Autism and the Movies

Do the recent spate of movies dealing with autism and Asberger’s syndrome present a shift in a wider understanding of the condition?

Wikipedia define it:

Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.

NHS Direct say:

Autism and Asperger syndrome are both part of a range of related developmental disorders known as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). They begin in childhood and persist through adulthood.

ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms, which are grouped into three broad categories, described below.

  • Problems and difficulties with social interaction, such as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people’s emotions and feelings.
  • Impaired language and communication skills, such as delayed language development and an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly.
  • Unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour. This includes making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting. The child develops set routines of behaviour, which can upset the child if the routines are broken.

Last Friday, actor Brian Cox was on The Review Show on BBC2 as a panellist to preview the films up for consideration this year.

He vigorously defended Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which features a central character with the condition.

As I wrote last week, Stephen Daldry’s film was the subject of an unusual amount of venom from some critics.

It is fair enough to criticise the film (and I would echo some of those criticisms) but was there something revealing in the more negative reviews?

Many seemed to focus on the central character’s condition as “annoying”, which could have been reflective of a lack of understanding and tolerance regarding the condition of autism and Asperger’s.

One person who can’t be accused of ignorance is David Mamet, who wrote an interesting chapter about it in his 2007 book, Bambi vs Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business.

He makes the claim that it may have played a key role in the shaping of Hollywood:

I think it not impossible that Asberger’s syndrome helped make the movie business.

The symptoms of the developmental disorder include early precocity, a great ability to maintain masses of information, a lack of ability to mix with groups in age-appropriate ways, ignorance of or indifference to social norms, high intelligence, and difficulty with transitions, married to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the minutia of the task at hand.

This sounds to me like a job description for a movie director.

He goes on to say:

Let me also note that Asberger’s syndrome has it’s highest prevalence among Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants. For those who have not been paying attention, this group constitutes, and has constituted since its earliest days, the bulk of America’s movie directors and studio heads.

Referencing Neal Gabler’s book An Empire of Their Own, he points out the fact that key early Jewish pioneers of Hollywood – Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Joseph Schenck, William Fox and Carl Laemmle – all came from an area of Europe within a 200 mile radius of Warsaw.

Mamet goes on to note that many prominent Jewish directors share this Eastern European lineage, from Joseph Von Sternberg right through to Steven Spielberg.

In 1999, just a few months after Kubrick’s death, Spielberg gave a lengthy and fascinating interview about his friend, in which he talked about his mastery of technique:

“Nobody could shoot a movie better than Stanley Kubrick in history”

In their book Asperger Syndrome: A Gift or a Curse?, Viktoria Lyons and Dr. Michael Fitzgerald have a whole chapter exploring the notion as to whether or not Kubrick had Asberger’s.

They note his obsessive interest in photography, all aspects of the filmmaking process and exhaustive research.

(It is also worth noting that Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell and Patricia Highsmith also appear in the book as case studies)

In a comment on a blog about Kubrick’s Napolean project, for which he conducted industrial amounts of research but never actually made, someone says the key may lie in his films:

“The best evidence for Kubrick being an Asperger is not perfectionism,it is the recurring themes of his films.
Aspies see themselves, or think the world sees them as robots, computers, or aliens. In A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the main character is a robot who thinks he is human. HAL, in 2001 is also a piece of artificial intelligence, a human-like computer. The definition of “A Clockwork Orange” in the first page of the book “a clockwork orange-meaning that he has the appearance of an organism but is in fact only a clockwork toy”

His preference for enormous numbers of repeated takes might also indicate something: a simple line by Scatman Crothers in The Shining (1980) was reputedly shot 148 times, a record for the most takes of a single scene.

But that attention to detail and exhaustive research pays off in the final films, even if they took a number of years to be fully recognised for what they are.

Asberger’s was the subject of Adam (2009), a drama about a young man (Hugh Dancy) and his relationship with his new neighbour (Rose Byrne), which won the Alfred P. Sloan prize at the Sundance festival – an award that acknowledges films that focus on science and technology.

In the film Dancy’s condition and interest in science, specifically the cosmos, is presented with tact and sensitivity.

All of which is a welcome contrast to the ‘mad scientist’ archetype that’s been so pervasive in pop culture since the “It’s alive!” scene from Frankenstein (1931):

Given that scientists in are usually the most sane and rational people whose discoveries and inventions have helped save countless lives, it begs the question as to why this notion persists.

The irony is even richer if we accept Mamet’s theory about Hollywood’s founders – a system created by people who may have had Asberger’s, actually perpetuates the stigma surrounding it.

Films like Rain Main (1988) seem to be the exception that proves the rule and even that film’s legacy is still debated.

But could that be about to change?

David Fincher – like Kubrick, a meticulous director of rare talent – has recently been attracted to projects with two lead characters who appear to show traces of Asberger’s and autism.

Animal welfare expert and autism advocate Temple Grandin recently talked to George Stroumboulopoulos about the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010):

(For anyone doubting the accuracy of the book or film check out this interview with Aaron Sorkin, this one with producer Scott Rudin, this intriguing Quora thread and this /Film article here).

Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is another computer hacker with limited social skills, but her character is arguably a key reason why the book caught on in the way that it did.

Not only does it reverse the gender stereotype seen so often in Hollywood – e.g. man saves ‘the damsel in distress’ – but it possibly reflects a generation of women not only comfortable with computers, but capable of using them as a tool to fight their various battles.

In the same way that Zuckerberg uses his coding skills to outwit the entitled Winklevoss twins, Salander utilises her hacking skills to get revenge on various sleazy and sexist men.

Let’s not forget that the original title of Steig Larrson’s novel was “Men Who Hate Women” and that the female protagonist was partly inspired by the author witnessing the gang rape of a girl, which led to his lifelong hatred of violent abuse against women.

Her position as an outsider is thus cemented by her endurance of abuse as well as her distant personality – the fact that her character has resonated so strongly in pop culture, surely suggests something about the sexism and intolerance that is still prevalent in the modern world.

On the official site for the original Scandinavian production, there is even a whole section devoted to whether or not the character has Asberger’s, but it isn’t presented necessarily as a flaw – it is just who she is and in some ways works to her advantage.

After all, she is described by her employer (Goran Visnic) in Fincher’s film as “one of the best investigators” he has but “different”.

She is the latest in a long line of obsessive loners in Fincher films: there is the disillusioned, library-dwelling cop in Seven (1995), the coldly distant financier in The Game (1997), the split-personality at the heart of Fight Club (1999), the determined mother in Panic Room (2002), the outsider-cartoonist in Zodiac (2007) or the old-man-getting-younger in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

All feature some special gift, which can often be both a blessing and a curse.

If this sounds like a superhero movie, you might be interested to know that Fincher was offered the first Spider-Man movie but this extract from a Q&A session at the BFI Southbank in Febraury 2009 reveals why that never happened:

Q4: You’ve made films where improbable things look realistic. Did you ever consider making a superhero movie or fantasy, where things are bit more difficult to make believable?

Fincher: I was asked if I might be interested in the first Spider-Man, and I went in and told them what I might be interested in doing, and they hated it. No, I’m not interested in doing “A Superhero”. The thing I liked about Spider-Man was I liked the idea of a teenager, the notion of this moment in time when you’re so vulnerable yet completely invulnerable. But I wasn’t interested in the genesis, I just couldn’t shoot somebody being bitten by a radioactive spider – just couldn’t sleep knowing I’d done that. [audience laughs]

But if you think about it, The Social Network is a kind of superhero movie where geeky outsiders (like Peter Parker or the X-Men) use their special talents to create something bigger than themselves – its just in this case its a website that connects millions of people rather than a symbolic crimefighter.

If you want to take that analogy further, Michael Chabon’s 2000 novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, depicts Jewish outsiders working during the ‘Golden Age‘ of comics, which is loosely inspired by the lives of real people including Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Like Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin falling out over Facebook, Spiderman creators Lee and Steve Ditko had some disagreement over the character who would become famous – essentially, Lee did the writing whilst Ditko did the drawing.

People I discussed The Social Network with seemed divided about the central character: older viewers perceived him as a jerk who betrayed his friends, whilst younger one saw him as a hero for sticking it to the privileged Harvard elite and building a website that has become a huge part of their lives.

In fact, the film works as a brilliant metaphor for Hollywood itself – brilliant Jewish upstarts defy the East coast establishment (represented by the Winklevoss twins) to find their nirvana on the West Coast (Silicon Valley).

Although many see the final scene as a Rosebud-style comeuppance for Zuckerberg, they seem to forget the small matter of him not only becoming a billionaire, but having an unusual amount of control of the company he founded.

The geek really does inherit the earth.

The photo the Zuckerberg character he keeps refreshing is that of a former girlfriend played by Rooney Mara, the very same actress who plays Lisbeth Salander, reinforcing the connection between the films.

Mara was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and was on the red carpet last Sunday.

It was the very same carpet where Sacha Baron Cohen poured ‘the ashes of Kim Jong Il’ over Ryan Seacrest (a stunt which spread like wildfire on Twitter and already has 7.2 million views on YouTube):

What does this have to do with Asberger’s or autism?

Sacha’s brother is Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and director of the University’s Autism Research Centre.

Wikipedia have more details:

He is best known for his work on autism, including his early theory that autism involves degrees of “mind-blindness” (or delays in the development of theory of mind); and his later theory that autism is an extreme form of the “male brain”, which involved a re-conceptualisation of typical psychological sex differences in terms of empathizing–systemizing theory.

Here he is giving a lecture in Stockholm:

In a recent interview with the broswer he was asked about books and films he’d recommend.

Among his choices were The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time by Mark Haddon, the 2003 bestseller which featured a narrator with Asberger’s, and Werner Herzog’s film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974).

The central character is famous in Germany for being – as the title might suggest – one of those real-life enigmas who has inspired endless debate.

He appeared in a Nuremberg village in 1828 with no language, he was taken in by the local doctor who tried to help assimilate him to normal society.

