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The Werner Herzog Collection [UK] Blu-ray Review

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The Collection

[Rating:5/5]

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Fully restored in 2K and brought to Blu-ray by the BFI, the films of arguably the most uncompromising, innovative and enigmatic German filmmaker since the silent era and Fritz Lang, The Werner Herzog Collection arrives spanning 8-discs filled with dramas (Stroszek; Woyzek), documentaries (God’s Angry Man; Burden of Dreams), art house endeavors (Heart of Glass), historical docudramas (Fitzcarraldo; The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser) and even Gothic horror (Nosferatu, the Vampyre).

The actor most associated with Herzog is the enigmatic Klaus Kinski. The infamously combative partnership between the filmmaker and actor led to some of Herzog’s most heralded films, and Kinski’s most memorable roles. Nosferatu, the Vampyre, both a remake of the 1922 F.W. Murnau silent classic and an adaptation of the Bram Stoker original from which Murnau’s film was based on, the horror film showcased Herzog’s majesty with the lens and Kinski’s ability to take on any character. The two also teamed up for the notoriously difficult Fitzcarraldo about rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, (based on the real-life figure Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald) who determined to transport a tiny steamboat over a treacherous hill in Peru in order to transport rubber. The gorgeous imagery of the Amazon basin belied the harrowing conditions, the funding issues, and numerous actors that bailed out of playing the lead role. As with the similarly difficult to film Apocalypse Now from Coppola, Herzog’s tribulations would be recorded in the documentary (also included here) Burden of Dreams. Similar to Fitzcarraldo, and the first of the Herzog-Kinski collaborations, is Aguirre, Wrath of God, in which an expedition deep into the Amazon by conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro turns bad in a hurry and ends in a coup. Another crowning achievement in this partnership is the fantastic Cobra Verde, where Kinski plays the feared titular bandit in slavery era Brazil, banished to Africa after he consorts with a plantation owners daughters. There, as an overseer of slaves, he becomes victim of brutality himself before leading a rebel army against the Brazilian oppressors. Finally in Woyzek, Kinski is an enlisted soldier suffering humiliation at the hands of his superiors and the woman he loves until he explodes in a shocking fit of violence.

But even beyond the Kinski-led films, Herzog gives us interesting, thought provoking works, mostly with a small circle of actors. His earlier fictional films include Bruno S. in the lead roles of characters on the outside looking in at society. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is another film based on a true story. A 19th century man  appears one day barely able to speak or even walk. Bruno S. plays the titular character who is slowly brought into society, taught to speak and read, and becomes a curiosity as he begins to reveal often naïve but deceptively clever observations on the society around him. In Stroszek, Bruno S. again plays the lead character, an alcoholic recently released from prison who rejoins society with his elderly friend and his prostitute girlfriend in Berlin, but finds it difficult to make it. Together the three dream up a plan to leave and go to the United States and live the “American Dream” in Wisconsin, only to find when they get there that America is really no better than home.

The strangest of Herzog’s films in this collection is Heart of Glass, in which he uses hypnosis, one of his major interests, on the members of the cast and films them while they are hypnotized. The film has a very strange aura and, really, makes no sense. Ostensibly, it is about a foreman in a small village of glassworks who dies taking with him the mystery behind a strange ruby glass.

The connecting threads in all of Herzog’s works are his visual style of static shots, and his strange characters, always seeming to be on the outskirts looking in, or battling against the odds. Even in his documentaries, which are presented here as well, this seems to be the case. He likes to focus in on underdogs, pariahs, or people with strange abilities, like in Handicapped Future, a documentary about Germany’s laws negatively affecting handicapped children, or How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck? about the speed talking auctioneers.

Editor’s Note: for screen captures of Nosferatu, the Vampyre and Aguirre, Wrath of God, see the full reviews of their respective individual releases from the BFI (the contents of each is identical to those contained in this set).

Video Quality

[Rating:4/5]

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All films in The Werner Herzog Collection were scanned at 2K from original 35mm film elements (except for The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutchkreuz, Handicapped Future, Land of Silence and Darkness, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, Huie’s Sermon, and God’s Angry Man, which were scanned in 2K from the best available 16mm negative, 16mm reversal positive, and 16mm print materials) and remastered by Alpha-Omega Digital GmbH Germany. Burden of Dreams and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe were transferred in high definition from original 16mm interpositive elements by the Criterion Collection in 2004. The South Bank Show: Werner Herzog was transferred in high definition from a 16mm print provided to the BFI from ITV.

