< aguirre, the wrath of god

08/01/18 (01:04)
I watched the 1972 movie Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which is a mouthful, and which is described on its Wikipedia page as a 'West German epic historical drama film,' which does hit all the bases, but doesn't hit that the thing is sparse and uninviting as all hell and makes one really think about how it is possible that the film did as well as it did. Made anyone feel good about themselves coming out of the theater. This means we have to examine its fetishes. Klaus Kinski (of messianic complex fame), who never for a moment in the film will put his shoulders level with each other, slouches around asymmetrically like a prosthetically exaggerated Bowie, alternately stroking his scabbard or daughter (or both). This is an actor who spent tours claiming he was the vengeful Jesus, who has had books and films written and made specifically about his aggression and obstinance, who fought for the Germans (perhaps half-heartedly) in the Second World War as a teenager, who has seen some (to understate it) shit, and this guy, someone so intensely aware of his projected image and potential for deification, someone who I am sure has had forum posts of all sizes shapes and stability dedicated to unshuffling the mysterious deck of his life, is sent into the middle of the Amazon with hired locals and hand-lashed rafts and told to act as a madman, but as according to Werner Herzog's definition of a madman. A prescribed insanity. An opportunity to affect that which cannot be affected. All of this, the wobbling shots without color correction, the camera's beady eye drawn by brown water and tangled leaves and waterlogged wood, is set to a Krautrock synthed choir. Glam-rock is still big contemporaneously with this film. I am taken by (1) the effective tight mean of the color palette (green, brown, sterile blue) of a film so ostensibly lush, (2) the distention of nearly every character's body or facial features (barring, of course, the women, whose clothes remain lambent and untouched, and whose bodies are lithe and faces heart shaped etc.), (3) Aguirre's eyes finding the camera lens so knowingly and carefully and only just once, and (4) the ship suspended in the tree. This is not your garden variety Conrad HoD lookalike. This is no set of ominous postage letters and interpretations. The camera inhabits hallucination and it is beautiful and strange and dilated and I felt like I had time to think during the final scenes—where the arrow comes into the slave's leg from off-screen, when Florés stands impossibly long with her fatal wound, when the ship in the tree goes by, suspending a solitary canoe of its prow like a massive and yet unripe fruit. There is a relaxation and an expansion of the movie into its limited means in these moments: textures (a velvet dress), inversions (an impossible ship) and dilations (hundreds of monkeys) supplant the tangled homogeneity of the turbid water and foliage. We the viewers are thankful to see apocalypse, because it means the riverbank doesn't scroll by. We have a mission, as proclaimed by the dying Kinski, and it's no less important or comforting than Vladimir and Estragon's ditty. I want to determine if this can or does happen in other films, both Herzog's, his predecessors, plus also the motley brood of lookalikes that came squealing after this thing popped out. It would be fun to own on VHS: it may be that on lossy magnetic media is where it belongs. In this way, at least the final protestation of incestuous propagation by the already impossibly skeletal and wispy Kinski can be met with equal degradation of the image itself. I want to see if I can create similar pleasure in spareness as this film manages: inversion as a final madness and dénouement. It is crazy funny to talk about things this way, with these words: something this film permits. It's an idea that I will address sometime later, in another post or series of posts.
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