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Signs of Life & Herakles

Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog’s debut feature follows Stroszek, a wounded German paratrooper in WWII who is sent to recuperate from minor wounds on the quiet island of Kos with his wife Nora and two other soldiers.

"Slowly, in the heat and torpor, Stroszek goes mad..."

Billeted in a decaying fortress, they guard a munitions depot and while away the idle hours as best they can. There's little to do: Becker, a classicist, translates inscriptions on ancient tablets found in the fortress; Meinhart devises traps for cockroaches; and Nora helps Stroszek make fireworks using gunpowder from grenades in the depot. Slowly, in the heat and torpor, Stroszek goes mad. He drives the others from the fortress and threatens to blow up the depot. The German command must figure out how to talk him down... 

Screening with the short film Herakles: Prior to making Signs of Life, Werner Herzog was looking for the extreme, for inordinate human feats involving great risks, for situations in which heroism and madness are inextricably linked. The 19-year-old Herzog produced and directed Herakles all by himself, financing the film by working as a welder. In Herakles, Herzog connects black-and-white archival footage of the Le Mans racing accident, in which dozens of people died when a race car went off the track, with images of German bodybuilders. Their exercises and poses are a striking comment on the human penchant for challenge and glory.