All film’s appear in their original aspect ratio (1.33:1; 1.66:1; 1.85:1) and are given an AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement on Blu-ray. Apart from the unavoidable veiled look of Herzog’s signature soft filter application in many of his films, and what is some grittiness in the lesser short films and documentaries shot on 16mm, these all look splendid and natural, with beautiful grain structures, lots of detail and clean imagery.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4/5]

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Each film has its original mono soundtrack in German LPCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit), except Cobra Verde, which has German and English 2.0 Stereo LPCM (48kHz/24-bit). Cobra Verde, Aguirre, Wrath of God; and Nosferatu, the Vampyre have German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtracks. Fitzcarraldo has German and English DTS 5.1 tracks. Additionally, Fitzcarraldo; Burden of Dreams, Nosferatu, the Vampyre; and Aguirre, Wrath of God have English LPCM 1.0 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtracks.

There is some audible clipping in the dialogue for Stroszek, the monaural mixes are just a little boxy, and the stereo mixes for Cobra Verde are somewhat lacking in dynamics, sounding a bit pushed and forward, especially the English version. The DTS 5.1 mixes for Fitzcarraldo don’t have much going on and sound a little unnatural and boomy during some explosion sequences. Apart from these minor issues (minor, given the scope and length of this set) the sound is more than acceptable, with intelligible dialogue. The later films come in with the better sound, especially some of the lossless 5.1 mixes.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4.5/5]

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Booklet: The illustrated booklet contains an extensive essay on Herzog and his films by Laurie Johnson, plus full film credits and information on the transfer.

Aguirre, Wrath of God:

  • Stills Gallery (1080p/24; 00:02:08)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:03:19)
  • Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill
  • The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz (Werner Herzog; 1967; 1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:15:30) – Symbolic drama about four young men hiding from an imagined enemy
  • Last Words (Werner Herzog; 1968; 1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:13:15) – Short film about the last man to leave a former leper colony
  • Precautions Against Fanatics (1969; 1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:11:05) – Short satire about horse-racing enthusiasts
    Fata Morgana (1977; 1.33:1; 1080p/24; 01:16:18) – Hallucinatory film exploring mirages and the Mayan creation myth:

    • German Narration with English Subtitles
    • English Narration
  • Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Crispin Glover

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser:

  • Audio commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill
  • Theatrical trailer (1.66:1; 1080p/24; 00:02:50)
  • Land of Silence and Darkness (1971; 1.33:1; 1080p/24; 01:24:31) – Herzog explores the isolated world of the blind and deaf through the work of one elderly woman with this affliction, Fini Straubinger.
  • How Much Would a Woodchuck Chuck (English and German versions) (1976; 1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:46:16) – A look at the fast-talking style of auctioneers.
  • Stills Gallery (1080p/24; 00;02:29)

Heart of Glass:

  • Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill
  • Theatrical trailer (1.66:1; 1080p/24; 00:03:34)
  • Stills gallery (1080p/24; 00:01:54)

Stroszek:

  • Audio commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill
  • Theatrical trailer (1.66:1; 1080p/24; 00:03:23)
  • Stills gallery (1080p/24; 00:02:29)

Nosferatu, the Vampyre:

  • On-Set Documentary (1.66:1; 1080p/24; 00:13:08)
  • Audio commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill
  • Stills Gallery (1080p/24; 00:03:33)
  • Theatrical trailer (1.85:1; 1080p/24; 00:02:03)

Woyzek:

  • Stills gallery (1080p/24; 00:02:29)
  • Theatrical trailer (1.66:1; 1080p/24; 00:03:16)
  • Handicapped Future (1971; 1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:43:43) – In this TV documentary, Herzog looks at how Germany’s laws negatively affect the outcome of the nation’s handicapped children.
  • The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974; 1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:45:41) – In this documentary, Herzog seeks to explore the psyche of a champion ski-jumper who makes his living off the slopes as a woodcarver.
  • Huie’s Sermon (1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:41:48) – A made-for-TV documentary, this film is a straight documentation of a pastor’s sermon in a historically black church in New York.

Fitzcarraldo:

  • Audio Commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill
  • German theatrical trailer (1.85:1; 1080p/24; 00:03:08)
  • English theatrical trailer (1.85:1; 1080p/24; 00:03:08)
  • Stills gallery (1080p/24; 00:04:24)

Cobra Verde:

  • Audio commentary with Werner Herzog and Norman Hill
  • Stills gallery (1080p/24; 00:03:34)
  • German theatrical trailer (1.85:1; 1080p/24; 00:03:19)
  • English theatrical trailer (1.85:1; 1080p/24; 00:03:19)
  • God’s Angry Man (1981; 1.33:1; 1080p/24; 00:45:32) – A made-for-TV documentary from Herzog documenting ’70s televangelist Gene Scott, who was being targeted by the FCC.
  • Guardian Lecture: Werner Herzog in conversation with Neil Norman (01:22:21)
  • The South Bank Show: Werner Herzog (1982; 56 mins)
  • Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (Les Blank, 1980; 21 mins)

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4.5/5]

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The Werner Herzog Collection from the BFI is a must-own set for film connoisseurs. Herzog is one of the most fascinating, unencumbered, original filmmakers of our time. His films are beautifully filmed, the stories riveting.

Additional Screen Captures

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