Jean-Luc Godard, John Milius, and Werner Herzog visiting Akira Kurosawa at the New York’s Plaza Hotel in the early 80’.
After Kagemusha won the [Palme d’Or at the 1980] Cannes International Film Festival, until 1982, Kurosawa traveled extensively in Europe and the United States, meeting filmmakers everywhere he went and being warmly welcomed. While he was staying in New York’s Plaza Hotel, he received many surprise visitors, including film greats Jean-Luc Godard, John Milius, Werner Herzog, and Martin Scorsese. The combination of Godard and Kurosawa was unusual. Probably he was invited along by Milius and went out of curiosity. Producer Tom Luddy might have come with them as well. We had heard that Milius was a Kurosawa fan, and Kurosawa also had good things to say about his The Wind and the Lion. Milius asked Kurosawa to teach him the martial art of kendo, or Japanese fencing, and did Mifune impersonations, but Godard only sat looking on, smiling, and never spoke to Kurosawa.
Another unusual visitor was the German director Werner Herzog, whose name was then unfamiliar to Kurosawa. There was a book he wanted to give Kurosawa, said Herzog, but he hadn’t been able to find it in the book store and he had a plane to catch, so he had just dropped by to pay his respects. Then the next day, I think it was, he made a special trip to hand-deliver the book—having gone to the trouble of altering his flight reservations to do so. I believe it was a book of drawings. In any case, Kurosawa found this gesture deeply moving. Later, in Japan, Kurosawa took the first opportunity to go see Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and was overwhelmed by its tenacious energy. —Teruyo Nogami, Waiting on the Weather: Making Movies with Akira Kurosawa
All in all, Waiting on the Weather is a marvellous source of information about Kurosawa’s life and working methods, and also the most personal of all Kurosawa publications currently available in English. It may not be quite as extensive as some of the other volumes listed here, but it certainly gives one a behind-the-scenes look in a way that no other book available in English has given. It is also a delightful and light read, which should definitely find its place on every Kurosawa fan’s bookshelf. —Books on Akira Kurosawa
“Herzog: The God of Wrath.” American Film Magazine, AFI, Iss. 8, June 1982 [pdf].
“Caracas, 21 June 1979: No one came to meet me. My passport was confiscated immediately because I had no visa.”
[…] The quote comes from Herzog’s diaries of the mythic two-year shoot in the jungles of Peru, just published in the US, excerpted in the New York Times and picked up by blogs including the IFC Daily. All proof, if needed, that I’m not the only one fascinated by this epic folly of a movie – a grand mission statement in which an ascendant young director flung himself into a comically hostile terrain, endangering career and health in the name of a notion of art that seemed quaintly old-fangled even at the time.
But vivid as the first-person, present-tense account of the production (the camp being burned down by troops in the midst of a border war and crew members cutting off their feet after snakebites, etc) surely is, one of the most striking aspects about the book is the apparent weight it gives to Herzog’s stay prior to the shoot with none other than Francis Ford Coppola. The American director was then in San Francisco recovering from a hernia operation. Not only does this provide some beautifully deadpan Herzogian moments (“Coppola did not like the pillows and complained all afternoon”) – the pairing takes on a special significance because of his host’s other malady, the still-fresh trauma of making Apocalypse Now. —Danny Leigh, ‘Werner Herzog’s jungle fever’, guardian.co.uk, 3 July 2009
Roger Ebert’s review of the documentary “Burden of Dreams” shows his enthusiasm for the material:
“The whole production was moved twelve hundred miles, to a new location where the mishaps included plane crashes, disease, and attacks by unfriendly Indians. And all of those hardships were on top of the incredible task Herzog set himself to film: He wanted to show his obsessed hero using teams of Indians to pull an entire steamship up a hillside using only block and tackle!”
