Saturday, March 31, 2012

Werner Herzog

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.


  1. Paul Dinello's ManservantMarch 31, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    I like your phrase, "phoning in existential despair." I think there's there seed of a funny joke in there. Maybe Kierkegaard tried to make a person-to-person call to Nietzsche but was foiled by the non-existence of the operator. Something like that, only funny.

  2. Thanks, Friend! I thought after I probably should have put "phoning in vicarious existential despair." I don't think Werner's really unhappy. He's too amused by how fucked we all are. And I mean all species. I'm sure you saw the penguin thing. Where he stands and watches the suicidal penguin going the wrong way. How can I not see him as a humorist when he does shit like that. He stressed that he's not "allowed" to turn the penguin back. It's against Antarctica's rules. Who knew Antarctica had rules other than "Hide from my killer winds or perish, non-penguin!" I'm having fun rewriting news stories to create short fiction now. I suppose it's a form of plagiarism but fun. I'm fascinated by how horribly dramatic the rhetoric all is, especially the stories they post at HuffPo. They are all little cultural narratives, pills we're supposed to swallow not realizing they are even "medicine."

  3. Oh. And Nietzsche is wonderful if a total drama queen. That's drama queen philosophy. I think it's poets more than philosophers who have kept him alive. Because I think he speaks to poets more. And I guess he was the protype for "soft philosophy" or "stylistic philosophy." Instead of being "rigorous" like Hume or Kant, he's more about style. So, in that sense, French. Although I'm sure he hated the French with a few exceptions. Maybe I'm wrong. When is he not talking about ancient Greeks. I think he wished he had been born then. People are weird.

  4. Paul Dinello's ManservantMarch 31, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    I'm all for rewriting news stories to create short fiction, especially with a salacious slant. For a long time I've been meaning to rewrite Hesse's _Narcissus and Goldmund_ to reflect an even more homoerotic tone (inserting explicit gay sex wherever possible, too).

  5. I like that idea and "I am a pervert and I approve this ad."

    You gave me flashbacks to when I was a willowy sensitive youth reading Siddhartha.

    I can still see the black and white wrinkly cover with the Buddha on it. Grove? Had to be I'd think? Or did they have an Evergreen line?

    Too many duck's asses under the bridge.

    I used to be able to zero in on visual memories and read details.

    So much for eidetic imagery.

    Now they're more like Lite-Brite pictures.