Capone Talks ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD and BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS with the Great Werner Herzog!
Published at: June 24, 2008, 12:59 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here just chillin' with one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Werner Herzog, one of those rare directors who has made as much of a name for himself as a documentarian as he has for his features. Hell, in recent years, Herzog seems to have even stepped up his acting duties as well in such films as INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS; JULIEN DONKEY-BOY; THE GRAND; and MISTER LONELY. He directed one of the greatest films that was released last year, RESCUE DAWN, and has repeatedly impressed the world with films liked AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD; FITZCARRALDO; WOYZECK; KASPER HAUSER; and his stark, cold, and ultra-creepy remake of NOSFERATU, many of these starring his frequent creative partner and leading man Klaus Kinski.
Kinski was the subject of one of Herzog's greatest documentaries, MY BEST FIEND, and he has consistently continued to make his own unique brand of what he likes to call "non-fiction" films, including GRIZZLY MAN; LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY; THE WHITE DIAMOND; and the his latest, ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD. It is because of this remarkable work that he and I are talking. The movie chronicles Herzog's trip to the South Pole and examines the people and creatures that live down there year round. As he does with all of his docs, Herzog allows his unique and critical voice to stand as narration for the film, adding a great deal of humor and pathos to the film. Think of it as his anti-MARCH OF THE PENGUINS. We talk about his career to this point, as well as two upcoming projects, one of which has already gotten much negative press and reaction: BAD LIEUTENANT (which now has the added subtitle PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS, according to imdb). I found Herzog to be ready and will to poke fun at his reputation while still offering up some sincere responses. The man is quite simply a living legend and one of my filmmaking heroes, and it was an honor to talk to him. He was in the midst of a busy press day, but I managed to steal away 12 minutes of his time. Ladies and gents: Werner Herzog.
Werner Herzog: This is Werner Herzog, hello.
Capone: Hello. Hello, Werner. How are you?
Werner Herzog: Hello. Good, yes.
Capone: Did I hear someone say just before you got on the phone that I am your the last one of the day?
Werner Herzog: No, no, it goes on endless. But, there will be a Q&A at a film center a little bit out of town. …No, it’s quite okay. I don’t complain.
Capone: Well, I spent part of the past weekend with a friend of yours, Harmony Korine, and he asked me to say ‘Hello’ to you.
WH: Ah, thank you, yes.
Capone: We did a Q&A as well at a screening of his film, which you are very good in, by the way. On that subject, I wanted to ask you…You’ve been in a couple of Harmony’s films, and I saw you in THE GRAND earlier this year. What do you get out of acting? Why do you do it?
WH: Well, there’s a simple answer: I love everything that has to do with cinema--writing screenplays, editing, directing, producing, working on the music, acting. But, of course, acting, I’m only good if I have to play someone who is debased and dysfunctional and hostile [laughs].
Capone: [Laughs] Well, you do that very well, even when you’re not acting, I guess.
WH: [laughs] No, that’s not correct, because just talk to my wife. She swears to God that I’m the fluffiest husband on God’s wide earth.
Capone: Okay. Does it concern you, as you appear more in your nonfiction films and step up your acting roles, that a whole generation of younger admirers unfamiliar with your earlier work see you more as someone they see in front of the camera than behind it.
WH: Yeah, but it’s not like that bad. Besides, I hardly appear in my own films. Like in GRIZZLY MAN, I appear for 30 seconds, and you only see me from behind. And, in the Antarctic film [ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD], I do not appear at all. However, you hear my voice, I speak my own commentaries. So, that is a mistake people make: they think I’m in my own films. Yes, I’m there--with my voice.
It’s very strange, because I get a lot of mail these days, and much of the mail comes from young kids who are 15. They have questions about HEART OF GLASS or about AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD, a film that I made in 1971, 1972. So, it’s not that my earlier films have disappeared behind some recent stuff.
Capone: Oh, no, I was not implying that at all, actually. In fact, with Harmony, we were definitely talking about your older films in the group that we were with. With your nonfiction films, was there a point when you decided that having that running commentary in your voice, whether you were in the film or not, was the best way to handle the subjects that you were tackling? Not just showing them without commentary or narration, but providing a sort of analytical perspective?
WH: Well, it came very naturally. I don’t know how I started to do it, but it’s a fact now, and I enjoy it. I write good commentaries, and I speak them well.
Capone: Yes, you do. That’s true. And, you go beyond just the facts to provide a great deal of analysis into how what we’re seeing is a reflection of the human condition or someone’s struggle against or to work with nature. That seems to be something that’s coming up a lot recently.
WH: Yes, but you should be careful with the term ‘analysis’. I’m not a very analytical person. For example, in ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, it is much more significant with what amount of humor I’m seeing events down there and the kind of warmth.