Herzog believed in the ‘voodoo of location’, according to Ebert, that the location of the film was just as important as the source material. He could have used other, safer locations, but he insisted on shooting in the middle of the rainforest, which allowed him to take fabulous aerial shots of the savage, undeveloped jungle. Klaus Kinski, playing Fitzcarraldo, notes his frustration, and his skill with languages, with the location:
Legend has it that Herzog drew a gun on Kinski when he threatened to quit Aguirre, Wrath of God, and that on Fitzcarraldo, helpful natives volunteered to do the job for him, they were so appalled by the star’s tantrums. This particular argument took place on the set of Fitzcarraldo:
Now, more than 20 years after the release of the film, Fitzcarraldo still remains one of the most momentous achievements captured on celluloid, and puts the stunts of modern Hollywood movies to shame. Herzog, able to relax after the filming, wryly noted that no one would ever bother trying to match his achievement and that he was the “Conquistador of the Useless”.
In Memory of Les Blank (1935-2013)
More on Werner Herzog:
- Werner Herzog on Fitzcarraldo and the obscenity of the jungle
- German trailer for Fitzcarraldo (with English subtitles)
- Werner Herzog | Official website
- Werner Herzog discusses his work on The Henry Rollins Show
- BBC Imagine: ‘Werner Herzog: Beyond Reason’: Part One | Part Two
- Film in Focus: Paul Cronin interviews Werner Herzog
- Time Magazine: Werner Herzog on Fitzcarraldo
- My Best Fiend (Mein liebster Feind, 2009), by Werner Herzog. Herzog on his friendship with Klaus Kinski
The late Les Blank with longtime friend Werner Herzog.
This interview gives a good overview of his background, and this post includes clips. Watch a couple of his public domain films here. Or do yourself a favor and find the complete version of Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers. His films and life were woven within a community of filmmakers who were enormously influential. One whimsical piece famously portrayed his colleague Werner Herzog eating his shoe on the occasion of their mutual acquaintance Errol Morris’ making of his first film, Gates of Heaven. Burden of Dreams shows Herzog in full craziness making Fitzcarraldo. Also check out long time collaborator Maureen Gosling, and Les’ son Harrod Blank: art car enthusiast and fellow documentary filmmaker.
R.I.P. Les Blank (1935-2013)
Les Blank & Werner Herzog with their bro tattoos.
The great Les Blank, genius documentary filmmaker, died Sunday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 77 and had been suffering from bladder cancer.
Filmmaker Les Blank died today at age 77 from bladder cancer. He is best known for directing Burden of Dreams, a feature film on the making of Werner Herzog‘s Fitzcarraldo. Roger Ebert, who we lost to cancer just days ago, called it “one of the most remarkable documentaries ever made about the making of a movie.” Two years earlier, Blank made another film with Herzog as the subject. It’s wonderful title is Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Probably not coincidentally, it also involved one of Ebert’s favorite films of all time, Errol Morris‘s directorial debut, Gates of Heaven.
The 20-minute short film is, of course, literally named. Blank shows us Herzog cooking up his shoe and then eating it during a public event, part on stage at the UC Theater in Berkeley in front of a large crowd and part at a famous Berkeley restaurant called Chez Panisse. Why did Herzog eat his shoe? Because he told his friend Errol that if he ever manages to finish that first documentary of his that he’d eat his shoe. Plain and simple. In the short, Herzog offers that he’ll eat the other shoe he’d worn that day if a major studio picks up Gates of Heaven for distribution. New Yorker Films, which ended up finally releasing Gates in 1980, didn’t count.
I’ve always thought it odd that Morris isn’t in Blank’s film. I also wonder if the garlicky shoe’s aroma had any influence on Blank’s next documentary, Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, which he urged should be screened with the accompaniment of garlic being cooked in the back of the auditorium. Herzog and Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters are in that one too. Garlic is one of two Blank films on the National Film Registry, the other being the Mexican music doc Chulas Fronteras. Anyway, we’re getting away from the main event. After which you’re welcome and encouraged to learn more about Blank and watch whatever films of his you can find. Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe can be found on the Criterion Collection release of Burden of Dreams. But if you’ve only seen that documentary on Hulu Plus or didn’t check out the extras, here’s a copy via YouTube. Enjoy, readers. Rest in peace, Les. —Christopher Campbell
“One of the most remarkable documentaries ever made about the making of a movie.”
