Saturday, December 5

Five of the best documentaries, chosen by Werner Herzog | Documentary films


I don’t watch movies, ”says Werner Herzog. “People always believe that a filmmaker would have seen hundreds or thousands of movies; if you have a man like Scorsese, for example, he has his own screening room and his own 35mm prints, or [Peter] Bogdanovich, or some of the French filmmakers. They keep watching movies. I do not. I watch about three movies a year. “

What it does is read. “There is practically no day that I don’t read. I’m not looking for inspiration, I’m only interested in certain things. “Recently, he has been fascinated by the ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus’s account of Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II of Macedonia.” If you take the wildest Brazilian soap opera, it can’t match to Diodorus Siculus “.

You may not see many movies, but the German director has made some of the most amazing films in movie history. In addition to his famous fiction, his documentaries have covered a dizzying variety of topics: aeronautical engineering, opera, death row, Antarctica, the Internet. Fireball, his latest book, looks at how meteorites have shaped human culture and civilization over the centuries.

The problem with most documentaries, Herzog says, is that “they haven’t been divorced [the medium] of journalism. Very often they are ‘themed movies’ about a social problem, and in the end there has to be redemption and hope. I don’t like this type of cinema ”. On the other hand, those who aspire to the realism of cinéma vérité “cannot really pretend truth [truth] That is nonsense and I don’t believe in it ”.

A truly outstanding documentary should be something completely different from journalism: what it can and should ultimately do is point “toward poetry, toward a deeper understanding and enlightenment of what the truth could be.” These four (plus one additional option) are the few that have come close. “You have to do me a favor,” he concludes, “and see these movies.”

The act of killing.
The act of killing. Photography: Real / Novaya Ze / Rex / Shutterstock

The act of killing
(Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)

I’m an executive producer on this movie, about the genocide in Indonesia, so my answer is a bit skewed. I was in London and someone said, “There is a young man, Joshua Oppenheimer, who desperately wants to meet you.” Then he opened his laptop and showed me nine minutes of footage. He knew he had never seen anything like it. It was incredible. So I was an advisor on shaping the movie, but it was all shot already, so it was more on shaping the narrative. The end of the film was completely cut in his version. I said, ‘Is there more footage?’ and he sent me all the raw footage as it came out of the camera, something like four minutes, without cuts. And I said, “Leave it uncut and put it there as it is. No one will ever see something like that again. “And of course a lot of people had objections and were a little shy. And I said,” Joshua, if you don’t put this footage at the end of the movie as it is, you’ve lived in vain. ” put it there.

The Mad Masters
(Jean Rouch, 1955)

It is arguably the best documentary ever made. These are workers in Ghana: on weekends they would go out into the mountains and do drugs by chewing some kind of lianas and doing very, very strange rituals about the arrival of the Queen’s High Commissioner. It was filmed with a camera that needs to be turned on, so the maximum duration of each shot is 24 seconds.

War stories ... Pain and pity.
War stories … Pain and pity. Photographer: Norddeutscher Rundfunk / Kobal / Rex / Shutterstock

Pain and compassion
(Marcel Ophüls, 1969)

This movie comes to mind, about the French resistance, which has changed the French self-perception that everyone is supposedly resistance. Which, of course, was a myth, and it really changed. [that view] quite. It is quite a long movie, over four hours. It examines images from occupied France and after liberation, and it is an incessant self-inspection.

Vernon, Florida
(Errol Morris, 1981)

This was his second documentary, after Gates of Heaven, and I pressured Errol to do it at the time, when he was very young. He spent some time in a small town in the Florida Panhandle, just interacting and talking with the local people. And it’s a completely unbelievable world of fantasy and strangeness. You have to see it. How can I describe it? I am not a reviewer. It’s a great, great movie.

Bad news bear… Timothy Treadwell tempts fate in Grizzly Man.
Bad news bear… Timothy Treadwell tempts fate in Grizzly Man. Photograph: Kobal / Rex / Shutterstock

Grizzly Man
(Werner Herzog, 2005)

We have already reached a goal of four. But if we have to fill the list, let’s add Grizzly Man. Because we haven’t seen anything like this, before or after. Has an intensity and character [of its main subject, bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell] it’s very, very fascinating. So we fooled the list of five by including one of my own – they’re all fine, let’s face it.

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, directed by Werner Herzog and volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, is out now on AppleTV +

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