Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Into The Abyss (2011)

WHO: Werner Herzog directed this documentary.

WHAT: Here's how Roger Ebert began his November 2011 review:
Into the Abyss may be the saddest film Werner Herzog has ever made. It regards a group of miserable lives, and in finding a few faint glimmers of hope only underlines the sadness.
WHERE/WHEN: Screens 7:00 PM tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

WHY: Roger Ebert and Les Blank: two "men of cinema" who died of cancer in the past week. It's hard to believe they're gone. I already miss knowing they're around. I have a lot more to say about each of them, but no time to say it all, at least not yet.

For today, I just would like to acknowledge the link Werner Herzog was in a chain that connected one to the other. Though I think Nosferatu the Vampire was probably the first Herzog film I saw, back when I was a teenager and didn't really care about foreign films, it also may have been Aguirre: Wrath of God, which I liked even better. I know first watched the latter at around the same time, with my father, a religious viewer of Siskel & Ebert and the Movies. I remember looking it up afterwords in his copy of Roger Ebert's Home Movie Companion, which I suspect I consulted more frequently than he did, making the fact that I gave it to him as a birthday or Father's Day or Christmas gift seem rather suspect now that you mention it. 

Seeing that film and reading that review (I'm not even sure it was a full review; it may have just been a write-up accompanying its place on his 1982 all-time top 10 list) must have planted a seed that would eventually blossom into cinephilia in my post-college twenties (yes I'm a bit of a late bloomer compared to most cinephiles I know who were movie-mad by age 18 if not earlier).  It was in this period that I started catching up with Herzog's other films (an ongoing process as I've still yet to see a few, most notably Heart of Glass, which Ebert preferred to Aguirre as late as 1980), which led me of course to Fitzcarraldo and its inevitable companion Burden of Dreams, Les Blank's remarkable making-of documentary that's better than the original film. After a decade of watching Blank's films at least as fervently as I had Herzog's, I had the great privilege of interviewing him at his El Cerrito studio. I excerpted a piece from that interview on this blog just the other day, where I got to see the preserved remains of the shoe Herzog didn't quite finish during the event that Blank filmed and released as Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

Anyway, I'm sure that many who attend tonight's screening will be thinking of Herzog's connections to both Ebert and Blank. These connections aren't just a creation of my own cinephiliac nostalgia kicking in. Here's a link to audio and a transcript of Herzog's comments after hearing about Ebert's death.

HOW: Into the Abyss screens in 35mm.

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