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Ferocious Reality

Documentary according to Werner Herzog

Eric Ames

Publication Year: 2012

Over the course of his career Werner Herzog, known for such visionary masterpieces as Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) and The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), has directed almost sixty films, roughly half of which are documentaries. And yet, in a statement delivered during a public appearance in 1999, the filmmaker declared: “There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” Ferocious Reality is the first book to ask how this conviction, so hostile to the traditional tenets of documentary, can inform the work of one of the world’s most provocative documentarians.

Herzog, whose Cave of Forgotten Dreams was perhaps the most celebrated documentary of 2010, may be the most influential filmmaker missing from major studies and histories of documentary. Examining such notable films as Lessons of Darkness (1992) and Grizzly Man (2005), Eric Ames shows how Herzog dismisses documentary as a mode of filmmaking in order to creatively intervene and participate in it. In close, contextualized analysis of more than twenty-five films spanning Herzog’s career, Ames makes a case for exploring documentary films in terms of performance and explains what it means to do so. Thus his book expands the field of cinema studies even as it offers an invaluable new perspective on a little studied but integral part of Werner Herzog’s extraordinary oeuvre.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: Visible Evidence


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Other Works in the Series, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I have a number of people to thank for the help they gave me in writing this book. Several people read portions of the manuscript, and it benefited enormously as a result. They include Maya Barzilai, Jane Brown, Dan Gilfillan, Deniz Göktürk, Marianne Hirsch, Anton Kaes, Monika Kaup, Sudhir Mahadevan ...

The Minnesota Declaration

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Werner Herzog, Documentary Outsider

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pp. 1-16

On April 30, 1999, Werner Herzog visited the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for a public dialogue with film critic Roger Ebert. After they had both been introduced, Herzog walked alone to center stage of the museum’s theater and addressed the audience of more than three hundred people. ...

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1. Sensational Bodies

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pp. 17-48

Picture the scenario that precipitated the Minnesota Declaration: a restless night of watching bad television in a foreign hotel room. Surfing the available channels, as Herzog recalls in interviews, he came across “a very stupid, uninspiring documentary, something excruciatingly boring about animals somewhere out there in the Serengeti.” ...

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2. Moving Landscapes

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pp. 49-80

For a traveling filmmaker who has worked on every continent, Herzog approaches the physical environment with striking uniformity of vision. Combining a passion for landscape views with an insistently inward movement, his ephemeral vistas open up a space of imagined interiority that is also a representation of the physical world we inhabit. ...

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3. Ecstatic Journeys

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pp. 81-104

The dramatic use of landscape, the unlikely figures that traverse it, the peculiar ways in which they travel—these are among the most alluring, distinctive, and memorable features of Herzog’s films. The previous chapters endeavored to flesh out the central role of the human body and its environment. ...

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4. Baroque Visions

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pp. 105-146

The scholarship on Herzog passionately suffers from what is, of course, a more widespread problem of methodology. Again and again, that is, we almost habitually frame the material in terms of certain paradigms as opposed to others and thus see only particular aspects of the films, which consequently become all that there is to see in them. ...

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5. Cultural Politics

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pp. 147-180

In recent years, Herzog has frequently revisited certain political concerns of his earlier work, including the charges of environmental and human rights abuse that were leveled against him throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the most famous incident being Herzog’s altercations with indigenous Peruvians during preproduction of Fitzcarraldo, ...

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6. Reenactments

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pp. 181-214

Lately, the practice of reenactment has made a certain comeback in documentary filmmaking. By reenactment, I mean the staged reconstruction of a past event, which creates a new and necessarily different event in the present. Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1984) and Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line (1987) offer only the most well-known examples. ...

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7. Autobiographical Acts

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pp. 215-258

For decades, Werner Herzog has projected a public image of himself as a director frankly opposed to acts of self-exploration, whether imaginative or therapeutic.1 The image serves in part to deflect the once frequently leveled charges of narcissistic self-absorption or “ego mania.” Indeed, Herzog even claims to avoid his own gaze in the mirror. ...

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Conclusion: Herzog’s Verité

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pp. 259-268

A few years ago, Herzog received an artist’s grant from the National Science Foundation to make a film at McMurdo Station on Ross Island, the American base in Antarctica. The result is Encounters at the End of the World, a loose series of personal portraits and moving landscapes integrated into a larger narrative of the filmmaker’s journey to the South Pole. ...


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pp. 269-320


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pp. 321-335

Other Works in the Series, About the Author

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pp. 347-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780816682010
E-ISBN-10: 0816682011
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816677634

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Visible Evidence