'Herakles' is, of course, the Greek form of the name 'Hercules'. This is also the title of the first film made by the great director Werner Herzog. Produced on a bootlace budget, this short film with no soundtrack is very crude indeed. To call it amateurish, or even just plain bad, would be churlish: Herzog clearly lacked the hardware and the money to make anything better. And yet, watching this film in hindsight, there really are no glimmerings of the immense talent which Herzog would later display in his mature, more elaborate works.
Basically, 'Herakles' is an omnium-gatherum of film clips depicting images of machismo. Some of those images are explicitly macho: we see various body-builders flexing their biceps and triceps. Other images seen here are not macho in the literal sense, but are indirectly related to testosterone or cojones on some level: we see military aircraft making bombing raids, and footage of car crashes. This is a very phallic movie, in the same sense as many of Kenneth Anger's films, though with the phallocentrism being less obvious.
Supposedly, Herzog made this film to show the revulsion he felt (and still feels?) for the cult of machismo. Well, maybe. But Herzog is intelligent enough to realise that many people are going to be attracted to precisely the imagery which he claims to despise. Many people are aroused -- sexually and otherwise -- by car crashes. The body-builder cult must have its devotees, or it would no longer exist.
I have a lot of respect for Herzog's career overall. I tend to be sympathetic to the early efforts of aspiring filmmakers, as I realise they need to express their own vision whilst at the same time offering something with enough broad appeal that it will receive distribution and find appreciative audiences. I believe that Herzog was trying to have it both ways when he made 'Herakles': attempting to express his own distaste for this sort of phallocracy while at the same time knowing full well that other viewers would find it appealing. Rather than attempting to deconstruct 'Herakles', I feel that Werner Herzog's long and fluent film career as a whole will serve as a much better mission statement for this very talented director.
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