Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

Posts Tagged ‘werner herzog

Lessons of Darkness (1992)

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When your short film is garnering comparisons to Dante’s Inferno, you must be doing something right.

Our friend Werner Herzog’s chilling fifty-minute film uses real footage of the burning oil fields in Kuwait combined with sparse interviews and an uncomfortably detached voice-over to create a post-apocalyptic world out of reality. He splits the footage up into thirteen chapters that suggest a war on a cataclysmic scale. The film teeters off the cliff of documentary and falls into morose science fiction. Here is a fantastically succinct analysis written by Jeremy Heilman on

The ability of these images and juxtapositions to create awe is in no way reduced by the film’s basis in reality, perhaps because Herzog has always shaped the physical world to suit his storytelling needs, even in his fictional films. His tendency to find resonant metaphor in the world’s oddities is one of the prime elements of his genius, and by showing the scorched earth of Kuwaiti oil fields, he presents an almost literal, and unshakable, hell on earth.

The cinematography consists of mostly aerial shots, slowly moving through the barren wasteland humans themselves have destroyed. Fires rage, dotting the landscape almost like stars in the sky, and we see firemen working to put them out but we are removed from them. The scariest visual in the entire film, for me, were the lakes of oil reflecting the sky, acting so much like water. When we see them begin to boil, we know Herzog has brought us to hell.

Oil is so deceiving, so ugly and yet so close to being beautiful. Herzog plays with these illusions very carefully, as oil itself becomes evil, deceiving our eyes as it masks for water and blood. – Beyond the Valley of the Cinephiles


Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 14, 2011 at 10:11 am

Precautions Against Fanatics (1969)

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Central to the ongoing thematic concerns of Werner Herzog’s cinema is the question of vocation, of what activities, often wildly ambitious, seemingly pathological or downright peculiar, call out to certain, often-eccentric individuals, giving their lives a sense of almost divinely inspired purpose. It’s one of the things that allows the not un-eccentric Herzog to connect to so many subjects he might otherwise feel unable to relate with…

Quoted from this analysis of Herzog’s films, the above claim is a fitting description of the directors style and predominant themes. Werner Herzog films extremists, weirdos, and people you wouldn’t meet everyday walking down the street, and he somehow makes them seem relatable and ridiculous at the same time. This short is a pseudo-documentary with a bit of absurd humor, something I have a sneeking suspicion would be much funnier to a German sense of humor than a young American’s. Still, at only eleven minutes long, the film is worth a view.

The DVD Verdict Review has this to say in summary:

Precautions Against Fanatics doesn’t seem to fit with the previous films at all. But that’s okay, because there aren’t many films that Precautions Against Fanatics would fit in with. The film is a surreal little excursion into Herzog’s sense of humor. The 11-minute film takes place primarily at a race track, while various people try to describe what they do to help the horses, which include everything from standing in front of the pens to walking around a tree to guarding a fence. Although I found it funny, I had the sense that I was missing something, and the DVD box mentions something about German celebrities, so I can only assume that some of the actors are famous people. In any event, the short is bizarre enough to stand on its own without cultural reference and would be appreciated by fans of strange comedy.

For the purpose of a short film class, it is also a good introduction to Herzog’s distinct brand of filmmaking.

Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm

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