"The National Science Foundation had invited me to Antarctica even though I left no doubt that I would not come up with another film about penguins," Werner Herzog narrates at the outset of his 2007 documentary Encounters at the End of the World. Interviewing geneticists, divers, machinists, plumbers, and vulcanologists, Herzog discovers what life is like at the South Pole—where people lose and/or find themselves, discover alien life forms scuttling about beneath shelves of ice, and watch lava lakes bubble up in the middle of snowfields. Encounters is a beautiful thing, strange and lonely and pensive, and watching it, one is reminded that Herzog is one of our very best filmmakers.
The Northwest Film Center's Herzog series, "A Quest for the Sublime," offers a solid survey of the Herzog canon, and though a few films that would've been fun to see on the big screen are missing (where's Zak Penn's trippy 2004 collaboration with Herzog, Incident at Loch Ness?), the retrospective hits the high points: 2005's jarring doc Grizzly Man (screens Fri May 16-Sat May 17), 1992's look at a war-ravaged Kuwait, Lessons of Darkness (Mon May 4), and, of course, the films in which Herzog teamed up with his wild-eyed muse, Klaus Kinski: 1982's Fitzcarraldo (Sat May 3), 1987's Cobra Verde (Fri May 9), 1972's Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Sat May 10), and a 1979 remake of 1922's Nosferatu the Vampyre (Thurs May 29). There's more, too—including 2006's Rescue Dawn (Sat May 24) and the 1997 documentary that inspired it, Little Dieter Needs to Fly (Fri May 23-Sat May 24)—but it's hard to single out specific films when just about everything here is worth watching.
"We flew into the unknown—a seemingly endless void," Herzog observes at the beginning of Encounters (where, despite his earlier joke, he does end up shooting some surprisingly emotional penguin footage). "Quest for the Sublime" is hardly as weird and unfamiliar as Herzog's Antarctic quest, but that doesn't make it any less exhilarating.
For more info, see Film Shorts on pg. 52, Movie Times on pg. 55, and nwfilm.org.