Combustible Celluloid
Search for Posters
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: n/a
Written by: Werner Herzog
Directed by: Werner Herzog
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 54
Date: 02/21/1992

Lessons of Darkness (1992)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Fields of Fire

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the great documentaries of the 1990s serendipitously returned to the 2000 San Francisco International Film Festival, finally giving me a chance to see it. The movie is Lessons of Darkness (1992), and it's directed by Werner Herzog, who was a member of the German New Wave, along with Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders, and it's arguably his best film since perhaps Fitzcarraldo (1982) or even Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972). Herzog photographed the wastelands of Kuwait during the last days of the Gulf War, before the last oil fires had been put out. Most of the movie is filmed from a helicopter, making the ground below seem like bits of hell. There are a few shots from the ground, and a couple of brief, emotionally shattering interviews, but the movie mostly relies on its powerful images and powerful music, carefully selected from great German composers. It's a meditative, powerful, and strangely beautiful movie, like Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (1955) or Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1983). Herzog is a fearless, meticulous director who approaches his subject in a timeless manner, turning this disaster into a great theme, a story for all time.

DVD Details: Anchor Bay Entertainment has done a beautiful job transferring this great film to DVD. Since it's such a short film, they have also included an earlier Herzog work, Fata Morgana, a strikingly similar film that Herzog shot in the Sahara Desert, which he calls a "science fiction" film. The gist of the film is an attempt to photograph mirages, but Herzog also shoots anything that strikes him as astonishing. The commentary track by Herzog (and actor Crispin Glover!) provides wonderful insight into Herzog's visual ideas. And, yes, the quote on the box cover from San Francisco Bay Insider is mine.

Movies Unlimtied