R.I.P. Les Blank (1935-2013)
Please describe the exact moment when the idea to make Spring Breakers came to you.
I was watching a porno. I had a dream of girls in bikinis and ski masks robbing fat tourists. It seemed like it should happen during spring break. —A NSFW Memo From Harmony Korine
Spring Breakers Production Notes: Interview with director Harmony Korine.
A night in Nashville with the city’s most iconoclastic native son Harmony Korine and the French filmmaker Gaspar Noé. Directed by Bruce LaBruce.
If Harmony Korine’s screenplay for 1995’s Kids announced the arrival of a shockingly precocious observer of teenage wasteland, his first film as a director not only confirms his precocity but establishes him as both auteur and unrepentant nihilist. The nonnarrative, super-squalid Gummo — cryptically named for the absent member of Korine’s beloved Marx Brothers — is a biliously Burroughsian snapshot of post-twister 1974 Xenia, Ohio, depicted as the kind of hellhole that makes the Manhattan of Kids seem like Disneyland. Actually filmed in and around Korine’s hometown of Nashville, Tenn., this fiercely anti-Hollywood “genre fuck,” as Korine calls it, offers a scornful parade of surrealist images that posit the gifted tyro as a brave new Godardian, though one who has something to learn about telling (or not telling) a story. Korine numbers among his influences the obsessive German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who interviewed him in front of an audience at the recent Telluride Film Festival. The following was adapted from their conversation.
by Werner Herzog
Interview / November 1999
First and still best known for his contribution to the screenplay to Larry Clark’s 1995 movie Kids [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). After scripting Larry Clarke’s notorious Kids, the Midwestern wunderkind Harmony Korine has made his first feature, Gummo. Like tuning into an all-night, underground cable TV show called Meet the Neighbours, Gummo is a film of grotesquerie and tenderness. Chris Darke talked to him at Rotterdam Film Festival.
More about Directing: BAFTA Guru
Top 10 Charlie Rose Interviews of Film Directors.
Lucky for us Charlie Rose is a huge movie buff and he conducts the best interviews with film directors. Charlie’s interviews go beyond the generic interviews that directors usually do to promote their movies, and he asks the great questions that film aficionados want to hear. A few interviews are conducted with people who knew the filmmaker closely for the great directors Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Enjoy these interviews with some of cinema’s great artists.
George Lucas sits down for an hour long conversation with Charlie Rose in this interview and chronologically goes through his moviemaking career from his days at USC film school up to creating the Star Wars prequels. He talks about his financial and technological struggles to get his visions on the big screen and how he has finally attained financial independence as an artist to create the movies he wants to make without having to answer to anyone. George also passes on his wisdom about storytelling, education, artistry, and parenting.
As the undisputed “Master of Suspense”, Alfred Hitchcock left behind a large body of work that continually explored the darker depths of the human heart. Here, Charlie Rose talks with the director’s daughter Patricia along with noted film director/historian Peter Bogdanovich on the centennial of his Hitchcock’s birth. Topics include Hitchcock’s dogged attention to detail, his writing methods, which films of his own he preferred best, and where he ranks with the great masters of cinema history.
Known as “Iron Jim” to friends and critics alike, James Cameron rose from humble beginnings as a truck driver to become the “King of the World” with his mega-blockbuster Titanic. Here Charlie Rose talks with the director at length about what went into making the most expensive film ever made, and how he managed to balance historical fact with romantic fiction. Cameron’s talent for managing complex productions that still strike a chord with a broad audience has made him one of the most successful filmmakers in the modern era; a feat no less incredible when you consider how much his ambition grows from picture to picture.
