Great Directors: Herzog and Cronenberg Series

herzog.jpgDuring the first half of November the Seattle International Film Festival will be presenting showings of films by Werner Herzog and David Cronenberg, two idiosyncratic and independent directors whose recent successes have sparked a revival of interest in careers that now span four decades.

The Herzog screenings are not a retrospective but a “tribute” and feature four newer films, including The Wild Blue Yonder, a science-fiction/science-fact “existential mystery” that has received favorable attention at a number of recent film festivals. Herzog first came to notice in the 1970s as one of the pre-eminent German New Wave directors and was known for his fantastic, lyrical treatments of outsiders and visionaries. Aguirre, Wrath of God, arguably his masterpiece, featured a dazzling performance by Klaus Kinski as a conquistador desperately searching for El Dorado in the South American jungle and sliding ever deeper into madness. Herzog’s films have always tended to include a documentary component — as hallucinatory and bizarre as Aguirre may seem, for example, the story is based in historical fact, and the lengths to which Herzog went to film it on location are now the stuff of legend. In recent years Herzog has become better known for his documentaries than his fictions. Grizzly Man, an account of the life and death of bear fancier/fanatic Timothy Treadwell, was very well received at SIFF last year and enjoyed almost universally positive reviews.

The Wild Blue Yonder will be playing at the Seattle Art Museum on Tuesday, November 8 at 7:30PM, followed by its “sister film”, Lessons of Darkness at 9:15. On Wednesday, November 9th, Wheel of Time, documenting a Tibetan Buddhist initiation ritual in India, shows at 7:30 and The White Diamond, another study of an impossible journey, this time in the Guyanan rain forest, will be screened at 9:15 (also at SAM). Herzog will be inattendance and will introduce each film. [Werner Herzog Series]

cronenberg.jpgDavid Cronenberg has not received as much respect from the critics as Herzog has, but he is probably better known to North American film-goers for cult classics such as Videodrome, Existenz, and (my personal favorite) Naked Lunch. Long considered little more than a shockmeister with a taste for the perverse, Cronenberg’s reputation has improved greatly in recent years — in part because the critics have finally caught up with him, in part because his “mature” work deals more subtly with the disturbing themes that have always intrigued him. Spider, released in 2002 and featuring a strong performance by Ralph Fiennes was (at least by Cronenberg’s standards) an understated and moving consideration of an emotionally damaged man’s relapse into madness. A History of Violence, currently playing in local theaters, has received strong reviews and is enjoying more popular success than any Cronenberg film since The Fly.

SIFF’s Deeply Creepy: A History of Cronenberg is a retrospective and features ten of Cronenberg’s best films. The series runs from Friday, November 11th, through Sunday, November 13th, and is also being held at SAM. [schedule]

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