A review of an obscure indie film (courtesy of HuluPlus’ choice selection of films from the Criterion Collection), some film history & Eric Michael Kochmer. Read on to find out why indie filmmakers should care. Every #TBT.


Directed by Les Blank / 1982 / Color / 95 minutes

Les Blank passed away a few years ago. He left behind some of the most unique and beautiful documentaries. The subjects that he was able to get in front of the camera  were always beyond fascinating.

Werner-Herzog-001Werner Herzog stole his first camera from the Munich film school. “I don’t consider it theft—it was just a necessity—I had some sort of natural right for a camera, a tool to work with.” To finance his first few short films, he worked as a welder. He has told young filmmakers that if it means getting thrown in jail for a night to get the best coverage for a scene you’re filming – then go to jail. He has also said walking across Europe barefoot or spending time in an African prison is more informative for a career in storytelling than is going to film school. He prefers Kung-fu films to Godard. From starting as a wild-man adventurer of the New German Cinema movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, he has graduated to making art films for the last few years through the traditional studio system here in Hollywood (his newest film is a highly budgeted epic filmed in the Middle East, starring Nicole Kidman as Gertude Bell – it’s being billed as the female version of Lawrence of Arabia). Oh, and he acts too, from films by Harmony Korine to playing a villain in Tom Cruise’s action film JACK REACHER. He loves Tom Cruise movies. Kind of absurd. Only Herzog.

He is the centerpiece of this documentary. This is at the height of his adventures in the 1970’s. Crazy isn’t the word.

First, in pre-production, the crew becomes embroiled in a local workers’ controversy and are threatened with death. The crew flees and the locals burn down all the sets. Over a year later, Herzog returns, with Jason Robards and Mick Jagger playing the main characters. Filming goes well … but after 50% of the filming done, Robards comes down with a life-threatening illness and is rushed back to Los Angeles where his doctors forbid him from returning to set. Herzog frantically searches for a new star, only to lose Jagger as well five weeks later, to a tour with the Rolling Stones. Funding backs out but Herzog strives on, refusing to let go of his dreams. I should note at this point that the chemistry between Robards and Jagger is fascinating and the footage that Blank gives us here are of fascinating performances that never were.

“If I abandoned this project, I am a man without dreams and I will not live like that. If I live my life I will finish this project.”

He goes back to Europe for over a year and returns with a new leading man: Klaus Kinski. This is when it really starts to get insane.

Klaus-Kinski-Burden-of-Dreams5Kinski and Herzog first met when they were much younger. Herzog’s family was living in a boarding house after World War II, and in the room next to them, Kinski stayed by himself. A young Herzog would stay up late at night listing to Kinski’s rantings, his recitations of poetry, while he studied acting. It was then that Herzog new that his destiny was to work with this madman. FITZCARRALDO was their fourth film together. After each of their films, both would threaten each other’s lives. This is beyond hate.

At one point in the film, a group of natives who have been working on the film, come to Herzog and tell him that they would like to kill Kinski. Herzog urges them not to because he has two weeks of filming left.

Luckily, the brilliant documentation Les Blank had the foresight to come to the jungle and record the proceedings. What happens makes the APOCALYPSE NOW shoot look like a Disney parade. As Herzog has said, Kinski makes Brando look like kindergarten.

Check out the trailer here.