Werner's to the rescue

I had passively learned that Joaquin Phoenix was in a car accident a few days ago, but it turns out that he was pulled from the wreckage by Werner Herzog. This quote makes a simple overturned car way more interesting:

"I remember this knocking on the passenger window," Phoenix said. "there was this German voice saying, 'Just relax.' There's the air bag, I can't see, and I'm saying, 'I'm fine. I am relaxed.'"

"Finally, I rolled down the window and this head pops inside. And he said, 'No, you're not.' And suddenly I said to myself, 'That's Werner Herzog!' "There's something so calming and beautiful about Werner Herzog's voice. I felt completely fine and safe. I climbed out."
But this blurb from a little piece in the Guardian made it even better:
But like all do-gooding superheroes, Herzog refused to stick around and take the glory. "I got out of the car and I said thank you," Phoenix said. "And he was gone."
I wish I could fully describe the delight this news has brought me, I'll just say that coffee spurted from my nose and leave it at that.


Andrew said...

We saw Herzog’s “Grizzly Man” this weekend and I was impressed. I expected another one of those idealized nature movies that would make the Grizzly Man out to be a martyr for our ecological sins, but instead the movie very effectively communicated the message that nature isn’t Eden but a very scenic savage jungle. Treadwell was definitely a courageous guy and the fact that he could pet bears like dogs was pretty awesome, but his bravery came across as kind cavalier and self-indulgent. The only difference between him and the bull runners in Pamplona might be the lack of booze. The fact that this recklessness also caused his girlfriend to lose her life along with him also causes the needle of moral ambiguity to tilt even more out his favor.

Joe said...

Grizzly Man is very good and very disturbing. I also agree that Timothy Treadwell is not someone that we should emulate, or even admire really, although I had the impression that he would have accepted his death as an unfortunate but acceptable price to pay for his lifestyle. Too bad about the girlfriend. I think Herzog does a good job of pointing out that Treadwell's self-declared mission to "protect the bears" was silly. From who was he protecting them, and in what way was he doing it?

My favorite part was when Herzog says, (not very accurate paraphrase). "Here, I differ from Treadwell on one point. Where he sees the common denominator of the universe as harmony, I see it as chaos, strife, and despair."

Just a small disagreement...no big deal!

Andrew said...

That’s a good observation. I think Herzog’s bleak assessment of the universe is somewhat overly pessimistic; though this might be expected from someone who’s made a few Holocaust movies. I think a more accurate statement might have been that there are no free rides in nature; beauty has a cost. The closest thing to peace in nature might the barren desserts or nearly sterile Antarctica. For the rest of the world it is a never ending war over finite resources. Most mainstream nature films have close-ups on charismatic predators but rarely show the destruction they have to sow simply to exist or when they do show killing, rationalize it; “wolves only kill the weak” or “spawning salmon are just going to die anyways”. Grizzly Man did a good job showing that nature is far more ambiguous.

Ben said...

Herzog is, for now, my favorite film director. His features and documentaries all have a very different feel than most film-makers, and just to complicate things, I thought I'd toss a couple ideas as to why.

First off a couple quotes of his, there's a moment towards the end of Grizzly Man where Treadwell is focusing his camera on the bear who would later kill him and Herzog says in voiceover: "What haunts me is that, in all the faces of the bears Treadwell filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy," Herzog says at one point, as the image freeze-frames on the face of the bear. "I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. This blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food."

Also, one of his more famous quotes (he's a rather quoteable guy): "The so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants."

To some degree, I've found that Herzog often plays a character in his "documentary" films, or in his words a "stylization" of himself. In Grizzly Man, I found it interesting that he never allows himself to appear on camera, except in the scene when he listens to Treadwell and Huguenard's death, and even then all you see is his back. Primarily he takes the role of a gentle, disembodied, interlocuter, calling Treadwell out on his naive views of nature, but countering it with over-the-top pessimism. While I'm pretty certain that his real views are similar, I think he uses the language he uses for effect.

This stylization carries over into the other people that are featured in his docs. Sticking with Grizzly Man, remember the coroner? I found him to seem oddly reharsed. There's a shot where the camera keeps him in frame and tracks backwards, as he holds a lengthy pause. Throughout the shot he maintains eye contact with camera. That's not something you'd ordinarily see in a documentary. (Also, think of Treadwell's actor friend, or his former girlfriend, Jewell, they all kind of perform.)

This is pretty typical of Herzog, and so far I've found myself responding to it pretty well. I think that for him, this stylization business allows him to reach for a deeper truth which can't be found with the typical "verité" based documentary. Both are inherantly false in a strict sense, but in Herzog's eyes, his method still allows for the kind of "truth" that's worth putting to film.

Andrew said...

Good points. In regards to your comments on cinema verite I catch documentaries on Sundance occasionally and while most can hold my attention for 20 mins or so, there always seems to come a point where the filmmaker’s argument or agenda becomes the focus rather than the actual content of the documentary. It’s like they don’t trust the audience to “get” what they’re trying to show you and instead feel the need to constantly talk down to the audience with “this is what you should now be thinking when you see this”. Even “Supersize Me”, which I generally agreed with and thought was well made, sort of became didactic about half way through. I was like, yeah if I want to learn more about the cultural implications of increasing obesity I’ll read the paper it’s your job to try to eat another double quarter pounder and a huge thing of fries and not puke again fatty. Grizzly Man didn’t seem to have any of this conceit, nor did it seem so have a specific agenda – and if it did, it was so subtle it had me sold with out me knowing it.

BTW, did you ever see Herzog’s Invincible? Tim Roth needs a new agent.