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RESCUE DAWN

Into The Mythic Jungle
Werner Herzog has long had a uniquely ambivalent relationship with the natural world in his films – exploring both its allure and its indifferent ferocity – and with jungles, in particular. His first foray into the jungle came with the internationally acclaimed AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD, the story of a mad 16th century adventurer in search of El Dorado. Herzog returned to the Peruvian jungle with FITZARRALDO, the tale of a rubber baron with an intent dream of bringing an Opera House to a remote area off a tributary of the Amazon. 

Though Herzog has a clear fascination with the abject terrors and chaos of the jungle, he also has unveiled its mythic dimensions. Herzog once said: "The jungle is all about our dreams, our deepest emotions, our nightmares. It's not just a location. The jungle is a form of our soul – fears and dreams, a fabulous, luxurious wealth of growth, forms and shapes. It's a state of our mind.” 

Naturally, the ordeal of filming in such remote and perilous locales has also resulted in Herzog's reputation for productions that flirt with disaster. In this respect, and in spite of its Hollywood pedigree, RESCUE DAWN fits right into the legendary pantheon of Herzog's films. 

RESCUE DAWN was shot on location in the remote Northwestern Hill Country of Thailand, near the border with Burma, and an area known for its fecund beauty -- its landscape a thick, jewel-green jungle dotted with rocky hills and simple tribal villages, similar to that in which Dieter found himself after escaping from the POW camp. Luxuries in this location were notoriously few for the cast and crew – yet the primal conditions were also in keeping with the intensity of the tale being told. There weren't even chairs, let alone trailers, for the actors. Instead, between takes, Bale, Zahn and Davies could often be found resting on the ground, sheltered from the penetrating sun only by the shade of a tree.

Each and every day brought new physical and mental challenges, as the cast ate slithery maggots, snatched real snakes with their bare hands, moved through the jungle in a deeply vulnerable state of bare feet and raggedy clothing and, during the rafting sequences, spent hours submerged in water. Cast and crew each gathered a growing patchwork of lacerations, bruises and mysterious rashes.

But, for Herzog, for whom filmmaking has always been a tactile, physical art, the more enveloping and true the locations, the better. Yet for all the natural challenges of filming in Thailand – which Herzog sees not so much as challenges as simply an organic part of the process of creating powerful imagery – real disasters were few in number. Herzog especially praises the Thai support for the film. "The crew was very professional,” he says, "and I can only advise Thailand as a location for filmmaking because it has such a wide variety of locations, a great infrastructure and very experienced crews. It was really a pleasure to work with the people there.” 

Shooting in the Hill Country also enabled Herzog to film authentic tribal villages, largely unchanged from those that Dieter saw as a prisoner forty years ago. "The villagers liked that I wanted to show them as they really are,” notes Herzog. "No one is dressed up, they are wearing what they normally wear.” 

The story of RESCUE DAWN was filmed entirely in reverse, so that the actors could arrive on set having lost, over a period of months, the necessary weight to convey their emaciated, indeed desperate, state in the POW camp -- then gain it back more quickly for the beginning of the film, when Dieter Dengler appears, just as the real Dengler does in vintage photographs, as impressively handsome and fit. Always true to his cast, Herzog dieted in solidarity with his actors, although he committed to only losing half the pounds that Bale, Zahn and Davies did. 

When it came to the fi

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