There’s one significant moment early in the film where a man who drives a Caterpillar, who actually studied philosophy. And, he speaks very beautifully about his childhood and how he became curious because his grandmother had read The Odyssey and the Argonauts to him, and he says one thing that struck me really deeply. He says, “I fell in love with the world.” And, I thought, my goodness, yes, that’s all what I have done all my life, the films, because I’ve been around a lot in many countries. It’s because I fell in love with the world, and somehow, this Antarctic film, ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, is exactly that.
And, it’s not so much analytical, you see. When you are loving a woman, you are not analytical with her. You just love her, period. And, it reflects a mood that I’ve had in quite many films before.
Capone: Do you find that people now are coming to you with ideas for new adventures for you to go on?
WH: No, not really. There are exceptions, like BAD LIEUTENANT, which is a completely new story. But, I was approached. There are some times, rare cases, yes, I do that once in a while. But, normally, I write my own screenplays and I develop my own stories.
Capone: Since you brought up BAD LIEUTENANT, I wanted to ask you a little about THE BAD LIEUTENANT remake…
WH: It’s not a remake.
Capone: I’m sorry. This film that you’re doing under the name BAD LIEUTENANT. [Director] Abel Ferrera has already cursed it, thinking it is a remake of some sort…
WH: Yah, well, that’s why he’s…I mean, it’s all theater thunder. [laughs] Let him rave and rant. It’s not a remake. It’s like, you cannot say the last James Bond is a remake of the previous one. So, it only has a bad cop as the leading character, and that’s about it. So let him rave and rant. Beautiful. Maybe…I don’t know how he looks like today, but maybe he could play a drug dealer in the film or something [laughs].
Capone: So, can you tell what is different about the approach to the material?
WH: I haven’t seen the first BAD LIEUTENANT, so I have no idea what his approach was.
Capone: Okay. And, I assume you’re going to leave it that way, for a while at least.
WH: Yes. It’s wonderful that before we even start anything, we have this beautiful accompanying music and thunder.
Capone: No such thing as bad publicity, I guess.
WH: No, it’s not publicity, but let’s face it, it makes my profession a funny one.
Capone: Why did you dedicate the new film to Roger Ebert?
WH: Because he’s such a wonderful soldier of cinema, and, you know, he’s so deeply afflicted with illness, and he’s struggling and cannot speak anymore, and he’s still watching movies, still writing about movies. It’s just wonderful. And, he has been very good to me, a very great, encouraging person for me throughout my career as a filmmaker.
So, and I said to him, "Roger, this is coming at you. I’m going to dedicate the film to you. And, you know what, because it’s dedicated to you, you cannot write or review any more about it." [laughs]
Capone: Which, of course, he did already.
WH: No, he didn’t write a review. He wrote a letter to me.
Capone: Okay, that’s what it was. I’ve seen that.
WH: Yes, he wrote this letter, and it was only for me. And, I didn’t tell anyone. But, Roger chose to publish this letter three months later. On the Internet, you can find it on his web site. He was really talking very kindly about ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD and about my films in general. I love him. I truly love the man. He’s such a…there are hardly any great, good soldiers of cinema left. He’s one.
Capone: Yeah, I see him pretty regularly, because I’m also in Chicago.
WH: Ah, give him all my best!
Capone: I will, I will, yes… I spoke to both Christian Bale and Steve Zahn when they were touring for RESCUE DAWN, and they certainly talked about your shooting style being very loose, allowing you to capture more spontaneous, less scripted event. Do you do the same thing with the nonfiction films as well?
WH: Sure. I always allow real life to enter into the films, so that is…
Capone: …that’s helpful in a documentary, yeah.
WH: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, of course. And, when you look at ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, there’s vibrant life of real people in there.
Capone: If I believe your narration to the film, you were looking to make the anti-MARCH OF THE PENGUINS. What’s wrong with MARCH OF THE PENGUINS?
WH: Everything [laughs]. I hope my film is better.
Capone: You were still unable to escape their lure in the film. There are shots of mad penguins, suicidal penguins.
WH: Yes, yes. But, it is not that I wanted to make an anti-MARCH OF THE PENGUINS film. I was just fascinated by the idea that there might be something like insanity among animals, or derangement. Is there such a thing as a deranged penguin? [Laughs] Of course, there’s a lot of humor, but the sequence with the penguin that marches off into the interior of the continent is kind of tragic as well.
Capone: It’s depressing. I’m glad you said it was supposed to be humorous, because when you asked that question, I laughed so hard. And, I wasn’t sure that was what you intended.
WH: No, audiences laugh a lot. It’s legitimate. [When] audiences laugh, it’s never wrong.
Capone: You mentioned earlier about young people writing you. There have been a couple of films lately that were inspired by your Munich to Paris walk. What do you make of these journeys by young people that your film inspired?
WH: It’s okay. I just try not to create clones of myself, so I’m cautious.
And I'm afraid I have to leave, they are waiving wildly. Apparently there's a car waiting for me to go to a television studio.
Capone: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Werner.
WH: Okay. Bye bye.