Monday, September 24, 2007

The Great Movies: "Aguirre, the Wrath of God"

If you have spent any time at all reading this blog (not even to mention its two obsessive-compulsive sister blogs) you will understand that big arbitrary projects are a big part of the the michael5000 experience. And behold, since I could not possibly have too much on my plate, this week I am beginning another pointless, oversized endeavor.

Dad5000 recently tossed out his copy of Roger Ebert's 2002 The Great Movies, a collection of 100 essays on that critic's favorite films of all time. I brought it home, where it gathered dust until a few weeks ago when, after drinking entirely too much lukewarm white wine, I grabbed it as a late-night leisure read. And you know, Ebert made all of those movies sound reeealy good. "I should watch all of these!" I thought.

So, now you know how I organize my life. I'm going to watch the 100 "Great Movies," and do the predictable write-ups here. Subject to the vagaries of the Multnomah County Public Library, chance, and of course Mrs.5000, I will be watching most of them in more or less alphabetical order. More or less. No reason.

Here we go!

At the Movies with Michael5000

Aguirre: The Wrath of God
Werner Herzog, 1972

One of the great things about the whole moving-pictures-with-sound concept is that it can help you imagine what it would be like to live an entirely different kind of life. Aguirre does this very, very well. It does not try to entertain you with exciting action or an interesting plot. In fact, it doesn't really try to entertain you at all, at least not in the "that's entertainment!" sense of the word. What it does, and pretty damn well, is to create a mood and a sense of empathy for what life (and death) was like in a certain historical context. You read sometimes about people doing things like trying to move cannons through the Amazon jungle in the 1500s. Here's an idea of what that must have actually looked like.

The Plot: Standard Heart of Darkness stuff. An episodic trip down a river through hostile territory, a descent into madness and desperation. In this case, the characters are Spanish conquistadors and the river flows into the Amazon Basin.

The Visuals: Stunning. From the opening scene, where a long line of soldiers, slaves, wives, and animals descend down a sheer cliff into the jungle below, the images are both lovely to look at and keen illustrations of the insanity and futility of what the characters are undertaking. There are a lot of long, steady camera shots; these are going to strike a lot of modern viewers as slow and boring, but make me sad for what we've lost with the more rapid cutting of newer movies. Sometimes its rewarding to just linger on a beautiful image, and sometimes the long impassive gaze on a scene is right for the mood. Both are true in Aguirre.

The Script: Spare. It's a image-driven movie. The characters, completely out of their element, often say things that are funny in a very dark, ironic sort of way. It seems odd at first to hear conquistadors speaking German, but you get used to that pretty quickly.

Prognosis: A great movie, but not for everyone. Recommended for film people, the overeducated in general, and folks interested in Latin American colonial history.


Karin said...

"Der Zorn Gottes" So, linguistically and theologically speaking, does that refer to gods plural? I'm thinking of the phrase, "Gott in Himmel," which seems to indicate one God, capital G. I would think the conquistadors would be rather in favor of the one God ideology. So then why the title "the wrath of the gods", I wonder? If I am right at all.

Perhaps the filmakers refer to the wrath of all the gods, including the gods of the peoples the conquistadors conquered?

I'd like to believe that God, if there's only one, or all gods, if there are many, would have the same intention: peace; and the same response: displeasure in the face of oppression such as is represented in this film.

[woah. karinleak gets all heavy and shit.]

Yeah, it happens.

Michael5000 said...

@Karin: Heavy. But "Gottes" in German is the singular whatsit case. Dative? Whichever one indicates possession. Like so: "(The) (Wrath) (God's)."

Karin said...

Yeah, I figured that out eventually, after a quick search. Silly me.

But, hey, I had fun thinking...and on two of my favorite topics...God and language.

And you thought you were talking about movies.

Unknown said...

It's strange that a film about conquistadores can bring back memories of Captain America and Bucky killing Nazis in old Marvel Comic books that, yes, I did read and no, I'm not that old. These were printed in trade paperback size books that I generally received on birthdays and around HannukahMas. At one point a hapless nazi soldier shouts "Gott in Himmel" before he becomes yet another victim of American heroism as Bucky (Captain America's sidekick) guns him down.
I read the Captain America comics but they were always the least favorite stories in my anthology collection. Even though my parents, sunday school teachers, and jewish peers encouraged me to hate Nazis, Germans, and other enemies of Israel, I was not comfortable with the single-minded passion with which soldiers and Nazi sympathizers were dispatched by Captain America and crew.

Anonymous said...

You kind of remind me of my friend Dolores. She never endeavors anything without doing it to the nth degree. She has vast (and I mean it) collection of movies: every film featuring Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Liz Taylor, Barbra Streisand, among others. In college she had three giant tubs of movies and I am certain it has only grown since then. Anyway, for a while she was on a project to watch every single one in chronological order (not that she hasn't already watched them all a kajillion times). I'm sure by now she's finished that and has moved onto something else equally important, like alphabetical by movie star.