"Stroszek is an injured soldier sent to recuperate at a remote Greek island. There, he and his new Greek wife, Nora, serve as caretakers to an abandoned ammunition dump. The newlyweds adjust to their new life on this encha... more »nted desert isle and attend to their simple duties, but soon, the heat, the exotic locale, and the suspicious, eccentric natives push Stroszek towards insanity. He finally snaps, tries to kill his wife, then plans to ignite the ammunition dump. Ultimately, soldiers swarm the area, trying to capture the psychotic Stroszek before he blows up the whole island. Signs of Life is the debut feature from Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Fitzcarraldo; Nosferatu), the director that both Milos Forman and François Truffaut have called "the greatest filmmaker alive today."« less
"First off, I want to say that I'm a big fan of Werner Herzog. Between 1972 and 1982, he was one of the best directors in the world, coming up with such unique masterpieces as "Aguirre," "Kaspar Hauser" (or whichever title you prefer), "Nosferatu" (the remake), and "Fitzcarraldo." As his feature-length debut, "Signs of Life" never quite reaches the sublime heights of those later movies. For one thing, I find the narration a little clunky, as if Herzog were still clinging to the last vestiges of traditional plot development, and lead actor Peter Brogle lacks the electrifying presence that Bruno S. and Klaus Kinski bring to Herzog's later films. Still, this film points the way to Herzog's later masterpieces, and it undeniably possesses the same eerie atmosphere and languorous beauty that we associate with his movies. I'll also single out Wolfgang Reichmann's performance as Meinhard as being particularly good. All in all, I give this film 4 stars, but I recommend that movie buffs new to the world of Herzog start with his collaborations with Kinski (which are available in a nice boxset from Anchor Bay) and then work backwards to "Signs of Life."
I've deducted one star from my rating, however, because of New Yorker Video's rather problematic DVD. On the surface, it's a very appealing release: the print they used is beautiful and nearly flawless, and they include a director's commentary with Herzog himself, who is always interesting to listen to. But for some reason, New Yorker has NOT given this film a progressive transfer -- in other words, instead of capturing each individual frame of the film (24 per second), they've simply transferred it all at once (rather like a videotape). To be honest, it's about as good a non-progressive transfer as you can get, and people with regular tube TVs probably won't notice any problems. But for those with projectors and high-resolution screens (heck, even if you toss it into your PC and watch it on your monitor!), you're going to notice a blurriness during horizontal movement that people call "combing." In my opinion, non-progressive transfers are simply unacceptable in 2005, especially since many of us will soon be upgrading to higher resolution TVs. I simply don't understand why New Yorker continue to go the non-progressive route, but I'm pretty sure this will be the last New Yorker DVD I buy until they get their act together.
Finally, I also wish that this DVD had included the two short films that Herzog mentions in his commentary as tying in thematically or stylistically with "Signs of Life": "Last Words" and "The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz." I haven't seen either, but based on the commentary, they sound relevant. Along with the non-progressive transfer, their absence represent exactly why companies like New Yorker fall so short of the standards set by Criterion, despite making such interesting and worthwhile films available."
One of Werner Herzog's Best Films
youngvelvet | Calgary, Canada | 07/30/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Signs of Life is Werner Herzog's very first feature film and also one of his best. The script may have even inspired Stephen King's novel The Shining. In Signs of Life we have an injured soldier and his wife working as the caretakers of a military fortress on a Greek island. The soldier eventually goes mad with boredom and tries to kill his wife and everyone else. Werner Herzog wrote the script himself in 1964 and made the film in 1967 with only $20,000 at age twenty-five. Herzog's script is amazing and the actors all perform flawlessly. Signs of Life has Herzog's distinctive slow pace which may seem like torture to the average viewer who's been forced-fed a steady diet of fast food images. This masterpiece has great photography and a great use of original Greek music. This film reminds me of Roman Polanski's first feature film Knife in the Water (1962). ..."
One of Herzog's Best!!
John Q. Rowland | Portland, OR United States | 05/19/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an unbelievably beautiful and poetic film! Great music and cinematography, and a fascinating meditation on the human condition. A wonderful debut by Herzog, an absolute must for fans! In my opinion this is among his best, along with Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, and Kaspar Hauser. A DVD release of this is desparately needed!"
Herzog's first film
Jmark2001 | Florida | 09/12/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If you like Herzog, do not miss this one. Herzog's usual leisurely pace is meant to draw you in before he unleashes the film. I love Herzog because he is so different from our Hollywood directors. He seems unconcerned with any commercial success and had an original outlook on life in his films."
Looking For Signs of Life
Moldyoldie | Motown, USA | 09/21/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"If there was any doubt concerning Werner Herzog's innate personal aesthetic, it should be dispelled with one viewing of his first feature film, 1967's Signs of Life. Already evident at age 24 are Herzog's attractions to all things bizarre, visually extraordinary, and narratively subliminal, as well as to a loose interpretation of an already loose screenplay, usually his own! As has been mentioned in previous reviews, this aesthetic is apparent in most all of Herzog's subsequent and more renown efforts, but Signs of Life especially foreshadows Aguirre: The Wrath of God with its themes of isolation and resultant "descent into madness". There's also the catch-as-catch-can cinematic style which utilizes available objects and ad hoc events as significant symbols and narrative devices. Scenes aren't necessarily staged and shot with editorial continuity foremost in mind; hence, interesting narrative non sequiturs result. The difference here is that there's an utter lack of physical progression such as with Aguirre. We are emotionally stuck with the characters as much as they are physically stuck in their situation.
We have an injured World War II German Wehrmacht soldier sent to the beautiful remote Greek island of Kos to recuperate. He, his Greek soon-to-be wife, and two other soldiers are stationed at the famous medieval fortress there to guard a munitions depot. An historical backdrop would have been helpful for those viewers not thoroughly familiar with the situation as presented. What we can garner from visual cues and the languorous actions of those involved is only that there's a war going on someplace far, far away. Opposing Greek partisans make their presence known by secretly creating a large crown made of rocks on a distant hillside, though the German commanding officer dismisses it as merely an affirmation of the reason they're stationed there. Wehrmacht soldiers openly commiserate with the villagers; discipline is lax throughout the ranks. Everything seems peaceful, friendly, idyllic...and boring.
Lest I ruin it for potential viewers, I'll simply state that things get interesting with the acceptance of a routine patrol mission to break the monotony. An ironic madness ensues whereby the village and military outpost are suddenly in danger as a result. The irony is felt in the half-hearted urgency reflected in the military command, the sprawling evacuation of the villagers, but especially in the surreal black & white images we see -- some of which are haunting in the context presented -- as well as in a simple and pensively beautiful Greek melody played on strings.
Signs of Life is probably a "must-see" only for fans of Herzog; saying it's one of his best is certainly overstating things. Others should see it with the knowledge that it was made by a young "New Wave" German filmmaker with minimal formal film schooling, a stolen camera, an award-winning screenplay, a shoestring budget, and a committed group of actors and participants. You may never look at windmills the same way again!
p.s.: The DVD is of fine full-screen quality with very legible white English subtitles and can be viewed with the director's ruminative running commentary."