Conquest of the Useless

Yesterday we went to see Werner Herzog read from his own work in ‘Erroberung des Nutzlosen’ at the Volksbühne. While an impressive display of authorship my enjoyment of the performance was hampered by me having no knowledge of his movies and a recent aversion towards the theater.

With some heavy German, Herzog reads his diary notes from the production of Fitzcarraldo (trailer below), a massive undertaking to make a movie of a massive undertaking. The whole protracted shooting in the jungle sounds a lot like how Apocalypse Now was made.

The passages Herzog reads are gripping and contain lots of absurdities and events that happen when you are shooting a motion picture in the jungle (also rather reminiscent of También la Lluvia) as well as reflections on the nature of being and emotional turmoil.

The evening is turned into theater by adding evocative background projections of jungle scenes (nice!) and music by a jazz improvisation duo, a Sardinian choir of men and a Senegalese singer. They interject protracted bits of singing in between Herzog’s reading turning the whole thing into something like a Werner Herzog mixtape.

The music is where I lost it. Firstly: I keep forgetting how much I loathe jazz improvisation until its too late and I’m already in the middle of one. It may be fun to do, but I don’t see improvisations go anywhere dramatically. Added to that the music doesn’t fit well with Herzog’s reading. This created a lot of dissonance for me that forced me to interpret all of the musical intermezzi as kitsch. Funnily after Herzog was done reading —during the encore— the music was far more enjoyable.

This is probably a must-see (another probably sold out show tonight) if you’re into Herzog and/or improvisational jazz and/or world music. I couldn’t check those boxes but still enjoyed seeing the man read.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.