There will almost certainly be more from me about this particular film but, having seen Herzog’s new documentary Encounters at the End of The World (2008) I am, again, floored not only by Herzog’s intelligence but also his incredible gift for self-parody.
With films like Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982), Herzog forged a reputation for himself as a director whose mode of operation mirrors his choice of subject matter. Herzog’s films frequently deal with men of singular vision who try to force the imprint of their dreams upon a world that is at best indifferent to human suffering and, at worst, activiely participant in it. In order to make such films, Herzog repeatedly took his crew into the jungles of South America where they endured astonishing hardships and attacks by local indians. This has earned Herzog a reputation similar to that of his potagonists; he is a man who stands on the edge of the world but who cannot help but look down and think about jumping.
Herzog seems incredibly aware of his own reputation and actively plays up to it. In his documentary My Best Fiend (1999) about long-time collaborator Klaus Kinski, Herzog mentions that the insults levelled at Herzog by Kinski in the actor’s autobiography were in fact partly written by Herzog himself.
Encounters At The End of the World is a film that also plays up to Herzog’s reputation as some kind of cinematic Zarathustra. It includes not only a fantastically funny bit about penguins who go mad and leave their colony in order to walk off into the wilderness, but also a fantastic opening comment and picture that I felt compelled to share with you before writing about the film in any detail :
“The National Science Foundation had invited me to Antarctica even though I left no doubt that I would not come up with another film about penguins.
My questions about nature – I let them know – were different :
I told them that I kept wondering why is it that human beings put on masks or feathers to conceal their identity.
And why do they saddle horses and feel the urge to chase the bad guy?
And why is it that certain species of ants keep flocks of plant lice as slaves to milk them for droplets of sugar?
I asked them, why is it that a sophisticated animal like a chimp does not utilise inferior creatures? He could straddle a goat and ride off into the sunset.”