I had high hopes last night that I’d be able to spend this morning penning a thoroughly laudatory entry on Herzog’s Cobra Verde, which hasn’t received nearly the amount of ink as that other obscurity playing at New York’s IFC Center, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep. But whether my underwhelming impression resulted from walking straight out of Sheep (yes, of course it’s great) and into Cobra, the end of a long day, or, most likely, the film’s borderline incoherence, there it is: Cobra Verde isn’t nearly as exhilarating as one would hope from the final, turbulent Herzog/Kinski collaboration.
This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have moments of the raw cinematic vitality evinced by Aguirre or Nosferatu, but where those films thrived on that held-breath feeling of sustained near-calamity (both within the films’ narratives and in the sense of their construction), Cobra Verde is more often just diffuse. This may, after all, have been the only way for this pair to wind up—it wasn’t likely that cinema would be lucky enough to catch Kinski spontaneously combusting into a pile of ash on camera, or that a calculator like Herzog would film himself committing homicide (though My Best Fiend comes tantalizingly close). Appropriate or no, the film’s flashes of intensity succumb in the end to overly elliptical plotting that may be the result of a conscious shift towards a more ethnographic mode of filmmaking, but it’s somewhat hard to be sure. Cobra as a whole exists in a similar vein to Where the Green Ants Dream, but I almost miss that earlier film’s attempts to shoehorn in story elements, hokey as they might have been.
Check it out for the battle sequences and Kinski’s lingering death (almost worth the price of admission in itself), though if you had to pick between this and, say, Killer of Sheep, the choice should be obvious. Even so, the print’s lovely, and will probably tour around (keep in mind that Cobra’s been available for a while in DVD form), thus continuing that 25-years-too-late Werner Herzog party that started around the release of Grizzly Man. The attention’s welcome, but perhaps a bit misplaced—how about a new print of Stroszek, Nosferatu, or Heart of Glass?