Woyzeck Review

Franz Woyzeck (Klaus Kinski) is a soldier put upon by his superiors and cuckolded by his wife Marie (Eva Mattes). Finally, the indignities and humiliations drive him to madness and murder.

Georg Büchner's 1836 play was previously filmed in 1947, and also formed the basis of Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck. Herzog's film has a great beginning. Shot after shot of the postcard-pretty Czech town of Telc are accompanied by piano music. Then the credits play over scenes of Woyzeck doing his daily drill, sawing, discordant strings on the soundtrack. The climactic murder scene, a stabbing in slow motion, is another effective scene. But what comes in between is not as powerful as it might have been. It's clear from the very beginning that Woyzeck is at the end of his tether, and despite Kinski's intense performance he doesn't have far to fall. Herzog's direction tends to emphasise the material's theatricality, sometimes covering whole scenes in one long take. This is a story that calls for a pressure-cooker-like intensity and doesn't always get it. Eva Mattes won a Supporting Actress award at Cannes, and makes her character more sympathetic than that of Woyzeck. The film certainly looks good and is not without interest, but it's minor Herzog.

Anchor Bay have now released several of Herzog's films on DVD. This disc maintains their high standards, though it's light on extras compared to some of the other discs. (Nosferatu contains alternative English and German versions on the same disc, while Fitzcarraldo has a commentary.) The transfer is anamorphic 1.66:1. The picture quality is excellent: a sharp transfer with rich colours and good shadow detail. Especially considering the film's age, it's as good as you're ever likely to get. A brief colour flash in Chapter 6 is the only flaw I could see. The soundtrack is the original mono, though clearly recorded with a good dynamic range for its age. The subtitles are yellow and occasionally anachronistic and/or Americanised; however, they are optional, so if your German is good enough you are free to switch them off. Twenty-three chapters are ample for as short a film as this. The extras comprise the trailer, plus biographies of Herzog and Kinski.

Of Herzog and Kinski's five collaborations, this ranks about fourth, above Cobra Verde. This disc is more for completists and established fans than newcomers, though it's good to see Anchor Bay releasing even the director's lesser work in such a well-presented form.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 19:36:06

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