M.I.A.: Werner Herzog's Latest Fire Within

Is it too soon to make an M.I.A. post about this movie?  I guess I wanted to get in ahead of the movie languishing for several years in complete neglect for once.  There's no sign of a physical release, current or pending, in any region, and it's already been available to stream for several months now, despite very few people seeming to be aware that it's done and it's out.  So maybe if there's any chance of having an influence on getting this movie properly released somewhere, anywhere, it's worth speaking up while the film is still fresh?

I'm talking about Werner Herzog's latest documentary, 2022's The Fire Within: A Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft.  Yes, it's another volcano movie, following La Soufrière and Into the Inferno, but this one might be the most powerful and compelling yet, in part because it has just as much in common with Grizzly Man as those other two.  This is another story about, in this case, two people who filmed their own deaths following their dangerous obsessions, and capturing unique, beautiful and fascinating film along the way.
Maurice and Katia Krafft were French volcanologists who spent their lives traveling to active volcanoes to film their eruptions and the aftermath.  So we have access to footage of decades worth of exotic locales, wild close-up footage of massive volcanic activity and fascinating visuals from their global travels, all heading to another major tragedy the Kraffts (and others) wound up being done in by what they were chasing.  I say "access to footage" because this is essentially a compilation of footage the Kraffts shot, and some by a nearby Japanese videographer during the eruption that took them, rather than originally shot material by Herzog himself.  But he (and editor Marco Capalbo) shaped the footage into Herzog's vision, which he then narrates.  The way it lingers on beautiful shots of nature and zeroes in on the unusual really makes this feel like a Herzog film, moreso even than some of his other recent docs, like say Lo and Behold, which at times has the tone of a more conventional documentary.  Not this one, especially the way it marries the footage to the music of Ernst Reijseger (Wind Blue Yonder, Salt and Fire, etc etc).
Of course, you can't talk about Fire Within without at least mentioning that Fire Of Love, another documentary about the Kraffts and using their footage, is also being released this year.  This one's narrated by Miranda July, and while I've not had the chance to see it yet, reviews and promotional material make it seem like a more romantic take on the couple and their art.  Herzog is actually surprisingly critical in his commentary, repeatedly pointing out how some shots have been staged or "faked for the camera," points out the flaws in their techniques and even attacks the the chairs they sit on during their downtime: "the Kraffts apparently thought it cool to use pathetic using inflatable seats."  But he also admires and rhapsodically sings the praises of the incredible footage they were able to capture, even expressing his disappointment at not being able to have traveled with them.  So in some ways, I suspect these two films will prove quite distinct from each other, but on the other hand, the majority of the most spectacular footage seems to be in both.  Most audiences, therefore, will probably just pick one, like last year's simultaneous Fyre Festival docs, or Hulu and HBO's dueling Nxivm exposes.
For that matter, the Krafft's volcano footage has appeared in a number of television documentaries over the years, including one about them in 1987 called The Volcano Watchers.  Even Herzog fans might find them familiar, since he devoted a brief segment in Into the Inferno to the Kraffts and their work.  But you'd still be doing yourself a serious disservice by missing out on this.
just an Amazon rip.
So this film looks pretty great in HD, at least as streamed from Amazon (how I saw it).  It's presented in 1.78:1, and the quality naturally varies as it's compiled from film shot by different cameramen with different equipment over the span of decades.  Most of it seems to have been in 16mm, with minimal but noticeable film damage, and there are a couple modern shots of Japan which are much sharper and clearer. This would definitely benefit from being on blu, not just DVD, but of course, at this point I'd be grateful for any kind of physical release.
It's perhaps worth clarifying that this isn't available on Amazon Prime, per se.  It has to be individually purchased or rented, just like from ITunes or Vudu (where it's also listed).  It's not free with any subscription, so there's still much more of an open market waiting to get its hands on this film.  Hint hint, DVD companies.

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