Capturing a key moment in history, this interview with Steve Jobs and John Lassetter catches both visionaries at the birth of what would become the most successful animation studio in recent history. After purchasing Pixar in 1986, shortly after his initial ouster from Apple, Jobs helped shepherd Lassetter and his team towards the first digitally animated movie, Toy Story, a box-office success that was followed by a string of hits that has not let up to date. Watch for an interesting moment near the end where Jobs tactfully dodges Charlie Rose’s question about a possible return to Apple; and even that actually did come to pass later that same year!
Coming off the wild success of his independent film breakout hit Pulp Fiction, super cool film director Quentin Tarantino sits down with Charlie Rose and talks about his craft and where his career is going to go from here. Tarantino talks about his childhood watching movies and his days as a video store clerk. He discusses his unorthodox way of storytelling, his method of writing, and his love of following the careers of film directors of which he mentions his favorites. Finally he talks about his first two films Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Watch film geek Tarantino enthusiastically riff on his love of movies.
With a photographer’s eye, a philosopher’s curiosity, and a searing intellect, Stanley Kubrick’s films have cut a distinctive path through cinematic history with a scope that is still hard to estimate. Here Charlie Rose talks with the late director’s widow Christiane, his lifelong friend Jan Harland, and adds modern master Martin Scorsese into the mix to round out the table. Christiane Kubrick provides heartwarming insight on their marriage, while Harland and Scorsese weigh in on why Kubrick’s films such as 2001, The Shining, and Dr. Strangelove continue to provoke, compel, and stimulate new generations of filmgoers.
In this interview, filmmaker Roman Polanski speaks about filmmaking, personal tragedy, and the legal trouble that has kept him from returning to the United States. Charlie Rose does not shy away from confronting the director of such classics as Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown on why he hasn’t faced the legal ramifications of a rape charge that made him flee for Europe in 1977. Polanski also reflects on the loss of his mother at Auschwitz, his lonely childhood in war-torn Poland, losing his wife in the Manson family murders, and his current life as a French citizen.
Director Oliver Stone is known for his political and historical films and in this interview with Charlie Rose, Stone talks about his film Nixon. Stone gives us his interpretation of the man Nixon and covers some of the more controversial aspects of his film. He also gives us his philosophy on drama and its ability to convey the shadow side of history which is often not the version put into the history books. Get a history lesson from Oliver Stone with this hour long talk about Nixon.
Director Tim Burton talks with Charlie Rose about his recent film and art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. In the first 10 minutes MOMA’s exhibit curators talk about putting on the exhibition. Then Burton discusses some of his sketches and talks about how he went from being a weird and quiet teenager to a filmmaker extraordinaire. Burton talks about his love of masks and how they bring out new aspects in his performers such as with Jack Nicholson made up as the Joker in his film Batman or Johnny Depp in the wide variety of outfits he has suited up for in many Burton films. Burton feels that all kids are artists and doodlers up to about age 12, but then for various reason these creative instincts are suppressed as people get older, and both Tim and Charlie find this unfortunate.
German film director Werner Herzog sits down with Charlie Rose in this 23 minute interview and discusses his prolific filmmaking career. Herzog gives some insight into the making of his film Fitzcarraldo about which he recently published his personal diaries in a book called Conquest of the Useless. He talks about his philosophy of filmmaking and his search for the “ecstatic truth” when it comes to the many documentaries that he has shot over the years. Herzog also addresses his talent for bringing out the best in actors such as his unique gift for harnessing the talent of German actor Klaus Kinski.
Wim Wenders - Room 666 (1982)
Directors in order of appearance:
Mike De Leon
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
A beautiful pearl of a lost time!
“You should bear in mind that almost all my documentaries are feature films in disguise. Because I stylize, I invent, there’s a lot of fantasy in it—not for creating a fraud, but exactly the contrary, to create a deeper form of truth, which is not fact-related. Facts hardly ever give you any truth, and that’s a mistake of cinéma vérité, because they always postulate it as if facts would constitute truth. In that case, my answer is that the phone directory of Manhattan is a book of books. Because it has 4 million entries, and they are all factually correct, but it doesn’t illuminate us. You see, I do things for creating moments that illuminate you as an audience, and the same thing happens with feature films as well.”
