Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)

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Klaus Kinski as Aguirre

I recently became obsessed with this post - Jim Emerson's 102 Movies to Become Movies Literate. There's nothing I love more than a good list, but there's nothing more frustrating than a list I've barely conquered. On January 1st, I had seen 50 of the films listed and now on January 28th, I've seen 60. The latest film I've managed to check off is Werner Herzog's cult classic, Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), described as a "West-German New Wave Adventure Art Film". I dare you to try and make it sound more hipster.

The film follows a large group of Spanish conquistadors and native slaves making their way through the Andes, trying to find fabled golden city of El Dorado. Eventually running low on supplies, a smaller group is selected to go further and scout. This group is lead by Aguirre, our titular character and a kind of renegade Colonel Kurtz type - basically a full fledged lunatic. Klaus Kinski plays the infamous Aguirre, who lends a dominantly Iggy Pop vibe to the role. To grossly condense the plot - everything goes to hell as unseen forces pick off the group one by one while Aguirre gets steadily crazier. Now Aguirre in all proto-punk glory, is full-on batshit insane and sharing his pipe dreams of fame and riches with the local monkey crowd.

Other than Kinski's crazy-eyes, the especially dominating factor in the film is the incredibly odd, but nonetheless perfectly suiting score. The eerie, new wave synthetic soundtrack has a strong Vangelis circa Blade Runner (1982) vibe - it's unsettling but hypnotically comforting in a way. The entire film is this weirdly amazing complex soup of sounds, which feels so artificially lulling, like it's trying to make you go to sleep, but you just can't because there's this underlying sensation of evil. Then before you know it, a shrill unnatural chirp brings you out of the unnerving fog and back to our band of explorers. Not gonna lie, Aguirre is nothing short of stressful.

Herzog loves showcasing mad dreams - maybe because he himself has them. Aguirre, the Wrath of God was shot in a frenzy on a shoe-string budget and on location in the Amazon - not conditions especially conducive to shooting a feature-length film. But somehow, Herzog pulled it off. With astounding cinematography, a compelling story and fascinating fucked up performances,  over 40 years later, Aguirre is still considered one of Herzog's best.

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