I'm sure you Herzophiles have been languishing for days now, waiting for the rest of this interview (the best niblets made it into the paper here). Here are the ready-for-blogging-goggles portions. A veritable, unsugary feast of Bavarian whimsy.
SFBG: There are some awe-inspiring landscape images in The Wild Blue Yonder. Where were they shot?
Werner Herzog: That was in southern Venezuela.
SFBG: How would you describe your relationship to the land - I hear you're a big walker?
WH: Not a walker I travel on foot once in a while. When it comes to essential things I would travel on foot. But I'm not a hiker and I'm not a backpacker. I am an outdoors person when it comes down to it, but when you say "walking on foot," I'm not walking leisurely. I'm traveling, and I'm not into the business of backpacking. And I'm not in the business of jogging.
SFBG: The environment has an enormous role in your films - such as Grizzly Man...
WH: Yeah, but we have to be cautious about Grizzly Man because everybody expected a nature film, a film about wild nature, about wildlife. And very early on I warned everyone, "I'm not going to do a wildlife film. It's not going to be about wild nature. It's actually pointing back at us - I'm doing a film on human nature."
SFBG: You talked about looking at the essence of humans at the SFIFF talk last night. Postmodernists and post-structuralists wouldn't approve!
WH: Oh, forget about the post- posts! Don’t go into the debate in academia, which is completely lifeless. No, I'm curious about understanding what constitutes our human condition right now. Who are we, what drives us, where are we heading? I try to illuminate what is going on inside us human beings.
But it's nothing special. Writers have done it for millennia; painters have done it forever. So it's not a new question and of course, at the same time I'm trying to follow a vision. To articulate images that we have no seen yet.
SFBG: Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
WH: Oh, I hate the term. You see, I saw Larry King Live and LaToya Jackson, or I think it was Janet Jackson, it doesn’t really matter, one of the Jackson sisters was on his show, and he questioned her about denouncing her brother and not being all right with little boys. And she denied it and said my management told me to do that. And then he asked her about money and how much she earned, and she stops Larry King and looks at him without blinking eyelashes and says, "Larry, you know I'm not in all this. I'm a spiritual person."
And I just couldn’t believe what I heard! I cringed for a moment, and so whenever it comes to somebody trying to talk me into being a spiritual I think of LaToya Jackson. Ha!
SFBG: You can relate more to the scientists and mathematicians in Wild Blue Yonder?
WH: No. Yeah, of course, there's an interest in that. But it's not calculus or things like this - it's more imaginative mathematics like number theory. But let's not get into that. You make me cringe easily when you speak about spirituality. Heh.
SFBG: How about this phrase: "New Age"?
WH: Oh, "New Age" - I immediately lower my head and charge. I charge instantly.
SFBG: By the way, speaking of Stroszek [in the print interview] - was that chicken dancing on a hot plate?
WH: No, it was just a trained chicken. It got a few bits of corn as a reward for dancing.
SFBG: One thing that stood out last night [at the 2006 SFIFF event, in the Herzog retrospective film reel] was the absence of images with Klaus Kinski, who many consider to be your alterego. Do you miss him or do you have a new perspective on your relationship today?
WH: No, because he made 210 films and five films with me, and I made over 50 and five films with him. I stopped working with him a few years before he died. So it was clear there was nothing else to discover together with him. I did not miss him while he was still alive, nor do I miss him now that he's absent now because he died. But our collaboration was very intense and brought the best out of him and in me.
SFBG: He lived in the Bay Area for a while, as you did - why were you here?
WH: I got married. My wife lived here but originally she comes from Siberia but became an American citizen.
SFBG: How did growing up in post-WW II Germany influence your work and would you say the aftermath of Nazism has had impact on your films?
WH: Not the films that I'm doing, because it's not really affected by any political event or any historical event, but of course, as a private person, it has obviously shaped me. And I've been asked have you ever been considered to become an American citizen, and my answer is no. For one very simple reason: I cannot become a citizen of a country that has capital punishment. As simple as that - period. So I will never become a citizen of Nigeria, either, or many other countries.
You asked about Nazi barbarism and part of the Nazi barbarism was this disregard of human life and the institutionalized machinery of death and this utmost barbarism and part of it was how easily they'd condemn dissidents. Whoever told a joke about Hitler would be executed for it. And of course, my antennae are very sensitive out there.
I like America. Much of it I even love, even though some things I see with ambiguity. I live in the country because I love America for many, many reasons, but one of the reasons I cannot become a citizen is capital punishment, and of course, I'm rooted too deeply into my own culture and intertwined in my own language culture and everything like that.
SFBG: Can you describe the essence of Bavarian culture?
WH: No, not easy - give me 48 hours. And read about 25 books by Bavarian poets or so. But to make it very short I'm using it as a contrast to what normally people would associate with Germany: Prussians, Teutonic, militaristic, some well-organized country. Now you have Bavaria: hard-drinking, hard-fighting Baroque people with an exuberant fantasy life like King Ludwig II, the last mad king of Bavaria who built all the dream castles. That’s more the Bavarian side that I feel associated with.
My first language was Bavarian dialect, I had to, at age 11, when I went to high school, learn proper German as if learning a new language. Well, not really like a second language. But I really had to make a big effort to learn proper German. I was ridiculed by the other kids who mimicked my dialect.
SFBG: Did the other kids beat you up for not speaking proper German?
WH: No, not beaten up - I was not without defense. Besides there was an older brother there that was always the ringleader.
SFBG: Lessons of Darkness is such a moving film, depicting the burning oil fields and environmental devastation in Kuwait. Are you tempted to tackle the Iraq war now?
WH: No, because Lessons of Darkness didn’t tackle the war either. It never mentions Kuwait or Iraq. It's on a bigger level, as if there's a cosmic crime going on. A planet that is not recognizable as our own planet. And because of that it pretends to be a science fiction film. It's as if I was reporting from a different, uninhabitable planet.
Of course, the war in Iraq will create a lot of films, but it is American filmmakers who are challenged. And there are very good ones out there who are actually going into that. Here at the [2006 SFIFF] festival they're playing a very, very interesting one: Iraq in Fragments. I heard very good things about it because it has great poetry in it. It's not just the political-activist side of it - there's something else - and I welcome these films that are beyond what we have seen, day in, day out. It’s American filmmakers - that’s what they are challenged to do, and I expect them to do it.
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