Werner Herzog (born September 5, 1942)
When in 1974 Werner Herzog had completed Kaspar Hauser, he put the cans of film into a rucksack and set off from Munich by foot in the direction of Paris where, three weeks later, he presented himself and his film at the sickbed of Lotte Eisner. For a director vaunting his spontaneity and unselfconsciousness this was a brilliantly calculated inspiration. In a minor key, it was as redolent of cultural and historic resonances as Willy Brandt’s spontaneous genuflection at a memorial to the Warsaw ghetto in 1971 had been an act of political atonement and a gesture of redress for Auschwitz and what it stood for. That the historian of Expressionist cinema, émigré Jew and woman, friend of F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, personal assistant to Henri Langlois (founding father of the Cinémathèque and patron saint of the French nouvelle vague), should—on what might easily have been her deathbed—give a young German filmmaker her blessing, by assuring him that his work was once more ‘legitimate German culture,’ could itself be read as a founding myth of origins and identity.
Happy 70th, Werner Herzog.
Werner Herzog’s Documentary Series ‘On Death Row’
The prologue of each of the four episodes of “Death Row” is the same: a restless camera prowls through the dismal ante-room, holding cell and injection chamber of an unnamed execution facility, while director Werner Herzog tells us in his familiar teutonic monotone that, as a German and a guest of the United States, he “respectfully disagree[s]” with the death penalty, legal in 34 states, and performed regularly in 16.
And so he sets out his stall up front. What’s perhaps surprising, however, is that what he then delivers is neither polemical nor propagandistic in its approach; Herzog’s storytelling instincts trump his didactic ones here, to compelling effect. Having already tackled this subject in his feature-length “Into The Abyss” (the central figure of which makes a fleeting appearance here in the “Joseph Garcia and George Rivas” section), it’s clear that in exploring the stories of these condemned men and women, Herzog has found a rich vein to mine, and he brings to this latest endeavor, a four-part TV series for Investigation Discovery, an uncharacteristic restraint. His even-handedness serves the subject matter well, largely refuting any accusations of liberal whitewashing before they can even be made. What he delivers instead is a series of nuanced, meticulous and gripping portraits of several death row inmates, unflinchingly portrayed, mostly in their own words and those of the men and women who arrested, reported on, prosecuted and/or defended them.
In so doing, he states overtly on a few occasions that his concern is not to find exonerating evidence, to allow himself to be used as a tool by canny inmates, or to delay or influence their fates. This is an immensely important aspect of his approach, because it sidesteps the logic trap of being anti-death penalty out of worry that there may be wrongly convicted people on death row (always the least convincing anti-death penalty argument — are you anti-state-mandated killing or just anti-mistake?) Without that kind of agenda (and in direct contrast to, for example, the various West Memphis Three documentaries of late) Herzog is free to follow the stories where they naturally lead, and, spoiler alert: in pretty much none of the cases do they lead conclusively to the idea that the condemned is innocent.
Checking the more unwieldy of his ideological baggage at the door and curbing his more eccentric impulses in service of the material, Herzog nevertheless delivers something unmistakably Herzogian. The man himself, while never directly onscreen, feels omnipresent, either as the off-camera interlocutor or in voiceover, but he makes his auteurist presence felt in other, less overt ways too. In the prison scenes, the framing and mis en scene options are necessarily limited and he doesn’t to try to adorn them much, instead allowing our attention to rivet entirely to the subject, as we search his/her face for telltale flickers of regret, rage, madness, or monstrousness when they discuss the things they have done, or the things they swear they didn’t. However, in the other sections, Herzog gives free, if guarded, rein to his considerable staging and framing talents: lawyers, press, bystanders and family members are often shown in what must be meticulously prepared parts of their homes or offices. The positioning of a framed family photo near a stack of anonymous law books or the hi-def day-glo of an interviewee’s painted nails: these details illuminate entire personalities, and serve as the pin that skewers the butterfly to the page.
