Signs of Life (1968)
as Greek Resident
News & Interviews for Signs of Life
Critic Reviews for Signs of Life
As a writer-director in his feature film effort, Mr. Herzog has failed to make his harried hero's case or his parable believable. Otherwise, his Signs of Life provides vivid signs of considerable talent and promise.
Herzog in his debut already displays a boundless curiosity for the world around him
Signs of Life is more controlled, more fully-formed than many of Herzog's later, madly grasping, exploratory masterworks, but it's a true work of greatness.
Audience Reviews for Signs of Life
Strange movie!!! Way stranger and duller than all the other Herzog movies I've seen. I find it hard to write about it because it's the epithome of a cold and distant movie. NO emotional connection with the characters whatosever takes place throughout the film, and I couldn't really understand much of what was going on.
A German soldier, last name Stroszek, is recuperating from war injuries on a Greek island, surrounded by group of peculiar characters... comrade soldiers, his wife, some traveling African prince, you know, the usual Herzog additions. Then, one day, he decides he's fed up with being imprisoned in the fortress he occupies and decides to go on a surveillance mission with permission from the head of the company. For some reason, he goes mad and decides to shoot all of his acquaitances and friends. They have to evacuate the fortress to save their lives and he is left inside, along with all the artillery and gunpowder. He threatens to blow up the island, combining fireworks and weaponry.
What doesn't work here is that there are too many voids. Stroszek isn't necessarily a likable character, why should we care about him? He isn't particularly interesting, charismatic, mysterious, passionate, he isn't even just normal, he's dull. Then, why does he go mad? Because of the injuries? What were the injuries, where? We don't know anything!!
I love Herzog, all of his movies I'd seen until I saw Signs of Life had become my favorites, they were all unique works of art. Unfortunately, I don't understand the point of Signs of Life. I'm really looking forward to seeing Woyzcek, Cobra Verde, Stroszek and Heart of Glass.
*contains mild spoilers*
Werner Herzog's "Signs of Life" is a typical first feature for a great director -- obviously flawed but promising, while hinting that his career's favored themes are already in place.
The film has a picturesque location (the Greek island of Kos), a small cast and a good story which just needs to be fleshed out with a bit more characterization. The actors are nobodies -- the only "famous" name is Florian Fricke, leader of German prog band Popol Vuh (he has just one scene, as a soldier who deals with boredom by practicing Chopin pieces on a rickety piano).
The plot is similar to Stephen King's "The Shining" in theory: WWII parachutist Stroszek (a name which Herzog re-used later) has recovered from a recent injury, and has been transferred to a low-risk assignment: guarding an old fortress storing outdated ammunition. Also stationed in the large, seaside castle are his new wife Nora (a native Greek who was formerly his nurse), Becker (a slim intellectual) and Meinhard (a squat, working-class type). No one expects them to face any serious threat.
From there, most of the film depicts the group's attempts to kill time while enduring a tedious, pointless job. Becker becomes fixed on translating an old stone tablet found amongst the relics. Ex-barkeeper Meinhard, sort of an exterminator at heart, builds a complex roach trap out of a vase and even seems interested in purging the ocean of its smallest fish. He also knows strange ways to torment chickens (don't miss that bizarre scene) and caterpillars. Meanwhile, Stroszek leads a poetic project to build harmless fireworks out of stockpiled gunpowder. All three soldiers take walks, survey the island scenery and sheepishly repaint the castle's trim.
Along the way, there are some colorful encounters with a Portuguese gypsy who does card tricks and carries a large, crank-driven music box around on his back. Elsewhere, the village children apparently share Meinhard's faint sadism toward animals.
Eventually, Stroszek goes stir crazy and sends the local population into chaos. His motivation is not as clear as it should be ("I've taken up the cause of man," he mysteriously proclaims), though the scene of his initial breakdown -- a vast field of energy windmills -- could be a reference to Don Quixote's iconic windmill-tilting. In any case, Stroszek's fits of madness and megalomania won't surprise anyone who has seen later Herzog works such as "Fitzcarraldo" and "Aguirre, Wrath of God."
"Signs of Life" has an authentic score of Greek folk music, which perks up some overlong shots of scenery and wordless wandering. But virtual tourists expecting to enjoy the landscape's peripheral beauty may be disappointed -- the DVD cover misleadingly tints an image from this black-and-white film.
His first film which I found utterly boring and certainly not rewatchable. I love Herzog but his first one stank big time in my book.
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