Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Interrupting the Shyamalan-a-thon ...

... which, frankly, I’ve been procrastinating over. I watched ‘Signs’ last weekend and have been implementing blogging-avoidance strategies ever since – and with only the pompous seriousness and house-of-cards twist of ‘The Village’ on the horizon, my motivation isn’t just ebbing but doing a pretty good impersonation of a fully-fledged drought.

But, still … interrupting the Shyamalan-a-thon:

Kudos to the BBC for last night’s ‘Imagine’ documentary on Werner Herzog. A joy to see Alan Yentob, who frequently puts himself at the centre of the programme (he all but elbowed the – admittedly reclusive – Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami out of the picture in last week’s programme), getting put in his place by the great director. “As a German living in Hollywood – ” Yentob begins, only for Herzog to correct him on two counts: he’s Bavarian and he lives in LA, not Hollywood. There is a difference.

The documentary itself was a bit scattershot, trying to reference too many of Herzog’s films (he’s made over 50) during its 60-minute running time; nonetheless, a through-line emerged of Herzog as a chronicler of the extreme, be it extreme conditions of filming (‘Aguirre: the Wrath of God’, ‘Fitzcarraldo’) or extreme personalities (Timothy Treadwell in ‘Grizzly Man’; Klaus Kinski in every film he made for Herzog); a man whose themes, concerns and images resonate down a four-decade filmography; a man attuned to the physicality and landscapes of the locations he shoots.

The payoff was fantastic, Herzog recounting a legendary incident during the filming of ‘Aguirre’: with ten days of principle photography remaning, Kinski, in one of his archetypal bouts of mania, had packed his belongings and was ready to zoom off in a speedboat. Herzog assured him he’d be shot before he reached the first bend in the river.

Dispelling the myth that he’d spent the film directing Kinski from behind a shotgun, Herzog recalled, “I didn’t have a gun in my hand when I told him this, but he knew I meant it.” (Incidentally, Herzog speaks in a very precise manner, his tone of voice always reasoned and calm; there is not a trace of hyperbole about him.)

Yentob, briefly speechless, responded, “And you seem like a gentle man.”

“I was very gentle with Kinski,” Herzog replied, “I gave him a choice. I would not have shot him without giving him a choice.”

Wunderbar! A large glass of Riesling was raised to Herr Herzog at chez Fulwood last night.

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