Werner Herzog Documentaries and Shorts

Okay, I've been covering all the Werner Herzog collections with the best editions of his films throughout the run of this site.  And in the course of that, this box, Werner Herzog: Documentaries and Shorts, has been pulled into the comparisons over and over again.  It's the 24 film, 6 DVD boxed set that Herzog started selling exclusively through his own website in 2006.  And it's still relevant because, even after all these fancy special editions and restorations released all around the world, four films can still only be found in this set.  Specifically, they are: Jag Mandir, Wings of Hope, Bells From the Deep and I Am My Films.  That's two feature-length documentaries and one short documentary by Herzog, plus a full-length film documentary about Herzog, respectively.  Everything else has been released elsewhere, largely for the better.  So first, here's a direct link to the 21 films I've already covered previously on this site:

...All of these films are presented better in other sets, mostly on blu-ray.  Even in the case of The Flying Doctors, which has yet to be released in HD anywhere, is still better on another edition (as an extra on Revolver's Encounters At the End of the World disc), because it isn't interlaced.  Everything in this boxed set is badly interlaced, which really hurts its viability.  Really, all that makes this set viable, are the remaining exclusive films.  But that is a critical exception.
Wings of Hope is a 1999 documentary I'm always surprised has never been more commercially available.  It feels like it would have more easy, mainstream appeal like Grizzly Man than any of his more eclectic, eccentric stuff like The Wild Blue Yonder or Precaution Against Fanatics.  It's the story of a seventeen year-old girl who was the sole survivor of a plane crash, who then had to survive for weeks, lost deep in the Peruvian jungle.  Herzog interviews her, then takes her on a journey to retrace her steps, even finding the wreckage still strewn about in the jungle decades later.  Yes, it's very much akin to Little Dieter Needs To Fly, a documentary so successful that Herzog later made a feature film about it for MGM starring Christian Bale.  But it's also very much its own distinct story, and Juliane Koepcke is a fascinating character in her own right.  It's really a wonder there wasn't even an Anchor Bay or New Yorker DVD of it in its time.
2006 .com DVD.
The box lists this as 1.33:1, but it's really more like 1.31:1, and like everything in this set, suffering serious interlacing problems.  Otherwise, though, the colors are strong and distinct, details are about as clear as you can ask for in standard def, and overall this looks pretty damn good for a 16mm documentary on DVD.  There's just the one English language stereo track with no subtitle options (instances of foreign languages spoken are over-dubbed by Herzog or an uncredited actress who speaks for Koepcke).
I have to admit, I can understand a bit more why 1991's Jag Mandir has never been commercially released outside of this set.  After a brief introduction by the man who staged the show and some explanatory narration by Herzog, this is a largely a single, filmed performance of the private theater of Maharajah of Udaipur.  The camera cuts and moves around, but the closest analog to this film in Herzog's film is still probably that AmEx presentation of The Killers' concert he filmed for Youtube.  After the opening, there's really very little of Herzog in this film, and your interest will be held or lost entirely by how interested you are in the central performance being captured.
For my money, this is a lot more fascinating than The Killers' show, and the final film feels more in keeping with Herzog's body of work just because this theater seems more in line with the sort of material he seems interested in pursuing.  But still, after the first couple of minutes, this could be the work of any random videographer who happened to be there that day.  And like that Killers film, Herzog fans who aren't interested in the particular cultural artifact might be satisfied to just watch the first ten or so minutes, and then switch it off when Herzog eases off and the "plain" show starts.  But it's certainly a much more colorful, varied performance than just watching some 2000's pop rock dudes standing around on stage, with a constantly rotating cast in a variety of exotic costumes performing a much broader variety of music and dance.
2006 .com DVD.
Again listed as 1.33:1, this presentation's even narrower at 1.27:1.  Otherwise, the story is just like Wings of Hope.  It's another 16mm film that mostly looks quite clean and distinct as far as standard def goes, but the interlacing is strong and harmful.  Casual viewers might think, hey, my player automatically deinterlaces everything it plays, so what's the problem?  But that's really just softening the image and making weird ghosting frames that creates a nasty judder whenever the camera pans.  You can't really fix interlacing after the fact, except in the cases of very specific pull-down issues and specialized software.  Otherwise, it's akin to using Motion Smoothing to "fix" a grainy image or other tinkering that really does more to damage the image than improve it.

Anyway, this film just features the one mono track, which is mostly clear apart from some natural room tone.  It has a few burnt in German subtitles, and removable English subs for the entire film.  Not that there's much talking at all in this movie.
Finally, I Am My Films is a 1978 feature-length documentary about Herzog, by Erwin Keusch and Christian Weisenborn.  It's largely based on a long, sit down interview with Herzog, though it's supported by many clips from the films he'd made by that point.  The clips play long and would have been a lot more exciting, I'm assuming, back when his films would have been very hard to see outside of a special theatrical screening.  But now that his fans have them all on disc or screening options at their fingertips, it's a bit of a tedious drag on the film's pacing.  It's not just quick inserts to illustrate what he's referring to; it's long stretches of scenes from his films being played uninterrupted.  So you might be tempted to fast forward through those.  But apart from that, it's a satisfying doc and early precursor to films like Noah Baumbach's celebrated DePalma.  There's also some nice behind the scenes footage from the filming of Stroszek, and it ends with Herzog playing a reel to reel recording of Klaus Kinski flipping out.
2006 .com DVD.
Credited as 1.33:1, this is more like 1.29:1, with the exception of a few, non-anamorphic widescreen clips of a couple of Herzog's features, like that first shot above, from The Enigma of Kasper Hauser.  The picture's a bit soft with yellowed colors, but that's quite possibly down to the original film.  The interlacing isn't, though, of course.  Some color correction might work wonders, but for an honest transfer of the original film to disc, this is just fine, apart from that interlacing.

The film is presented in its original German mono with optional English and Italian subtitles.
Documentaries and Shorts contains no extras for any of its films - except, I suppose, in so much as the films about Herzog, such as Portrait: Werner Herzog, can be considered extras themselves - not even trailers.  The DVDs are packaged in six standard amary cases housed in a thin slipbox.

I should also mention the Shock version of this box, which I wrote about more in depth here.  It's essentially an Australian copy, but with a couple additional films and discs, and minus some language options (mostly Italian subs).  Those additional films are all available elsewhere, and the Shock set is long out of print and very hard to find, but still possibly a preferable option, if you ever find yourself in the unlikely event of choosing between the two options.  The prospect of paying through the nose for either set isn't a pleasant one, but it is still our only option for the remaining hold-out exclusives.  Hopefully, Shout, BFI or another label will come through and restore these onto blu-ray, too.  But that's a big if and when.

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