I once had the pleasure of walking past Werner Herzog. He was coming out of a back door at the Exclesior on the Lido and I was rushing to a press conference with Michael Moore. I wanted to get there early because I had a couple of questions about Capitalism: a Love Story and I basically brushed past Herzog as he came out of a side door. It is a moment I bitterly regret with all my heart. Why? Well, because Herzog in my view has quietly been filling the world with films of genius. Not simply his high profile Klaus Kinski adaptations, but also his fantastic documentaries which span from the informative and moving Grizzly Man to the completely odd Fata Morgana. Even a workman-like effort such as Rescue Dawn has a lot of merit. He was in Venice to promote Bad Lieutenant, a project that looked doomed to failure. How could Herzog's Germanic intellectualism possibly compete with Ferrara's mad catholic obsession?
By being madder came the answer, and madder in a way that was both surreal and deeply satisfying. Watching the film again I get the idea that Nic Cage's bent cop dies twenty minutes from the end but Herzog being Herzog, he neglects to tell you. I could be wrong but check it out and you might see what I mean. Herzog being Herzog the surprise film that year turned out to be another film that Herzog had directly apparently in the afternoons when he wasn't making Bad Lieutenant: O Father, Father, Why have you Forsaken Me?
I've just watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which it turns out isn't even Herzog's latest. Like most of his documentaries, the film is actually a cinematic essay. There is no pretence to objectivity. Herzog is having his say and can't conceal his delight when he learns one of the scientists used to work in the circus. You can imagine him wondering whether Bruno S. would have liked the role. His prolific output might stand against him when it comes to reckoning him as one amongst the greats. In this he's a kind of more straightforwardly intellectual version of Woody Allen, even though that doesn't sound right. The two of them have a lot in common, in fact. They pursue their own themes; they have the craftsman's contempt for dillydallying; they never let perfection be the enemy of good and with the exception of Mighty Aphrodite and Small Time Crooks they have never made a totally uninteresting movie. Which considering the number of films they do make, and th enumber of brilliant films they have on their respective CVs, is saying something. Oh and Scoop.
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John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.