holy fools. His locations range from, the Sahara Desert to the heart of the Amazon jungle to the scorched oil fields of Kuwait to the waters beneath the Antarctic ice shelf. “I am looking for new images in film,” Herzog once said. After forty years and fifty films, his ability to find those unprecedented and amazing images remains undiminished.

-- Martin Rubin


feature films


1972, Werner Herzog, Germany, 100 min.
With Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo

“Not just a great movie but an essential one.” --J. Hoberman, Village Voice

Herzog’s most celebrated film is a haunting, horrifying chronicle of imperialism gone amok. Filmed in the shadow of Macchu Picchu and extrapolated from a real historical event, it recounts a 16th-century expedition that falls into the hands of a power-driven lunatic (Kinski) who dreams of stealing an entire continent. Among the films strongly influenced by AGUIRRE are Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and Malick’s THE NEW WORLD. In German with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)

Friday, February 23, 8:00 pm
Saturday, February 24, 3:00 pm

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New print!
1988, Werner Herzog, Germany, 111 min.
With Klaus Kinski, King Ampaw

COBRA VERDE forms the third part of an unofficial Klaus-Kinski-in-the-wild trilogy with AGUIRRE and FITZCARRALDO. Although not as famous as its two predecessors, COBRA boasts a ferocious Kinski performance and images (a carpet of human skulls, an Army of Amazon women) as spectacular as any in Herzog’s work. Based on Bruce Chatwin’s novel The Viceroy of Ouidah, the film casts Kinski as a Brazilian bandit sent to operate a slave-trading outpost in West Africa, where he develops an unquenchable thirst for power. In German with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)

Saturday, February 24, 5:00 pm
Wednesday, February 28, 6:00 pm

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New print!
1982, Werner Herzog, Germany, 157 min.
With Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale

“As a document of a quest and a dream, and as a record of man’s audacity and foolish, visionary heroism, there has never been another movie like it.” --Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

A companion-piece to AGUIRRE, this adventure saga once again casts Kinski as a mad dreamer let loose in the South American jungle, but this time the character is sympathetic, the tone warm, the tale inspiring. Kinski plays an opera-loving Irishman whose scheme to bring Caruso to the heart of the Amazon hinges on hauling a steamboat over a mountain--a foolhardy quest mirrored by the legendary difficulties involved in making the film itself. In German with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)

Saturday, February 10, 3:00 pm
Wednesday, February 14, 6:30 pm

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New print!


1974, Werner Herzog, Germany, 110 min.
With Bruno S., Brigitte Mira

AGUIRRE sends civilized man into the wild; KASPAR sends a wild child into society. The story is based on a celebrated, still controversial case: in 1828 a “feral” young man appeared in the town square of Nuremberg, his origins as unknown as if he had dropped from outer space. Kaspar is unforgettably played by Herzog’s other key actor, the former mental patient Bruno S., a performer as vulnerable and angelic as Klaus Kinski is dangerous and demonic. Caustic social satire mixes with breathtaking lyricism in one of Herzog’s most widely admired films. In German with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)

Monday, February 5, 6:00 pm
Wednesday, February 7, 6:00 pm

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New print!

1979, Werner Herzog, Germany, 124 min.
With Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz

“You will never see a better Dracula film.”--Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

Herzog’s version of the Dracula myth is the most chilling since Murnau’s 1922 NOSFERATU, which it honors without imitating. It is a truly Medieval vision, stripped of Romantic and Victorian frills, with a remorseless fixation on death and apocalypse, evoked by rushing clouds, parades of coffins, and hordes of rats. Kinski’s superbly disciplined interpretation of the vampire is creepy, sepulchral, and repellent, more vermin than human. English-language version, filmed simultaneously with the German one. 35mm. (MR)

Friday, February 2, 6:00 pm
Saturday, February 3, 7:45 pm

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Chicago premiere!
2005, Werner Herzog, USA/Germany, 81 min.
With Brad Dourif

