On “the inadequate imagery of today’s civilization”:
I have the impression that the images that surround us today are worn out; they are abused and useless and exhausted. They are limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution. When I look at the postcards in tourist shops and the images and the advertisements that surrounds us in magazines, or I turn on the television, or if I walk into a travel agency and see those huge posters with that same tedious image of the Grand Canyon on them, I truly feel there is something dangerous emerging here. The biggest danger, in my opinion, is television because to a certain degree it ruins our vision and makes us very sad and lonesome. Our grandchildren will blame us for not having tossed hand-grenades into TV stations because of commercials. Television kills our imagination and what we end up with are worn-out images because of the inability of too many people to seek out fresh ones.
[...] Look at the depiction of Jesus in our iconography, unchanged since the vanilla ice-cream kitcsh of the Nazarene school of painting in the late nineteenth century. These imgaes alone are sufficient proof that Christianity is moribund.
I suspect he exaggerates the impact of images because he himself is highly sensitive to images, much more so than normal people (as one might expect). Later on in Herzog on Herzog he explains that he can never attend live concerts because he will be so mesmerised by the movement of the bassist’s hands that he will not listen to the music. I’ll have to think more about the notion of “worn-out images”, but prima facie I don’t see how it means anything over and above having been watched by too many people. But how many is too many? Why can an image be watched by too many people? Why is it somehow bad for images to be watched by a large number of people? Why would having too few new images be bad for our imagination? Didn’t Herzog himself, as a child growing up in the ruins of WWII, claim to have had great fun playing games of imaginary scenarios in all the empty houses and such? Are the images in modern, diverse cities simply superifically different, and do not offer as much rein to the imagination as those empty houses?
On the philosophical significance often attributed to his films:
I am not one of those intellectuals who possess a philosophy or a social structure in their mind that from the start guides a film. I have never set out to imbue my films with literary or philosophical references. Film should be looked at straight on, it is not the art of scholars but of illiterates… For me it is much more about real life than about philosophy. All my films have been made without this kind of contemplation. Contemplation always comes after the film.
Again, shades of how intuition rather than explicitly learned knowledge guides him.
In response to You’re obsessed with chickens, aren’t you?:
You might be right. Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in this world.
On the writers, poets and filmmakers that were most influential on his art:
First of all, I am not an artist and never have been. Rather I am a craftsman and feel very close to the mediaeval artisans who produced their work anonymously and who, along with their apprentices, had a true feeling for the physical materials they were working with.
Years ago I was in Paris right after a huge exhibition of the work of Caspar David Friedrich. It seemed like every single French journalist I spoke to had seen the exhibition and insisted on seeing my films — especially Heart of Glass and Kaspar Hauser — within the context of this new knowledge he suddenly had. Then, after a similar exhibition of German expressionism a few years later, everyone told me how many elements of expressionism they could see in my work. One year it was inconceivable to them I had not planned to imbue my films from start to finish with elements of German romanticism, the next year they were even more incredulous that I had no preconceived notion of expressionism within my work. When it comes to the French, it is either romanticism or expressionism I am tainted with, simply because those are the only two movements in German art anyone has ever heard of, so surely I must fit comfortably within one or the other. Please have a look at what I said to Les Blank about the jungle? Anyone who understands romanticism will know that those are not the words of a romanticist. And when it comes to the Americans, who have generally been very good to me and my films over the years, but not having much knowledge of either romanticism or expressionism, for them the only question is, ‘Is this film in line with Nazism or not?’
It is of course quite possible that his work has been influenced by romanticism and/or expressionism even if he hadn’t planned to imbue it with elements of those movements. So the critics might not have been mistaken in reading those elements into his work.
On modern communication:
Along with this rapid growth of forms of communication at our disposal — be it fax, phone, email, internet or whatever — human solitude will increase in direct proportion. It might sound paradoxical, but it is not. It might appear that these things remove us from our isolation, but isolation is very different from solitude. When you are caught in a snowdrift in South Dakota, fifty miles from the next town, your isolation can be overcome with a mere cellular phone. But solitude is something more existential.
Exactly why I still refuse to own a cellular phone. I may be one of the ten or so people my age in this city who cannot compose or send a text message.
On why he thinks that cinema comes from the ‘country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism’:
For me, cinema has the same fascination you feel during an eclipse and you see a close-up of the sun with protruberances shooting out that are thousands of times larger than our own planet down here. It is for this reason that I am loathe to address many of the points critics raise about my films, because when everything is explained it gets boring very quickly. It is always the mysterious and those things which do not perfectly fit into a story — the inexplicable images or twists in the tale — that stick out and are memorable. Sometimes I will place a scene or shot into a film that might seem to have no place, yet that is essential to our understanding of the story being told… It is the same thing in music, these moments of special intensity when suddenly you hear something that rails against the most basic rules you are accustomed to. It is the very nature of storytelling and presentation of images that somehow demand moments like this and that critical analysis cannot penetrate. Really good literature is full of these elements, or maybe is solely these things. All the rest is mere journalism or maybe writing. But not real poetry.
