A masterpiece, a near masterpiece, and a fun flick
Herzog Fan | Watertown, MA USA | 11/18/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Great Ecstasy" is one of Herzog's greatest works--every frame of this little masterpiece shimmers with brilliance. The Popol Vuh soundtrack perfectly compliments slow-motion footage of ski-flyers plunging and crashing to the earth in ways that seem almost balletic. Walter Steiner himself is such a complex figure--articulate, sensitive, self-depreciating, haunted. It's remarkable how his fear of his own inhuman talents forms a part of his own courage. Herzog's own gangly presence comes off as almost comic, the way he looms ponderously on the edges of many scenes. In forty-five minutes, this gem perfectly encapsulates what makes Werner Herzog such a unique and necessary presence in cinema. "La Soufriere" is one of Herzog's more notorious projects, and it is quite brilliant. One could argue that it's a trifle slim and underbaked--it just doesn't feel complete in the way of "Great Ecstasy", and the use of archive photographs in the middle section seems a bit "conventional" by Herzog's standards. But it is a powerful film, and the scenes with some of the inhabitants of this "doomed" island are deeply moving. "How Much Wood" is the least of these three--it's a lot of fun, but a bit overlong and repetitive and lacking a strong central figure such as a Walter Steiner. But an interesting exploration into an overlooked sub-culture nevertheless. All in all, this package rounds up one of the greatest short documentaries ever made, along with two very worthy items in Herzog's catalog."
La Soufriere makes it worth your while
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 08/29/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Great Ecstasy: This is not the most visually poetic of the three documentaries (La Soufriere is by far the most visually poetic) but it is an interesting character study of the enigmatic superstar of ski flying, Walter Steiner. Steiner is the best at what he does, in fact he's so good that he often sails so far down the slope that he lands dangerously near the bottom of the hill (and crashes very near the bottom at least once). Visually this just looks like your typical winter olympic footage c. 1974. Herzog does make liberal use of slow motion and an evocative Popul Vu soundtrack but this is not the majesterial cinematography that we are used to seeing in Herzog's features nor in his other documentaries like White Diamond and Little Dieter Needs to Fly. So visually this is just so so, the real point of interest here is in Steiner himself (not in the only slightly exalting footage of those ski jumps). Like many athletes who have reached the top of their game Steiner seems to exist in a zone all his own (and near the end of the documentary we hear a Steiner poem that makes it seem as though he would like to venture even farther away from humanity than he already has) . We hear him discuss his woodworking and he explains how he perceives in the wood before him energies that want or need to be released from the matter that confines them (and it seems that Steiner is really talking about his own relation to matter here and his need to be released from it). If you perceive a barely veiled deathwish here this is only corrobarated by a story about a pet crow that the young Steiner cared for and had to ultimatley shoot when the other crows turned on it. This dark loner's tone introduced into the documentary sits uneasily with the ecstatic images of flight though it does explain why he may be so good at what he does. Despite those dark tones that Herzog seems interested in exploring Steiner does not seem like a person who broods over what he says or does or has much self-awareness at all and this is maybe the key to Steiner's charm. This documentary will exert an especially strong appeal to lovers of sport's eccentric loners but ultimately the documentary really is too slight, the character sketch not complete enough.
How Much Wood: I grew up in the country in Ohio in the mid seventies so I related to the country folk culture here but ultimately the Amish were much more interesting to look at than the auctioneers. There was very little poetry in this documentary and really very little to keep your attention. My own interest was merely nostalgic. I didn't detect any particular anti- capitalist sentiments here or anything in the way of social comment. It seemed more like a celebration of folk culture.
La Soufriere: This is the real gem of the bunch. Even though the volcano never erupts the evacuation of this island allows Herzog to film an abandoned town and there is plenty of poetry in Herzog's tour. His camera must have been mounted on the top of a car or truck but we feel like we are gliding through this ghost town on wings. It doesn't sound like much but this documentary has a visual power the other two don't. Its as if the waiting for the volcano to explode is a symbol for mans uncertain fate and though this documentary is the quietest of the three it also seems to, paradoxically, say the most. Herzog has a way of filming nature and using just the right music to accompany his images. When he does this its like he is practicing an art form (part nature photography, part mystic quest) that only he has mastered.
Great Ecstasy has a quirky sporty youthful charm (albeit with a few dark notes sounding to explain the need for ecstatic release); How Much Wood has a mid-seventies country folk charm; but La Soufriere has that near-mystic visual intensity and grandeur ( accented by the immanent tragedy which makes every building and every mountain scape seem like its holding its breath) that is Herzog's trademark.
Herzog is a great traveler-adventurer (a kind of throwback to those eccentric nineteenth-century travelers). He can also, at times, be a kind of over-the-top showman (in features and in his documentaries) but here everything is subdued and the images are allowed to speak for themselves."
Ski Fliers, Cows and Volcano's
Shaun Anderson | Nottingham/Hereford, England, UK | 12/26/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
This DVD presents three Werner Herzog short films from the 1970's. The first and most impressive is "The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner", which is a fascinating and breathtaking look at the exploits of a ski flier. This is part sports documentary (with Herzog as the commentator and fan) and part voyage of discovery as Herzog takes us into the imagination and motivations of the otherwise down to earth Steiner. Steiner is a classic Herzog character, a marginalised loner who lives in a strange fantasy world which consists of wooden carvings and soaring into the clouds, that he is an actual real living man gives the film a strange fictional lucidity. The second film "How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck" is a curiously stagnant affair and was shot whilst Herzog was in the US working on "Stroszek", Herzog labours his critique of capitalism to the point at which boredom sets in, which is quite an achievement for a film which lasts about 30 minutes. Although he makes some impressive comments about what he terms the language of late capitalism, the repetition makes the film look almost structuralist. The final short work is "La Soufriere" and is a wonderful little piece which shows Herzog's recklessness at its best as he films an active Volcano about to explode, that it doesn't explode is something of a shame (though Herzog would have perished), but even Herzog's commentary has a sense of disappointment. The shots of empty and deserted streets are genuinely eerie. Overall this is an interesting package, little thought has gone into the selection, just a random process, but just to have access to these rare works is good enough."
Herzog the Great Traveler of both natural and human landscap
PristineAngie_dot_com | NYC | 11/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I've always been a great admirer of Herzog's oeuvre. Traveling is one of my main pursuits in life, and whenever I see a Herzog movie or documentary, I feel as if I am embarking on a journey. Walter Steiner, the subject of the first documentary is a ski flyer. Herzog attempts to unearth what it is that makes this athelete a phenom in his field. We get a glimpse into both the subject's fascination with the dynamics of explosive energy (in his sculptures) and the source of childhood grief in the form of a pet bird losing it's feathers and the ability of flight. The slow motion photography is beautifully filmed here, and the texture and lighting of some television-screen sequences previsualizes Godfrey Reggio's work by ten to thirty years.
The second documentary is a brief look at Amish life as the setting for a contest for the best auctioneer. Their staccato mind-numbingly fast auction talk makes a re-appearance in Herzog's film Stroszek. One feels desensitize after a few minutes of being inundated with verbiage. In Stroszeck, the jarring rhythm works better to produce a sense of alienation. I look at Woodchuck as an initial fact-gathering footage for Stroszeck.
The third film is about a post-evacuated town where a volcano's imminent eruption is predicted. Herzog interviews homeless men who have chosen to stay behind. The landscapes of both mother nature and the human interior are discovered on film, a trademark of Herzog's style. Again, admirers of Ron Fricke and Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (and Chronos) will see the godfather of them all at work here.
Herzog is a true treasure of contemporary culture and an articulation of the adventurous human spirit."