What is the difference between the work of Werner Herzog and the ideas and practices of Cinema Verite? Illustrate your essay with specific examples.
Werner Herzog is often referred to as the romantic visionary of
German cinema. He has become "a symbol of the filmmaker as
adventurer, vagabond, and daredevil" (Nowell-Smith, 1997, p.620), a
man who is seen to be an "obsessed, half-crazed auteur willing to
risk his life for a film" (Nowell-Smith, 1997, p.620). His
protagonists are similarly crazed and obsessed people, searching to
achieve their dream, which is invariably grounded in rebellion.
Herzog's work is infused with a sense of danger, originality of
vision - a quest. He is a man who is "uninterested in ordinary
domestic situations" (Cousins, 2004, p.357), and has therefore
ventured further and further from his native home of Germany, in
search of stories concerned with "people under pressure, on the
edge, staring death in the face" (Cousins, 2004, p.357), much like
what he himself seeks to experience. Herzog was one of several
filmmakers who came to the fore during the New German Cinema
movement, which lasted primarily between the 1960s and 1980s.
Indeed, it was the 1950s and 1960s which saw great change to the
face of cinema across the world.
Britain experienced 'free cinema', America had 'direct cinema'
and France had the somewhat similar 'cinema verite' - meaning
'cinema truth'. This method of filmmaking was born from radical
experimentation and most importantly, technical breakthroughs which
"produced nothing short of a revolution, radically altering
structure and approach in documentary" (Rosenthal, 1996, p.265)
filmmaking. The seed for Cinema Verite was sewn with the work of
Dziga Vertov who sought to capture life as it appeared, filmed from
the perspective of the unseen wanderer - the so-called 'flaneur'.
Vertov believed the camera could capture and understand actuality
with unmatched clarity, but it is here that the link between Vertov
and Verite severs - the former focussed on visual style, in-camera
trickery and most famously creative editing, the latter took the
freedom and perceived anonymity and literally ran with it.
The obvious difference between Herzog's work and Cinema Verite
is that Herzog is creating films merely based on actuality. Even
his documentary work, such as Lessons of Darkness,
utilises a filmmaker's eye to re-interpret reality. Despite the
taste for improvisation and physical realism, Herzog's films are
scripted - they are constructs - they are planned and they are
ultimately the work of a dedicated team of people. His stories are
retold in his own vision; he seeks to make the viewer see what he
sees. His work is connected with running themes - man, nature,
obsession, insanity and working against the odds. However, much
like Cinema Verite, the camerawork within his films remains often
handheld and at a distance to the subject. It is removed and
observational - precisely the technique used in Verite. Grizzly
Man likewise displays several traits reminiscent of the
technique. The self-shot footage (by Treadwell) was copious (100
hours of raw footage) and was trimmed down by Herzog - a figure who
was previously completely uninvolved in the subject matter. Much
like verite, the film was made in the editing from a somewhat
withdrawn back catalogue of real life moments.
The works of Werner Herzog, and the nature of Cinema Verite, are
complex and contradictory bodies. They are hard-to-define, they
transcend blurred boundaries and they take many forms in varying
degrees of connection to the original theory behind the form, be it
fictional storytelling or impartial documentary. Herzog and Cinema
Verite go together because they are equally contradictory, but
similarly they don't go together because they are equally
contradictory. The question is, in a sense, unanswerable. There is
no clear definition of who Herzog is, or what his work ultimately
represents beyond a reflection of himself and his subconscious.
There is also no clear definition of precisely what Cinema Verite
actually is. Both these entities of the filmmaking world assume a
variety of forms and degrees of concentration, and ultimately
contradict their foundations.