If you truly love film, I think the healthiest thing to do is not read books on the subject. I prefer the glossy film magazines with their big colour photos and gossip columns, or the National Enquirer. Such vulgarity is healthy and safe.
On shooting The Dark Glow of the Mountains:
What was difficult at first was getting [Reinhold Messner] to appear on camera as himself. The first thing we shot was a seqeuence right in front of Nanga Parbat… Nanga Parbat is something like Messner’s nemesis: it is where his brother died and where he lost most of his toes. So I woke Messner up and got him in front of the camera, and immediately he starts this kind of media-rap that he is so used to giving. I stopped the camera immediately and said, ‘That is not the way I want to do a film with you. There is something deeply and utterly wrong to continue like this. Not one foot of film will be wasted this way. I need to see deep inside your heart.’ Messner looked at me kind of stunned and was silent most of the rest of the day. Towards evening he came to me and said, ‘I think I have understood.’ There would be no mercy for him, because film per se knows no mercy.
Explaining why he does not regard himself as an adventurer:
To me, adventure is a concept that applies only to those men and women of earlier historical times, like the mediaeval knights who travelled into the unknown. The concept has degenerated constantly since then and turned into an ugly embarrassment when, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, people attempted to reach the North and South Poles. Such acts contradict my definition of adventure, for those kinds of voyages served only the purpose of self-promotion, nothing else. There is nothing interesting about the North Pole; it is just water and drifting ice, and I feel the labelling of these kinds of voyages as the great remaining adventures of humankind was an embarrassment.
…I particularly hate this old pseudo-adventurism where the mountain climb becomes about confronting the extremes of humanity. I had some arguments with Messner about this. For a while he stylized his media persona on the concept of ‘The Great Adventurer’ and would make pronouncements that he was some kind of vicarious adventurer for the public. Me, I am waiting for the ridiculous act of the first one barefoot on Mount Everest. My God, you can even book an ‘adventure holiday’ to see the headhunters of New Guinea. Just make sure you follow your tour guide and do not get lost. This is the kind of absurdity pervading the utterly degenerate concept of ‘adventurism’, one that reveals only its ugly face nowadays.
On the other hand, I love the Frenchman who crossed the whole of the Sahara in reverse gear in a 2CV. And I love people like Monsieur Mange Tout, who ate his own bicycle. I think he also tried to eat a twin-engined aeroplane. What a guy!
Really? Ah well, there will surely be another like him.
On how he’s different from ‘most of the Americans who have goals in life and who strive for happiness’:
I simply do not have goals in life. Rather, I have goals in existence. I would make a very clear distinction between the two, and I hope that makes sense to you.
I interpret the distinction as follows: Goals in life are what you can have if you exist first (you need to exist to have a life). But goals in existence are what you need to exist in the first place. Herzog would not beHerzog if he did not have the overarching goal he had of making films.
On how he dealt with financial problems:
It is not money that moves ships over mountains, it is faith. And it is not money that makes films, it is these things [holds up his hands]. You have to establish just one little heap of money and make it seem big. There is a German proverb: ‘Der Teufel scheisst immer auf den groessten Haufen.‘ ‘The Devil always shits on the biggest heap.’ So heap up a little money, then the Devil will shit on it.
I think the Devil shitted on Fitzcarraldo anyway.
In response to “Do you ever go to the theatre?”:
I dislike theatre profoundly… I find stage acting disgusting and not credible at all, somehow very dead to the world. The overdramatic forms, the screaming, the fake passion, it really pains me to watch…
Let me say it even more drastically: you would get me into the audience of the World Wrestling Federation before you could drag me into a theatre. The kind of fake, choreographed drama that wrestlers practise and the characters who speak to the audience showing how evil they are, I prefer this kind of fake drama to theatre. Another thing is that I feel profoundly uncomfortable with theatre audiences. I know I do not belong there. I know they feel and think and function in a different way to me, and frankly I would feel much more comfortable with all the vulgarity of the wrestling crowd.
And, in line with that preference for vulgarity over pretense:
It is a huge obstacle for me to go to a museum… generally musuems intimidate me. As do restaurants with very formal waiters. I am deeply scared by the sheer thought that somebody serves me as a waiter, and when it is overly formal then it is total misery for me. I would rather eat potato chips sitting on the sidewalk than go to one of those chic restaurants. The same thing about hotels. Often I am forced to stay in hotels when I travel, but whenever there is a chance to avoid that world I do.
Oh yes. I loathe waiters and hotels too. Any kind of place where the service has a tinge of grovelling to it, essentially. I can carry my own food and make my own bed (or more likely, leave it unmade as I like it), thank you.