” Camisea, 15 April 1981…After hours of his incessant ranting and raving, I ate the last piece of chocolate I had been keeping hidden in my cabin. I ate it practically in Kinski’s face, which he was holding very close to mine as he screamed his lungs out. He was so dumbfounded by my act of self-indulgence that all of a sudden he fell silent.”
I’m in the midst of logging sneaker-related listings to sum up the year at time-of-writing, but truthfully, two of the highlights of 2009 arrived courtesy of Werner Herzog’s outsider fascination, oddly earnest treatment of a trashy screenplay and oft-overlooked skills with the pen when it comes to logging his surroundings and general frame of mind (check the Free Association reprint ‘Of Walking In Ice’ for a primer). Were it not such a clichéd prospect for one who so effortlessly sidesteps the norm, a daily herzogspot.com from the man himself would be e-gold. But you’ll never get that.
What we did get, other than a superior Q&A in Vice’s phenomenal film issue, one of the best issues of anything in a while, alongside the De La FRANK151 and a fine dinner conversation in the States recently regarding the perceived madness of kings Kinski and Herzog, was a publication of the director’s journals during the troubled production of ‘Fitzcarraldo’ and a sequel of sorts to Ferrera’s ‘The Bad Lieutenant.’ That’s more than enough for me.
It’s not difficult to see that ‘Fitzcarraldo’ might have been a hard shoot, but Herzog’s two and a half years of observations and evident use of a diary as catharsis was the most fascinating book release in years. That it made print after nearly thirty years is something to be grateful for and the antithesis to the ghostwritten c-list tripe that passes for recollection at the moment. Werner would inevitably see something in something so vapid, but ‘Conquest Of The Useless’ blindly charters the reader from Peru to backer’s meetings by perilous plane journeys back to the jungle again and again with a whining Jason Robards, laid back Mick Jagger, angry insurers, weary wildlife and a predictably fiery Klaus in the mix. Some entries are purely descriptive, as dense as the writhing, humid surroundings, some are mundane, yet concluded with a macabre factoid from the mainland, and some are downright brutal,
“Camisea, 22 April 1981…I had learned from the pilot, who had radioed up to the Huallaga from the Indians’ camp, that people seriously wounded by arrows had just arrived from the upper reaches of the Camisea, and that emergency operations were already under way. I hurried to the first-aid station and saw a native man and a woman, both of whom had been struck with enormous arrows. They had been fishing for the camp three hours upstream by speedboat, and had spent the night on a sandbank. During the night they had been ambushed and shot at close range by Amehuacas. The woman had been hit by three arrows and almost bled to death. The wounds were close together. One arrow had gone all the way through her body just above her kidney, one had bounced off her hip bone, and the most life-threatening one was still sticking in her abdomen, broken off on the inner side of her pelvis. I spent several hours helping out while she was operated on, shining a powerful flashlight into her abdominal cavity and with the other hand spraying insect repellent to try to drive away the clouds of mosquitoes the blood had attracted. The man still had an arrow made of razor-sharp bamboo and almost thirty centimeters long sticking through his throat.”
That’s a must-have tome, but when rumours circulated that Herzog was filming a loose sequel to Keitel’s sweat-soaked tour de force, much to Abel Ferrera’s contempt, starring Nicholas Cage in some rare time off seeing into the future or time travelling in the kind of 70 million films you watch on planes in a Valium haze, I damn near did the running man. After seeing ‘Port Of Call New Orleans’ I thoroughly enjoyed the bulgy-eyed, manic sweep through William Finkelstein’s screenplay – post crack shit talking, breakdancing souls, and the only resemblance to the preceding masterpiece, was the recently promoted member of po-po’s urgent fundraising and occasional harassment of partially guilty middle-classers.
I didn’t see parody – well, perhaps in Nic’s marginally lighter transition of his ‘Bringing Out The Dead’ driver to a swampland hunt for rock, sex and dollars, with a murder investigation sandwiched in too, but I sensed that Herzog really means it, which is the crux of his directorial appeal. Forget ‘Rescue Dawn’ because this is high-concept Herzog; his concept of slick, and that delirious sense of waking up stoned in front of Sky Movies to catch earnest oddball thrillers was in there too. The focus might be on Eva, but I stay true to my love for Fairuza Balk who makes a brief but worthwhile appearance in the film. I heavily recommend it.
After pissing off Abel, Werner then returns to Peru to film for a movie based on the 1979 case of Mark Yavorsky who killed his mum with an antique saber. He met Yavorsky, but found him argumentative. There’s a lot of superior footage of Werner online, but he’s a good actor too, with his paternal turn making Harmony Korine’s ‘Julien Donkey Boy’ as good as ‘Gummo’ through sheer lunacy, whether sipping on sizzurp from a shoe and demanding to see Mount Everest, offering some H20-led pep talk (“A winner doesn’t shiver”) or engaging in dinner table poetry criticism (“I don’t like it because it’s so artsy fartsy”). Classic and a great turn from a director in front of the camera to rival Huston’s Noah Cross.
As I’ve made light of Ferrera’s irritation, I should make amends by noting that he’s almost as legendary, only taking a tumble in my estimation with the anticlimatic ’80s TV-movie ‘Gladiator’ and 2001’s ‘R’ Xmas’ which fell short The rest was either interesting or straight-up classic. The much-missed Zoë Lund dressed as a nun blowing away party guests in ‘Ms. 45’? Tony Coca-Cola in ‘Driller Killer,’ the trashy ‘Romeo & Juliet’ that was ‘China Girl’? Fuck Baz Luhrmann. A karate serial killer taking on a boxing Berenger in ‘Fear City’? Asia Argento French-kissing a Rottweiler in ‘Go Go Stories’? All legendary.
And now he’s making a ‘Jeckyl And Hyde’ remake with Forest Whitaker and Curtis Jackson. He brought out some fireworks in Keitel, but Ferrera’s instigated the most spectacular Walken moments. ‘King Of New York’ sees him doing a little dance and fondling King Tito’s glove, but don’t overlook the speeches in ‘The Funeral’ and ‘The Addiction’ – extra notable for being produced by Russell Simmons, who, in the same act of nepotism that gave him a Def Jam deal as emcee “Redrum” with his appalling Flatlinerz crew, rapping about goblins and coffins, gives his nephew Jamal Simmons a bit-part.
As a bonus, Zoë Lund (rest in peace) in ‘Ms. 45’ killer nun mode.