Contented Reader

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The Great Movies III

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The Great Movies III

Roger Ebert

University of Chicago Press

The first Werner Herzog movie I saw was Fitzcarraldo.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s the story of an eccentric white man trying and failing to become wealthy and important in the Amazon.  He has a dream: to build an opera house in the jungle, where the greatest voices in the world will come and sing.  In order to get the money for his opera house, he buys a rubber plantation at an un-get-at-able location.  To get at it, he will move a ship across land.

It’s a very strange movie.  But there’s this man, Fitzcarraldo, who will do anything, no matter how crazy, to achieve his dream, never pausing to be troubled by the fact that his dream is itself crazy.  And the visuals- the jungle, in all its wild, alien, terrifying beauty, like a look through Herzog’s eyes and back into his brain.

Then I watched Burden of Dreams, and learned that Herzog was not significantly less insane, as he made this movie, than Fitzcarraldo was.  That much of what I saw was entirely real- a little too real, even.  That he really did freakin’ move that ship across the land.  Fitzcarraldo is almost true, except that, instead of building an opera house in the jungle, the dream it all is for is the dream of making the movie Fitzcarraldo.

So I bought some more Herzog films, and was amazed.  They aren’t usually happy.  But they are usually visually beautiful and fascinating.  And they often, the fiction films and the documentaries, center on these astounding characters, people who reject what is easy and conventional and sane and strike out in their own direction for their own reasons, with results that are more complicated than the usual Hollywood reward for acceptable unconventionality.

Now, one night a week, I enjoy ‘The Werner Herzog Film Festival,’ which is my joking name for a night when, instead of getting together with my girlfriend, I watch one of these strange movies quietly by myself.  I’m an introvert, and solitude is healthy for me.  I like movies, and when my girlfriend and I watch them, we tend to chatter through them.  Which is fine and enjoyable.  But sometimes, I’ve found, there’s a sort of meditative experience in quietly watching a movie that unfolds slowly and in its own way, a movie that’s puzzling and demanding, a movie with quiet pauses in which to think about what I’m seeing, or about how it relates to what I’ve experienced in my own life.

I first read about Fitzcarraldo in one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” essays.  He has introduced me to a lot of good movies over the years, things that, like this one, I might not have noticed on my own.  Movies that ask more from me, and demand more careful attention, and reward me with a richness of ideas.  Movies that are the equivalent of literary fiction in the experience they give, their layers and the ways they repay repeated viewings.  Ebert is my film tutor, and has been for a long time.  I like his writing style, the way he thinks, and he has taught me a lot about how to watch a movie.

All the Great Movies books are worth reading, and not just reading by themselves, of course, but using as a guide to choosing movies.  I don’t suppose I’ll ever watch all the films he writes these essays about, but there would be worse ways to spend one’s time.  Maybe there’ll even be a time when “the Werner Herzog Film Festival” transitions into “the Roger Ebert Great Movies Film Festival.”

Anyway, I appreciate the way Roger Ebert’s writing about movies has made my life richer.  And this book, and its two predecessors, are a good place to have that experience.


Written by Contented Reader

October 1, 2012 at 6:21 am

Posted in Reviews

One Response

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  1. I really want to read these Ebert books. High on my Books at Your House I Want to Read list. 🙂

    sam jones

    October 1, 2012 at 8:49 am


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