PART I: Love Fest for "Invincible"
From the ovation, you'd think Dr. Phil just entered
the Oprah set. Herzog says a few words always
an excellent speaker, very quotable. He notes that the
European critics have been savaging this film and he's
heartened to get such a warm reception.
Herzog thanks Gary Bart, "the secret father"
of the film and one of its producers, whose grandfather
was the central character in "Invincible."
The director ID's the low-key Tim Roth, on hand for
the screening, as an actor who possesses "the grace
of God." By now there's an extremely warm feeling
of positive disposition to everything that's about to
be seen on the screen.
The film starts and right away there are signs of trouble.
We see a little peasant kid reciting a parable
for his strongman pal, but it's spoken in some kind
of dialect knocked off from an Isaac Bashevis Singer
story it comes off like a dodgy attempt at some
sort of universal-market film esperanto.
Then the strongman and his little brother go to a medievel-type
mess hall and act out this scene straight from the Sergio
Leone and John Milius school of Western showdown: they
get taunted by neanderthals ("What do you know,
a couple of Jews? Just look at them. One Jew's too skinny
and one's too fat." etc.) and the strongman winds
up using a couple of these villainous stooges to break
up the furniture.
So far so good. Except style-wise, the action's just
as unexciting as the dialogue
was: suprisingly dull and homely. Without the designer
label you'd be inclined to denounce it as pretty damn
shoddy. Except you are actually getting a little buzz
because you know some of the "badness" is
intentional, a little sadistic frisson to keep
the filmmaker, if not the audience, from falling asleep.
Meanwhile this is all fully in character. You gotta
remember Herzog from his essential performance in front
of the camera in Harmony Korine's "Julien,
Donkey Boy" (1999). As a satire on the Father Figure,
Herzog's Germanic jerk-off kicked serious ass for all
175 people who saw it. While free associating pompous
dialogue, Herzog does this hilarious bit about "no
sissies allowed," and in his day they were all
hard-asses and supermen. He chugs cough syrup and repeats
dialogue from "Dirty Harry." That's the place
where Herzog overtly gives his props to macho man writer
Anybody else recall that Milius did the high-dollar
Hollywood rewrite on the 1996 Herzog script "Mexico,"
an epic of the Conquest
of the Aztecs? For a genuine education on the ritual
of the Hollywood rewrite, just line those two drafts
up side by side. It was solicited with the kind of scurvy
loot that made the conquistador Spanish go monkey wild
and drunk with greed when they looked upon the Aztecs'
gold at least that's how Herzog relayed the tendency
in New Line's unproduced "Mexico." Ah, what
might have been. Jimmy Smits as Montezuma, Ralph Fiennes
Never did happen. Even so, when Herzog stages a mess-hall
brawl in "Invincible," you know he's like,
OK people, here comes a bit of the old Harry Callahan,
a little "Do You Feel Lucky?", a spoonful
of Eastwood to make the medicine go down.
only one problem: when Don Siegel directed this stuff,
audiences responded by attending in droves. Siegel was
technically dynamic in his attack, virtuoso he
had Lalo Schifrin conducting jackhammer funk, and his
stone-faced heroes were aces. They didn't deliver lines
like it was second language summer stock.
But hey, if it worked for Milius directing marble-mouth
Arnold Schwarzeneggar in "Conan the Barbarian,"
why the hell not? If it gets Herzog a U.S. release,
bring on the strongmen.
PART II: Masterpiece Theater
I return later in the week for two spin-offs from Herzog
standards: "My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski,"
in which he covers much of the struggle to film "Aguirre,
The Wrath of God," plus "Burden of Dreams,"
Les Blank's docu on Herzog's passion in the jungle,
the making of "Fitcarraldo."
The first thing you notice is the rest of the Herzog
festival is free from smoke and mirrors.
Nobody's dressed to anchor the news or pumping each
other with empty promises about lunch. Without the opening
night suits, it's back to the plain old film nerd adoration
factor. This is a definite improvement. Scaled response
instead of lockstep ovations borrowed from the 2002
State of the Union Address.
With "My Best Fiend" Herzog gives us one
of his guided tour "movie stories," docu-style,
as opposed to his masterpieces in the dramatic narrative.
Yet "My Best Fiend" is so funny, so natural,
so playable, I start to wonder if this title isn't in
some sense Herzog's best Kinski movie, like a distillation
of all their films in one. I want it to go on for hours,
to return in installments and sequels.
"This one was made quickly," Herzog says
after the screening, "easily, effortlessly. I felt
I was being back at ease with Kinski. The warmth and
the humor returned.
"We were complementary but dangerous when together,
like a critical mass. It could have ended in murder,
in shoot-outs. It could have ended in anything, but
thank God it ended in five films."
Murder as in the act, not the figure of speech.
Herzog admits the deep jungle paranoia of "Fitzcarraldo"
created a homicidal Spy vs. Spy scenario between actor
and director. In fact, he relates, if not for the barking
of Kinski's Alsatian shepherd, Herzog lurking
in darkness in deadly earnest may have succeeded
in firebombing Kinski inside his cabin.
"I chickened out," Herzog smiles. "Klaus
Kinski also plotted to kill. That's the fun of it."
Herzog describes a charismatic wild man who required
at all times a persona to fill up his enormous ego.
"He was Dostoevsky's Idiot for a couple of years.
He was Jesus Christ. He filled himself. He became Jesus.
He was Paganini for the last few years."
was also low character to spare. "He did everything
for money. He cursed Kurosawa, Buñuel. Fellini
invited him and Kinski said he was a 'greasy vermin.'
For some reason he worked for me for less... He did
so much trash. He did hardcore porn. He would do anything."
Yet Herzog's indictment soon does a 180, just as it
does in "My Best Fiend." Les Blank retrieved
some unreleased footage he shot of a radiant Kinski
playing with a jungle butterfly. Herzog used it to close
"My Best Fiend" almost as a love song.
"[Kinski] had a kind of intensity on the screen
that no one ever had ever. Maybe young Brando in a different
way, a few others. But he will live forever."
Brando? Fair enough. But I would first and foremost
put Kinski in a league with the Unholy Three: Karloff,
Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney.
Then I would put him in a league with someone else in
the wild man hall of fame. Iggy Pop.
Which is a good place to wrap the Herzog report. Except
that in response to some innocuous question, Herzog
fires up a tirade against one of L.A.'s sacred cows:
"Psychological analysts should be thrown overboard
into the abyss of history," he intones in that
Rhineland accent that screams 'I am a WWII villain in
a big Hollywood movie.'
Herzog: "They are as big a mistake as the doctors
who hundreds of years ago would let blood. There should
always be corners in the psyche that should remain unilluminated."
And he keeps railing on shrinks for five minutes. Let
me assure you this monologue ices the crowd like gangbusters.
I love it! I mean, Germans dissing psychoanalysis.
Didn't that sort of thing originate a little closer
to home than Southern California? It's just as well,
because as soon as things were getting a little too
warm and chummy, a little too safe and satisfied, Herzog
busts out some Lou Reed-style controversy. The guy has
his own bag of tricks in the ranting department, plus
all the ones he inherited from Kinski!
Hey, Werner. Does this mean we'll see you down there
on Sunset at
the "Psychiatry Kills!" exhibit? Because it
looks like those are your local allies in the crusade.
But whatever, for them a little ranting is also good
therapy. Welcome to L.A.