One of Werner Herzog’s Bottomless Mysteries


Viva la Werner! The cataract of Herzogiana continues with the overdue DVD release of this hypnotic 1971 film—his first feature-length documentary—about Bavaria’s blind-deaf community and, in particular, Fini Straubinger, a tough, philosophical old woman whose self-appointed role is to breach her fellow isolates’ inner world. Herzog’s lifelong fascination with alternative languages and states of conscious experience takes root with his subjects’ alphabet code, strummed out in conversations we can’t hear on each others’ palms like silent Bach arpeggios. (Watch the hand of the “listener” fold into an embrace when the message is understood halfway through.) Through their presence, Herzog makes even hothouse cacti and park trees seem unearthly. It’s one of the most powerful of Herzog’s many bottomless mysteries—we watch but we cannot see
in; likewise, Fini and her compatriots have no or little knowledge that they are being filmed, or what, in fact, that might mean. The rather clinical extras include text excerpts by Helen Keller and Oliver Sacks. New Yorker is simultaneously releasing Herzog’s first feature, Signs of Life (1968), an absurd comedy about a soldier going mad on an idyllic Greek island; Herzog provides one of his signature dry-as-vermouth commentaries. Enough Herzog? Forget it: In October comes a DVD of short docs, including the legendary climb-up-an-active-volcano death wish La Soufriére (1977).