Herzog documents the Kuwait war, but not in a very traditional way. There are few interviews and little in the way of context, even Herzog's trademark voice-over is largely absent. Instead, he shows us hellish landscapes that often reminded me of fancy CG shots out of Hollywood disaster flicks.
Lessons of Darkness is a rather poetic documentary, with a heavy focus on aesthetics to get its message across. I can only applaud that and I readily admit that the film looks quite stunning. I did find the grandeur of the music less fitting, and the interplay between audio and video a little lacking.
The film would've been ever better without the two or three interviews, which I felt detracted from the mood Herzog was trying to create. There are quite a few impressive scenes that linger well beyond the end credits and Herzog's approach deserves some praise, the execution could've been better though.
Worthy but flawed
Herzog's documentaries are always worth a shot. They don't always turn out great, but Herzog himself is such a peculiar figure that there's always a chance of some fun quotes or interesting angles. The same goes for La Soufrière, a somewhat haphazard doc about a volcano about to burst.
When Herzog hears a volcano is about to go off on Guadeloupe, threatening to destroy the island, he gathers a crew to document the event. He finds a deserted island, except for one man who decided to stay behind. That sounds like a great story, sadly, it turns out to be somewhat less exciting.
Not so much that in the end the crisis is averted (the volcano never erupts), but the guy they find isn't really all that interesting. He becomes the primary subject of the documentary, but he just goes on about God and whatnot. Still, Herzog shoots some very nice pictures of the island and the deserted towns are pretty haunting. Decent.
Herzog has always alternated between narrative films and documentaries. So far, I hadn't seen much of his older docs, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner is the first I've seen and heralded by Herzog himself as one of his most important films. Can't say I understand why though.
Steiner is a famed sky flyer (pretty much the same as ski jumping, only they go a lot further still) who broke several records in his time by crossing the farthest posts on the slopes. Herzog follows him around, detailing the dangers and appeal of the sport while underlying the often amateurish organization of the events.
While the close-ups and slo-mo footage of the jumps are quite nice, in the end it's still a pretty basic documentary about an athlete. One whose records have long since been beaten. Herzog makes the best of it and his enthusiasm makes sure that even people who don't care for the sport get something out of it, but in the end it's really not that special.
Herzog goes to Japan to make a film about a company that hires out actors, who become hired friends and/or family members for a day. It's not really a novel concept, but Herzog's documentary-style offers a new approach and the fact that the lead actor is also doing this job in real life adds a little intrigue.
Sadly the film itself is quite poor. Herzog feels lost in Japan and apart from some template shots (like Shibuya Crossing) ends up giving off a very touristy vibe. The film looks quite ugly, the music is ill-fitting and because of the form I expected Herzog's voice to pop up and give commentary on the story.
The performances are quite poor too and the fragmented setup doesn't really add much. It's a failed experiment that might've worked better as an actual documentary rather than a feature film. It's weird that Herzog didn't see this himself, as he's quite fond of making documentaries. Not good at all.