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Signs of Life (1981)

Peter Brogle , Wolfgang Reichmann , Werner Herzog  |  Unrated |  DVD
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Peter Brogle, Wolfgang Reichmann, Athina Zacharopoulou, Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg, Wolfgang Stumpf
  • Directors: Werner Herzog
  • Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: German (Dolby Digital 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: New Yorker
  • DVD Release Date: July 5, 2005
  • Run Time: 87 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0009KA7D6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,512 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Signs of Life" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary by Werner Herzog and Norman Hill
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Scene Selections

Editorial Reviews

Werner Herzog's first feature-length film, Signs of Life is the work of a confident 24-year old filmmaker who knew exactly what he was doing. Many of the stylistic and thematic concerns that would inform Herzog's later films are fully evident here, from his mixture of documentary-like realism and strange, dream-like passages to the bold use of location as character. Set on a remote Greek island during World War II, the slowly paced story unfolds as an injured, recuperating soldier named Stroszek (Peter Brogle) and his new wife Nora (Athina Zacharopoulou) grow accustomed to their slow and quiet life of seclusion. Herzog captures a palpable sense of boredom, but his film is anything but tedious for those who are seduced by its peculiar rhythms and exotic locale. As Stroszek (a name later used as the title of one of Herzog's best-known films) loses his grip on reality and threatens to detonate the munitions dump he's been assigned to care for, Signs of Life attains an elusive, mystical quality that makes it linger in the memory long after you've seen it. New Yorker Video's DVD release is also blessed by a fascinating audio commentary by Herzog devotee Norman Hill and the director himself, whose vivid memories of making Signs of Life add further insight into the curious qualities of this odd yet unforgettable film. --Jeff Shannon

Product Description

"Stroszek is an injured soldier sent to recuperate at a remote Greek island. There, he and his new Greek wife, Nora, serve as caretakers to an abandoned ammunition dump. The newlyweds adjust to their new life on this enchanted desert isle and attend to their simple duties, but soon, the heat, the exotic locale, and the suspicious, eccentric natives push Stroszek towards insanity. He finally snaps, tries to kill his wife, then plans to ignite the ammunition dump. Ultimately, soldiers swarm the area, trying to capture the psychotic Stroszek before he blows up the whole island.

Signs of Life is the debut feature from Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Fitzcarraldo; Nosferatu), the director that both Milos Forman and François Truffaut have called "the greatest filmmaker alive today."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good film; problematic DVD August 27, 2005
By Tryavna
First off, I want to say that I'm a big fan of Werner Herzog. Between 1972 and 1982, he was one of the best directors in the world, coming up with such unique masterpieces as "Aguirre," "Kaspar Hauser" (or whichever title you prefer), "Nosferatu" (the remake), and "Fitzcarraldo." As his feature-length debut, "Signs of Life" never quite reaches the sublime heights of those later movies. For one thing, I find the narration a little clunky, as if Herzog were still clinging to the last vestiges of traditional plot development, and lead actor Peter Brogle lacks the electrifying presence that Bruno S. and Klaus Kinski bring to Herzog's later films. Still, this film points the way to Herzog's later masterpieces, and it undeniably possesses the same eerie atmosphere and languorous beauty that we associate with his movies. I'll also single out Wolfgang Reichmann's performance as Meinhard as being particularly good. All in all, I give this film 4 stars, but I recommend that movie buffs new to the world of Herzog start with his collaborations with Kinski (which are available in a nice boxset from Anchor Bay) and then work backwards to "Signs of Life."

I've deducted one star from my rating, however, because of New Yorker Video's rather problematic DVD. On the surface, it's a very appealing release: the print they used is beautiful and nearly flawless, and they include a director's commentary with Herzog himself, who is always interesting to listen to. But for some reason, New Yorker has NOT given this film a progressive transfer -- in other words, instead of capturing each individual frame of the film (24 per second), they've simply transferred it all at once (rather like a videotape).
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Werner Herzog's Best Films July 29, 2003
Format:VHS Tape
Signs of Life is Werner Herzog's very first feature film and also one of his best. The script may have even inspired Stephen King's novel The Shining. In Signs of Life we have an injured soldier and his wife working as the caretakers of a military fortress on a Greek island. The soldier eventually goes mad with boredom and tries to kill his wife and everyone else.
Werner Herzog wrote the script himself in 1964 and made the film in 1967 with only $20,000 at age twenty-five. Herzog's script is amazing and the actors all perform flawlessly. Signs of Life has Herzog's distinctive slow pace which may seem like torture to the average viewer who's been forced-fed a steady diet of fast food images. This masterpiece has great photography and a great use of original Greek music. This film reminds me of Roman Polanski's first feature film Knife in the Water (1962).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Herzog's Best!! May 19, 2003
Format:VHS Tape
This is an unbelievably beautiful and poetic film! Great music and cinematography, and a fascinating meditation on the human condition. A wonderful debut by Herzog, an absolute must for fans! In my opinion this is among his best, along with Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, and Kaspar Hauser. A DVD release of this is desparately needed!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Herzog's first film September 11, 2001
By Ingalls
Format:VHS Tape
If you like Herzog, do not miss this one. Herzog's usual leisurely pace is meant to draw you in before he unleashes the film. I love Herzog because he is so different from our Hollywood directors. He seems unconcerned with any commercial success and had an original outlook on life in his films.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Looking For Signs of Life September 21, 2005
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
If there was any doubt concerning Werner Herzog's innate personal aesthetic, it should be dispelled with one viewing of his first feature film, 1967's Signs of Life. Already evident at age 24 are Herzog's attractions to all things bizarre, visually extraordinary, and narratively subliminal, as well as to a loose interpretation of an already loose screenplay, usually his own! As has been mentioned in previous reviews, this aesthetic is apparent in most all of Herzog's subsequent and more renown efforts, but Signs of Life especially foreshadows Aguirre: The Wrath of God with its themes of isolation and resultant "descent into madness". There's also the catch-as-catch-can cinematic style which utilizes available objects and ad hoc events as significant symbols and narrative devices. Scenes aren't necessarily staged and shot with editorial continuity foremost in mind; hence, interesting narrative non sequiturs result. The difference here is that there's an utter lack of physical progression such as with Aguirre. We are emotionally stuck with the characters as much as they are physically stuck in their situation.

We have an injured World War II German Wehrmacht soldier sent to the beautiful remote Greek island of Kos to recuperate. He, his Greek soon-to-be wife, and two other soldiers are stationed at the famous medieval fortress there to guard a munitions depot. An historical backdrop would have been helpful for those viewers not thoroughly familiar with the situation as presented. What we can garner from visual cues and the languorous actions of those involved is only that there's a war going on someplace far, far away.
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