One of the things that kept me from falling asleep this morning was the second (I think second) installment of Herzog's On Death Row documentary.
Herzog is who Charles Bukowski would have been if he hadn't been a drunk.
He's the ungiddy Bukowski.
I have to confess I find his existential drivel annoying and the false naif persona he takes on as an interviewer annoys me. At this point, Herzog is phoning in existential despair.
I can understand, however, his aesthetic fascination with squalor and the paraphernalia of despair. His camera lovingly hovers over the fold-out table of Bibles in the hallway of the death row prison he is visiting in this installment of his documentary series. Details, details. The concrete world. Yum.
This installment of the documentary series was saved for me because Herzog actually went outside the prison and went to the scene of the gruesome triple murder his interviewee certainly committed, although he denies it to this day, many decades later. If you hear the evidence, you will see he is clearly guilty of the crime. His defense is preposterous. Herzog states up front to the convict that the point of the documentary is not to debate the inmate's guilt or innocence. The inmate agrees to these terms.
Twice this guy was within minutes of being executed and both times the order was given to stand down.
So if he were Doestoevsky, this guy would have written amazing novels out of the experience.
But he's just a poor schmuck who mixed a lot of cough syrup with alcohol (or other drugs, I forget) and then murdered his nagging wife and her two mentally handicapped sons. He bludgeoned his wife to death and then stabbed the boys to death, one in his bunk bed. The other pitifully walked bleeding out the front door of his house the size of about one hundred refrigerator boxes and walked down the sidewalk to a neighbor's house and fell over on their tiny front porch and bled to death.
An ocean of fucking sad.
And yes, it is cruel (and unusual?) that the inmate was toyed with in that mortal manner, but he claims to have no nerves. He says he is one of the few death row inmates who actually relishes last meals and can digest them very well, thank you very much. So no biggie. He's not Fyodor. That wussy.
Herzog is very smart to seek out the scene of this triple homicide. The neighborhood is so bleak I can almost guarantee you will laugh if you watch this. And the day Herzog shows up, he's just beaten a blizzard into this largely non-existent town and that just adds to the overwhelming gloom. Most of the light has been squeezed out. Herzog just lets the camera film while someone's driving, so you instantly get hypnotized by the squalor of these tiny little square houses painted horrible ochre colors, all the colors of shit, under a washed-out sky. These are Nembutol visuals. You realize exactly what Herzog is trying to say. This is a place designed to make people go mad. Everybody from here is probably a Lite-Brite of poverty. A Lite-Brite of despair.
I thought Detroit was bad. But this is worse. At least there was once something there in Detroit and people have an urban culture.
This visual strategy comports with Herzog's dark sense of humor. If you don't think Herzog finds doom funny, you're not reading between his acerbic lines. "Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel."
Herzog started this episode (every episode?) by declaring he is against the death penalty. He reminds us that only thirty-four states in our union have a death penalty and only sixteen of them actually practice capital punishment.
This means it's applied unequally so even I (pro death-penalty) can understand that's doomed to eventual Constitutional challenge.
I also realize this comes down to a "states' sovereignty" argument.
But traditionally, states' sovereignty arguments eventually give way to arguments focusing on unequal treatment, a thing wisely vilified by our founding Slave Daddies.
Thank God for that. It's why slavery is history.
And I guess I realize it means capital punishment is probably on the way out.
Unless America undergoes an even worse change of fortune than the last economic collapse, in which case people will gladly embrace the death penalty again.
Or if we end up with a dictator someday.
I fell asleep shortly after this so I can't tell you where the documentary went after that.
Once Herzog gets focused on the interview, that's usually the end of the interest for me.
That's actually what put me to sleep.
The guy talking about how sucky death row is. The killer has a good attitude about life in general and enjoys a good joke.
That's pretty much all you learn.
Oh, and that guys cry on death row.
There's no solution.
You can't solve existence.
You can only negotiate it.
Probably violence and drugs cause most people's problems.
And they go together so often. Drugs cause violence. Violence makes people want to take drugs.
And boredom. I guess I should add that one.
That was Voltaire's other Big Evil, wasn't it?
I think that's what the documentary is trying to say.
Or Werner just felt like talking to some freaks.
That's probably the truest statement.