Review by Michael Jacobson
Klaus Kinski, Eva Mattes
Director: Werner Herzog
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files
Length: 80 Minutes
Release Date: August 15, 2000
There may not exist in the history of cinema a more
tempestuously lucrative pairing than that of director Werner Herzog and actor
Klaus Kinski. Some of the stories
of these men’s feuds are the stuff of legends.
My personal favorite is the tale Herzog often recalled of the Peruvian
natives who volunteered to kill Kinski during their shoot of Aguirre.
The director always claimed he regretted declining their offer.
Yet, despite the hostility, the two worked together five
times, and created some important and revered films for movie lovers to cherish.
Woyzeck doesn’t really achieve that kind of status for itself, yet
it remains an interesting, if not entirely entertaining entry into the
filmographies of these two men. I
mostly recommend it for Kinski’s brilliantly realized performance, and not for
Herzog’s surprisingly inert direction.
Kinski plays the title character, Woyzeck (pronounced
WOIT-sek), a man without a lot going for him.
He’s poor, he’s not too bright, he’s forty years old and still a
private in the army, and his wife hasn’t slept with him for two years and is
finding satisfaction elsewhere, though, like any good cuckold, doesn’t
recognize that fact right away.
As the opening credits roll, we witness Woyzeck being
brutalized and degraded by a drill instructor.
This represents only the beginning of the torments for this character in
the film. We soon sit back
helplessly and watch a captain verbally humiliate him (and in much more personal
ways than typical good old fashioned army taunting) while Woyzeck is calmly
shaving him with a straight razor. A
curiously dangerous situation, yet Woyzeck’s demeanor makes us wonder at first
if he’s capable of a real act of violence.
We also witness his bizarre relationship with the army’s
doctor, who has obviously been using Woyzeck as a guinea pig for his experiments
on diet and behavior. One scene
shows the doctor about to drop a cat out of a high window.
How will the animal react, he wonders?
When he drops the poor thing, Woyzeck is there to catch it.
The animal the doctor was referring to was not the cat, but the man.
We later see his wife, Marie (Mattes) engaged in an affair
with an officer. Marie sits in
front of a mirror, and remarks with equal vanity and sadness that the only
aspect she has that makes her more than just another poor woman is her beauty.
When the captain and the doctor accidentally (on purpose?)
let slip to Woyzeck about the affair, we finally begin to see the inevitable
unraveling of the man. Certain
earlier scenes exist to have us question whether his sanity was leaving him.
He seemed to see ominous forces on the horizon and hear voices speaking
to him from under the earth. Now,
these voices are crying, “Stab! Stab!”
The film finally reaches its Shakespearean climax, when a
tortured Woyzeck takes Marie far out into the country and murders her.
The killing is filmed in super-slow motion, an effect lingering for a
while after the deed to focus on Woyzeck’s reaction to what he’s done.
It is a powerful, chilling moment.
Herzog has remarked that Woyzeck
was one of his favorite films to make, simply because it was one of the
easiest. It only took 18 days to
make, and if you’ve ever seen Aguirre or
Fitzcarraldo, you’ll really
appreciate the significance of that. Herzog
is most famous for his pictures that were made under the most grueling of
conditions and over startling lengths of time, testing the mettle and sanity of
both cast and crew (and inspiring some of the most famous bouts with Kinski).
Here, his approach is very simple—almost TOO simple.
The cameras rarely move, and cutting is quite minimal.
It doesn’t come across as being done for any other reason than
conservation of energy. As such, Woyzeck
is visually one of Herzog’s weakest and most boring visual efforts.
The dynamic performance of Klaus Kinski is really the
picture’s saving grace. I
personally consider him one of the greatest actors ever in the history of film.
He has a style that I like to refer to as natural exaggeration.
In other words, his performances are very emotional and broadly physical,
yet never come across as overacting. His
intensity always seems to well from some boiling, buried turmoil that is under
pressure and about to explode. His
work here makes us care about a character who only seems to exist as a dramatic
experiment. Just as the doctor in
the film uses him as a test subject, the storytellers here seem to have created
a man simply to push him to his emotional and physical limits, just to see what
If you’ve never seen one of the Herzog/Kinski
collaborations before, I’d recommend two other Anchor Bay offerings ahead of
this one: the atmospheric Nosferatu the Vampire, or the stunning portrait of obsession Fitzcarraldo. Or, check out Herzog’s tribute to his partner and
nemesis, My Best Fiend. Those will give you a much better look at what these two
warring souls accomplished together, and provide you with enough appreciation to
better enjoy a picture like Woyzeck.
Once again, Anchor bay delivers the goods in this
department. Though the box states
the ratio at 1.66:1, the anamorphic image is actually framed at 1.85:1.
Images are generally very sharp and well defined throughout, with only a
touch of noticeable background softness here and there.
Colors are extremely natural looking and often quite beautiful, with no
bleeding or distortion problems. The
scene before the murder, which shows Woyzeck and Marie walking toward a lake
with their reflections visible, is as beautifully rendered a shot as any I’ve
ever seen on DVD—however, the shot that follows the deed shows a bit of
shimmer across the images of the trees in the background.
The print is mostly clean and free from nicks, dirt or debris, but there
are a couple of spots in chapter 6 where the film blanches almost completely
white for very brief moments, as though something had eroded the image on the
negative. But ultimately, what’s
good about the transfer far outweighs what’s questionable, and I gladly
proclaim this DVD another commendable effort from Anchor Bay.
Though only a 2 channel mono mix, this is actually a very
good soundtrack, with surprising dynamic range. Being that the film is in German, it’s hard to accurately
diagnose the clarity of the dialogue, but when voices are raised, the audio
reflects it. The music is
particularly good and expansive, not thin like you’d normally get with mono.
There’s not much real action in the picture, so I tended not to miss
the lack of surrounds or deep bass. The
soundtrack is clean and noise-free, and makes for a good, enjoyable listen
The disc contains only a trailer and talent files for Kinski and Herzog. Considering Anchor Bay’s releases of Fitzcarraldo and Nosferatu the Vampire have commentary tracks with Herzog, I wonder why this title didn’t?