Friday, October 2, 2009

Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog released a book earlier this year called "Conquest of the Useless; Reflections on the Making of Fitzcarraldo" and it sounds really interesting. But of course it is, it's written by the most interesting person ever. As the title suggests it is an account of the unbelievably arduous filming of "Fitzcarraldo". Here are a few excerpts from the book (which is largely a compilation of Herzog's journal entries on location) They range from scary, disgusting, to just plain weird :

"Upon returning to Iquitos, I found the little bookshelf in my cabin encased in a termite mound; I had to peel the few books, the radio, letters, and journals out of the hard coating, and the most recent journal, which was on top, has been devoured, except for the cover, which is covered in plastic"

"One time I had grasped hold of a smooth sapling without noticing that a multilane highway of fire ants led up and down it. Then I made the mistake of trying to cut down the tree with my machete to protect those following behind me, but my blow was not strong enough and merely shook the sapling, sending fire ants raining down on me, getting under my shirt and in my hair, and for two days I was climbing the walls."

"The helicopter of the Bolivian president, Barrientos, flew into a power line and crashed from a low altitude. He had suitcases full of money with him, presumably from drug deals. The helicopter immediately caught fire, but although people were there and tried to rescue him from the blaze, no one could get close, because the heat made the submachine guns carried by the president and his entourage start firing wildly, and in the hail of bullets no one dared approach."

"Water is dripping from the roof, but the rain does not refresh anything. The cat has thrown up on the porch.The chickens are standing in the rain getting soaked. My suit is hanging from the rafters of my palm-frond roof, covered with mildew. There is mildew on my shoes and my notebook. you hang up laundry, but it does not dry.My shirts disappear without a trace… this morning a tarantula the size of my fist was sitting in front of me on the table, and for the first time in my life I was only half-afraid.(!)"

The camp is silent with resignation; only the turkey is making a racket. It attacked me, overestimating its own strength, and I quickly grabbed its neck, which squirmed and tried to swallow, slapped him left-right with the casual elegance of the arrogant cavaliers I had seen in French Three Musketeers films who go on to prettily cross swords, and then let the vain albino go. His feelings hurt, he trotted away, wiggling his rump but with his wings still spread in conceited display.

Our kitchen crew slaughtered our last four ducks. While they were still alive, Julian plucked their neck feathers, before chopping off their heads on the execution block. The white turkey, that vain creature, the survivor of so many roast chickens and ducks transformed into soup, came over to inspect, gobbling and displaying, and used his ugly feet to push one of the beheaded ducks, as it lay there on the ground bleeding and flapping its wings, into what he thought was a proper position and making gurgling sounds while his bluish-red wattles swelled, he mounted the dying duck and copulated with it.

And here is a great NPR article with the man himself. And if all this wasn't enough Herzog is starting his own film school. It's called "The Rogue Film School", where you will learn "the art of lockpicking", "traveling on foot", "the exhilaration of being shot at unsuccessfully" and "the creation of your own shooting permits". Sign me up!

There is so much to say about this guy I have to resign myself to just scratching the surface.

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