"The Dark Glow of the Mountains", available on DVD in a collection of some of Herzog's lesser-known documentaries and shorts, is an uneven but fascinating doc, and while it is perhaps not as good as it could have been given how it features the great mountain climber Reinhold Messner, who climbed all 14 8000 meter peaks between 1970 and 1986, and was the first to climb Mt. Everest without oxygen tanks (he used small oxygen bottles, but repeated the ascent in 1980 on a tougher route without any oxygen whatsoever), it is still a fascinating and unique sort of documentary, examining the psychology it takes to get people interested in doing this sort of thing.
It's a Herzog doc so you can expect two things right off the bat: some stunning images and some inane contrivances. Herzog made a couple of documentaries where he didn't feature such contrivances, but this is not one of them. Essentially he sets up a conversation with the subject and asks about something he thinks affected their psychology then gets the reaction from them. This may be a standard documentary technique, but Herzog most certainly scripts many of these scenes in his movies, or possibly just tells the subject what to say. It's obvious and distracting and unnecessary, as the movie itself does nothing but discuss the exact same things discussed in that conversation here, but still Herzog feels compelled to include this scene to make things ultra-obvious for the audience. For a director so often seen as an art-house favorite he sure seems like he's pandering sometimes.
In spite of that one big flaw, this is an excellently-shot and structured film, and one which provides some insight into Messner's character and psychology. It's interesting and fairly short, but I can't help feel that Herzog didn't accomplish as much as he should have done here. Still a fascinating and completely unique document.
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