Into the Abyss with Werner Herzog
November 18, 2011, 4:27 am
Filed under: Film, Life! | Tags: , ,

It’s fun to imagine living the life of the artist who has reached a point high enough in their career they can recreate whatever they imagine. Consider the ability to bring your epic fantasies in proximity with reality. For most, it takes years of practice and accumulating resources manifest one’s dreams into reality. Professional storytellers offer this as a service. To be successful, they must make their craft efficient and the product attractive. A movie maker draws from a filmic vocabulary and tropes from real life to create a world that his audience will accept and inhabit though it is far different. This seems to be the basic recipe for a story– the use of some amount of language to fuse some amount of the real world with some amount of the imagined world, to taste. The auteur then chooses whether or not to spice their work up with style. Style lets the storyteller. As in- “I love it when Woody Allen starts talking to the camera in his movies,” or “I cannot wait to see what the twist is at the end of this M.  Night Shyamalan movie.” Werner Herzog’s style, what makes him stand out, is not characterized by visual trademarks or one explicit theme, we turn to Werner Herzog because of the nature of his stories.

For his films, Werner Herzog re-creates actual events and people so outrageous that they seem to have sprouted from a highly imaginative fantasy. Whereas most storytellers carefully calculate where to draw the line between fiction and fantasy, Herzog seems unaware of the difference. His mastery is not in inventing a story, but in unwaveringly pursuing it, learning its patterns, and lunging toward it at exactly the right time. He neither observes the world from the outside nor conceives of a new world, but rather intervenes with the one we already perpetually inhabit in order to show us extraordinary existence already out there.

If you like the sound of Werner Herzog’s body of work and haven’t yet explored it, there are manymany places to start though none in particular. His body of work spans about 50 years and over 40 fiction and documentary films, plus books, operas, etc… There have also been several films made about him and about his movies. Such is the case with one of his classics Fitzcarraldo (1982) and the documentary made about its production Burden of Dreams (1982). Narrative orbits Werner Herzog like rings on Saturn.

I talked to him with interviewers from various other publications about his new film Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life. It is a documentary that spirals around the effects of violent crime and the institution of the death penalty. The film takes place in Texas where there is much to be explore about personal attitudes toward capital punishment. Through present day interviews, Herzog weaves a portrait of a crime that took place ten years ago that caused the deaths of three people, the incarceration of two young men (one who awaits oncoming execution and one who sits out a life sentence), their families, and the families of the victims. Though Herzog takes a clear stance on the crimes and the penalties for them, each person is afforded the utmost sympathy. Herzog makes sure to show that each person in the film is an actual human being, not alienating them by the direness of their situation, but giving them pathos for it.

Into the Abyss premiered at DOC NYC and began its run at IFC Center in New York on November 11th. He will follow up with several more shorter pieces about the subject of capital punishment that will air on television in the near future.

Take a listen-


Lucas Green

This is the trailer (the same audio is at the beginning of the interview)-


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