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Ferocious Reality

Documentary according to Werner Herzog

2012
Author:

Eric Ames

Ferocious Reality

A look at the illustrious director’s paradoxical relationship with documentary

In close, contextualized analysis of more than twenty-five films spanning Werner Herzog’s career, Eric Ames makes a case for exploring documentary films in terms of performance and explains what it means to do so. Ferocious Reality expands the field of cinema studies as it offers an invaluable new perspective on a little studied but integral part of Werner Herzog’s oeuvre.

Werner Herzog has long avowed that he hates documentaries and does not participate in the tradition. Eric Ames’s wonderful book lets us in on an open secret: ‘Herzog has. . . added to the vitality and visibility of documentary cinema internationally for more than four decades.’ I would go further: the best of the films that Herzog has made over his long career have been those that, if not called documentaries, cannot be labeled fictions. Werner Herzog’s challenges to the documentary tradition have inevitably become part of that tradition. This book shows us how.

Linda Williams, University of California, Berkeley

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. 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.

Ferocious Reality

Eric Ames is associate professor of German and a member of the cinema studies faculty at the University of Washington. He is coeditor of Germany’s Colonial Pasts and author of Carl Hagenbeck’s Empire of Entertainments.

Ferocious Reality

Werner Herzog has long avowed that he hates documentaries and does not participate in the tradition. Eric Ames’s wonderful book lets us in on an open secret: ‘Herzog has. . . added to the vitality and visibility of documentary cinema internationally for more than four decades.’ I would go further: the best of the films that Herzog has made over his long career have been those that, if not called documentaries, cannot be labeled fictions. Werner Herzog’s challenges to the documentary tradition have inevitably become part of that tradition. This book shows us how.

Linda Williams, University of California, Berkeley

Ferocious Reality is excellent. The book centers on how Herzog consistently undertakes an exploration of the limits of documentary cinema and engages with it as performative behavior, challenging its boundaries. Eric Ames analyzes a broad range of Herzog’s films and engages with an array of important theoreticians of documentary cinema. This book is first-rate and innovative.

Brad Prager, author of The Cinema of Werner Herzog: Aesthetic Ecstasy and Truth

Many film buffs consider Werner Herzog as a ‘70s art house director who moved into documentaries during the past 15 years, but as Eric Ames reminds us, Herzog made documentaries from the start.

Shepherd Express

A fascinating, provocative examination of Herzog's complex oeuvre, written with a simultaneous eye for irreverence and certitude, not unlike Herzog's own work.

Slant Magazine

Ames offers an insightful, well organized, and readable study of Werner Herzog’s documentary work that explores the director’s earliest films as well as his most recent. A lucid guide for understanding the themes, ideas, obsessions, and complexities in the lesser-known work from one of our finest modern directors.

The Arts Fuse

The book will be useful to readers interested in the relationship between fiction and nonfiction in any medium, or between art and truth, as well as readers interested in documentaries, film, performance, German intellectual traditions, or Werner Herzog. Ames understands the territory of performing nonfiction very well.

Book News, Inc.

This is a substantial academic treatment of one of the major film figures of the 21st century. Recommended.

CHOICE

This is a brave book. While he may be the most influential filmmaker whose work is not included in many major studies and histories of documentary, we can thank Eric Ames for correcting this oversight by being a most capable translator of the documentaries of Werner Herzog.

Documentary Magazine

Ames’s insightful book illuminates documentary studies, while making the multi-faceted figure of Werner Herzog still more intriguing, but also more comprehensible.

Monatshefte

With Ferocious Reality, Eric Ames makes a valuable contribution to the literature on documentary, offering a thoughtful and philosophically adept analytical approach and elucidating it with clarity and restraint.

Senses of Cinema

Ferocious Reality

Contents

Acknowledgments
The Minnesota Declaration
Introduction: Werner Herzog, Documentary Outsider
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe

1. Sensational Bodies
Game in the Sand
Handicapped Future
Land of Silence and Darkness
Wodaabe
2. Moving Landscapes
The Dark Glow of the Mountains
Fata Morgana
La Soufrière
Lessons of Darkness
Wheel of Time
3. Ecstatic Journeys
Huie’s Sermon
Bells from the Deep
Pilgrimage
4. Baroque Visions
The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner
Death for Five Voices
God and the Burdened
5. Cultural Politics
Fitzcarraldo
Ballad of the Little Soldier
Ten Thousand Years Older
The White Diamond
6. Reenactments
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Wings of Hope
Rescue Dawn
7. Autobiographical Acts
I Am My Films
Portrait Werner Herzog
My Best Fiend
Grizzly Man
Conclusion: Herzog’s Vérité
Encounters at the End of the World
Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Notes
Index