Herzog started filming Woyzeck only 5 days after completing Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, and even that was only leaving enough time for Kinski to grow back some hair. The creative rush fuelled by the previous film is evident in the shooting schedule for Woyzeck – the whole film was shot in seventeen days and edited in four.
Kinski plays Franz Woyzeck, a simple man, an infantry private, eager to please everyone, yet he is driven into the ground by his captain, experimented on by his doctor and cheated on by his wife Marie (Eva Mattes) who cannot resist the attentions of the handsome drum major nor it seems most likely, many of the other soldiers in the town. Seen from Woyzeck’s point of view, the world around him is increasingly absurd and threatening and he struggles with his sanity, pressing his ear to the ground, hearing voices that direct him to take violent action.
Based on an unfinished 1836 play by Georg Büchner, Woyzeck is again an exercise in style and an attempt by Herzog to align himself with German culture in a similar way to how he paid homage to F. W. Murnau and the origins of German cinema in Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. Woyzeck is consequently a strange film, certainly not easy to watch and certainly not in a style that is going to please everyone – the unnumbered fragments of Büchner’s play converted by the director into a series of nightmarish, almost static, four-minutes takes, each scene heightened in intensity by the single-take shots and an utterly electrifying performance by Klaus Kinski. It’s strange and hallucinatory in places, but there are images here that once seen, will be forever seared in your mind.
The DVD is released on Region 2 in the UK as part of Anchor Bay’s Herzog Kinski Collection. Also included in the boxset are Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Nosferatu, Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde and Herzog’s documentary film about Kinski, My Best Fiend.
The video quality unfortunately isn’t particularly good on this release. For the most part it is clear from marks or scratches, with only one or two scenes where damage can be seen, colours flicker and flare and scratch lines can be seen. Although there is not much print damage, it certainly doesn’t look like a first generation or newly minted print. Colours are fair, but rather flat, with muddy blacks and grain visible in brighter daylight scenes. The overall image is soft, almost blurry, particularly in scenes where there is movement. It’s certainly not a bad print, but is perhaps a PAL conversion of the apparently slightly better Anchor Bay US Region 0, reviewed here on DVDTimes by Gary Couzens.
There are no alternative audio choices on this release. You get the standard German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack and it’s passable – not really more than adequate, but then it doesn’t need to be for a film like this.
While all the other films in the Herzog Kinski Collection, bar the documentary My Best Fiend have a commentary track, there is none here. Woyzeck might have been one of the more useful films to have a director’s commentary, but the Film Notes taken from the book 'Herzog on Herzog' will have to suffice, and they are useful. Other than that, the only other extras are a Trailer (3:09), a Photo Gallery of about 10 stills and Biographies for Herzog and Kinski. Again there doesn’t seem to be anything different on this release from the US Anchor Bay Region 0 release.
Woyzeck certainly isn’t the best of either Herzog or Kinski, but it is one of the more unusual films either of them have been involved with and it is certainly made up of some terrific film sequences and a quite brilliant performance by Kinski, so it is certainly worth viewing and a welcome part of the Herzog Kinski Collection, even if the DVD is one of the lesser quality transfers in the set.