Familiar Herzogian themes do rear their heads from time to time — his age-old preoccupation with death and nature, and their interrelation, tugs gently at these stories like an undertow. Birds wheeling in the sky may be a rather on-the-nose visual metaphor for the freedom the inmates are denied, but other shots of fields and trees and skies become invested with more resonance when we realize we only ever see them in connection with death. Out the windows of a vehicle riding the route an inmate will take to the ‘death house’; in the overgrown environs of a house where a fatal crime occurred; or, most chillingly, in the actual roadside ditch where James Blake, the serial killer subject of the first film, reveals he dumped another body — visions of nature may traditionally be thought to offer comfort and hope to incarcerated people, but this is Herzog, and nature here is menacing, almost malicious in its indifference to human events.
There are a few moments where the director crosses the line from observation to intervention, and these are the few moments that feel off, overly artificial and discomfiting. Finding James Blake’s father, for example, and telling Blake of the encounter on camera feels vaguely exploitative, but whether it’s Herzog exploiting Blake, or us exploiting Blake by watching, or Blake manipulating us with his response, we can’t quite work out. Similarly, and perhaps this is a factor of seeing all four films back-to-back, but on more than one occasion Herzog over-editorializes — for instance, “the only escape is in his dreams” — and each time he does, it feels jarringly trite, like the director has momentarily lost his focus on the subject and is rummaging around in his bag of old tricks.
But these lapses are few and far between, and the overriding impression is much more of the off-kilter intelligence and balance that Herzog brings to the project. As an interviewer he is fearless, asking questions that are almost breathtaking in their audacity, and eliciting responses that are telling, even when we judge them to be untruthful. And though in a general ideological way he may sympathize with their plight, Herzog never allows the inmates to lapse into self-pity without summarily recontextualizing what they are saying in light of their crime and its victims.
He often leaves the camera on the subject for those few interesting and awkward seconds of silence after they’ve finished speaking; he makes use of original footage of crime scenes and interrogations; he draws sometimes surprising but always apropos lines between events and people; but most of all he lets the inmates talk and talk. And so we get the jovial, jokey Hank Skinner, who came within 20 minutes of execution for the horrific murder of a woman and her two mentally handicapped sons, relating his favorite “Twilight Zone” episode in its entirety; we get James Barnes, a serial killer, a convert to Islam and the twin brother of a woman who saw Jesus in a vision, trying to adequately describe the “glow” of youth that one of his as-yet-unconfirmed victims had; we get Linda Anita Carty, convicted of murdering her neighbor so she could steal her baby, singing “Amazing Grace”; we get George Rivas, the mastermind behind a prison break and string of robberies that culminated in the killing of a cop, resigning himself to his fate, and in the process becoming perhaps the most sympathetic of the subjects. These stories and moments are unexpected, unscripted, and by turns moving and horrifying, essential and ephemeral: they feel like life.
During the Anita Carty episode, a telling exchange occurs between Herzog and the prosecuting attorney on the case. Throughout, she has been articulate and impassioned in her focus on the victim of this particularly abhorrent crime (a young mother abducted with her days-old baby, suffocated and left in the trunk of a car). Leaving aside the creeping impression we begin to get that she is thus focused as something of a smokescreen for the thinness of her actual case against Carty, at one point her poise slips a little and she says, acidly “you can humanize her.” Herzog brings this back up after she has finished speaking: he doesn’t have to humanize her, he reproaches, Linda Anita Carty is already a human. The slight shrug and awkward silence that follows speaks volumes not just about this lady and her case, but about Herzog’s motives in putting this project together. It seems he believes that if he can draw an accurate portrait of a human, no matter how monstrous the things that human did, or how despicable and unlikeable a person they are, then something in the audience’s humanity will respond on that level. And on that level, once you have recognized a person’s humanity, it is, yes, much much harder to declare you believe they should die. “Death Row” is subtle propaganda, maybe too subtle to change many minds, but whichever side of the divide you sit on, it is riveting, thought-provoking, true-life filmmaking, and it deserves your time. [A-]
by Jessica Kiang