Lessons of Darkness + La Soufriere


Before going to hell and back to film the near-impossible images of burning oil fields in Lessons of Darkness, Herzog first covered a different eruption: that of the looming, belching volcano ready to pop on the Carribean island of Guadaloupe. Scratching their collective death wish itch, Herzog and his camera crew arrive at the island’s deserted ghost-town village at a moment when the volcano could erupt at any time, and interview a couple of primo Herzogovian outsiders left behind, who await death-by-lava with a semi-insane equanimity. Our man’s in great form, evading toxic sulfur gas and filming gorgeous smoke clouds, demonstrating with this film more than any other his willingness to capture his visual poetry at all costs.

Dir. Werner Herzog, 1977, DigiBeta, 30 min.

Watch an excerpt from “La Soufriere”!


A work of catastrophic beauty and sublime horror, Lessons of Darkness finds Herzog fighting fire with fire, confronting devastation with an ironic grace. Filming the unfathomable destruction caused by the Kuwaiti oil fires of the first Gulf War as a series of breathtaking aerial tableaux, Herzog transforms a landscape ravaged by war into an image of an alien world. Herzog scores these infernal panoramas to the soaring arias of Mahler, Schubert, Verdi, and Wagner, punctuated by brief aphoristic voiceovers and titles designed more to provoke and overwhelm than to inform. As in his later nature documentaries, Herzog here confounds that humanistic view of our world which stands mute and uncomprehending in the face of disaster and savagery, for the brutish nature on display in these chilling Lessons is that of man himself.

Dir. Werner Herzog, 1992, DigiBeta, 50 min.

Watch an excerpt from “Lessons of Darkness”!