“Entrancing and often funny.”--Leslie Felperin, Variety
“A sublime mood piece.”--Noel Murray, The Onion.
“Mr. Herzog’s imagination remains as richly inventive as it is bafflingly, wonderfully alien.”--Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“I don’t make documentaries. It’s something else,” Herzog has said. “Something else” is an apt term for this fascinating, humorous, uncategorizable whatsis that the director calls “a science fiction fantasy.” Dourif plays an alien from the outer regions of Andromeda, one of the many stranded on Earth. Admitting “We aliens all suck!” he narrates an alternate history of the universe, illustrated by often awesome footage of early aviation experiments, NASA space missions, desert ghost towns, Antarctic underwater expeditions, and African wilderness treks. Herzog’s space oddity was a hit at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI critics’ prize. 35mm. (MR)

February 16--22

Fri., Tue., and Thu. at 6:15 pm;
Sat. at 4:00 pm and 7:45 pm;
Sun. at 3:15 pm;
Mon. and Wed. at 8:00 pm

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2005, Werner Herzog, USA, 103 min.

This gripping documentary, a critical favorite and art-house smash, put Herzog back in the spotlight. Its subject is Timothy Treadwell, a self-appointed protector of Alaskan bears, who got himself and his girlfriend eaten by one in 2003. What makes the film so fascinating is the clash between the dead man’s sentimental view of nature and Herzog’s dour one (“chaos, hostility, and murder”), and, as an added twist, the ambivalence of the filmmaker toward his foolish and obsessive subject, who resembles a Herzog hero and, uncomfortably, Herzog himself. 35mm. (MR)

Saturday, February 17, 5:45 pm
Tuesday, February 20, 8:00 pm

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New print!

1992, Werner Herzog, Germany/France, 50 min.

“Horrific and awe-inspiring. . . a masterpiece.”--J. Hoberman, Village Voice

Herzog soars over a postwar Kuwait transformed by torched oil wells into a raging, strangely beautiful inferno (“Satan’s National Park”). Minimizing factual orientation in favor of abstract spectacle, the results are less akin to CNN coverage than to Biblical jeremiad and Kubrickian science fiction. This staggering apocalyptic vision loses much of its impact on a TV screen. 35mm.

Friday, February 16, 8:00 pm,
Sunday, February 18, 5:00 pm
Wednesday, February 21, 6:15 pm

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Followed by the Herzog’s LA SOUFRIÈRE (1977, 30 min.), in which the apocalypse-hunting director rushes to the top of a Guadeloupe volcano that is due to erupt. 16mm. (MR)

New print!

2003, Werner Herzog, Germany, 80 min.

“HHHH Riveting and unique.”--David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor
“Herzog’s Dalai Lama doc has a lyrical beauty comparable to his LESSONS OF DARKNESS.”--Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper

A contemplative stage in Herzog’s never-ending search for the ecstatic, WHEEL OF TIME immerses us in the world of Tibetan Buddhism. Providing commentary both reverent and wry, Herzog attends ordination festivals in India and Austria, interviews the Dalai Lama, accompanies a pilgrimage to a sacred mountain, and witnesses the creation of the spectacular sand diagram known as the mandala or “wheel of time.” In English and Tibetan with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)

Saturday, February 17, 2:15 pm
Monday, February 19, 6:15 pm

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Chicago premiere!
2006, Linas Phillips, USA, 94 min.

Inspired by such legendary Herzogian feats as pushing the boat up the mountain in FITZCARRALDO and walking from Munich to Paris to exorcise revered film historian Lotte Eisner’s illness, filmmaker Linas Phillips decides both to emulate and to meet his hero by trekking 1200 miles from Seattle to the director’s home in Los Angeles. Herzog proves an affable but elusive quarry, and Phillips’s sometimes amusing, sometimes daunting journey becomes essentially one of self-discovery. DigiBeta video. (MR)

Thursday, February 22, 8:00 pm