Part of the fascination with central character and Herzog’s film are the underlying questions it throws up, but Baron-Cohen thinks it is significant for other reasons:

Kaspar Hauser might be the first well-documented case of autism in literature, or even in history.

Some people wonder whether autism is just a modern phenomenon, but here we have a very early account. The film (and the original book) raises very similar issues to those raised in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and shares a main character who is somehow detached from humanity.

Like The Curious Incident, Kaspar Hauser also suffered neglect and abuse (of a different kind – he was reportedly chained up and isolated for the first 17 years of his life), so this by no means represents autism.

Indeed, it could be more similar to the case of Genie, a so-called feral child who was also reared in isolation and never properly developed language or social skills.

It taps into the same fascination that anthropologists have with other cultures, but in this case it is a fascination with someone who is not part of any culture.

There’s a sort of mirroring that goes on, because the character is so detached he is observing other people. Some people with Asperger syndrome describe themselves as feeling as though they came from another planet: they watch human interaction and they don’t quite understand it. They don’t feel that they can participate in it.

Baron-Cohen has hit on something here about autism and the power of cinema.

It is a medium which presents us with an immersive ‘second reality’ on screen and that rare chance to escape from our sense of self (as long as the film isn’t really bad).

‘Escapism’ is often used as a derogatory term for disposable entertainment, but surely any film that achieves a sense of escape from ourselves is successful on some level.

For people suffering from a sense that they can’t participate in ‘normal society’ (which by they way, isn’t so normal these days), it may come as a welcome relief.

The spectrum of autism – of which Asberger’s is a part – is something that the mainstream media and general public finds hard to grapple with.

Perhaps because the stereotypes perpetuated and recycled through the media, only increase the social taboo, prevent discussion and increase the sense of isolation.

But it is heartening to know that one of the UK’s leading experts finds something of real value in a Herzog movie.

The German auteur has carved out a unique career in both features and documentaries, and Kaspar Hauser was his international breakthrough – it is ironic that a film about isolation should connect internationally.

Perhaps the recent spate of films dealing with autism can have a similar connection, not just with people who have the condition but with the wider public too.

Asberger’s and autism is much more than the ‘annoying kid’ in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close or Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant in Rain Main (1988).

It may be embedded in the very DNA of Hollywood and some cinemas greatest filmmakers.

>; More on Asberger’s Syndrome at Wikipedia
>; Extremely Loud and Autism
>; Review of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
>; Wrong Planet on ‘Asberger’s Movies’

Documentaries Reviews Thoughts

Into the Abyss

A powerful exploration of the death penalty sees Werner Herzog probe deep into the horrors of killings in Texas.

There is a moment in Herzog’s latest film where he tells a young man that “I don’t have to like you”.

You soon realise why.

The man he’s speaking to is Michael Perry, who is on death row after being convicted, along with an accomplice, of murdering three people in October 2001.

Viewers might be conditioned to think that a film about the death penalty made by someone who opposes it (as Herzog does) might be an issue film.

After all, Errol Morris famously got an innocent man off death row with his 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line.

But we quickly realise this isn’t an issue film about the death penalty and instead a long hard look at death itself, as seen through the ripple effects of a murder.

In a similar way to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood it provides an examination of evil in the heartland of America.

Perry was convicted, along with Jason Burkett, of brutally killing three people in Conroe, Texas: a 50 year old nurse, her teenage son and his friend.

Herzog’s conversation with Perry is one of several: he also speaks to Burkett, the families of the prisoners and victims, as well as various people connected with the business of death, including a retired executioner and pastor.

Whilst it doesn’t come to any firm conclusion as to Perry’s guilt – he protests his innocence throughout – it seems likely he was guilty.

But the film is not an exploration of who did what and instead opts to probe around the question of why people kill and condone killing.

The shallow reason Perry and Burkett murdered was to steal a car for a joyride, whilst Texas as a state seems to have a pathological addiction to killing its prisoners.

Since the resumption the death penalty in 1976 (after four years when it was suspended) Texas has executed nearly four times as many inmates as its closest rival, Virginia.

But Herzog isn’t singling out the Lone Star state – the disturbing details of the murder case are constantly in the air and some of the people not directly connected with the case have an impressive moral dignity.

There is the retired executioner who forgoes his pension because he is tired with legally killing people, whilst a pastor manages to give an unexpectedly profound answer to Herzog’s curve ball question about a squirrel.

As usual the small quirks of human behaviour are picked up on although this is a much more sober film than Herzog’s recent work and at time Mark Degli Antoni’s sparse score gives it an appropriately sombre tone.

Herzog is a past master at eliciting revealing answers by asking deceptively straightforward questions.

One of the most startling dialogues here is with an articulate woman who became attracted to and pregnant by Burkett.

Quite how an inmate gets a woman pregnant from inside prison is an open question, but that is part of the rich tapestry Herzog weaves with this film, managing to touch upon the trend of death row groupies.

Always a director attracted to extremes, be it pulling a boat over a mountain in Fitzcarraldo or putting his cast under hypnosis for Heart of Glass, here the extremity of the subject matter is complemented by a notable visual restraint.

We never see him on screen and his regular DP Peter Zeitlinger opts for a restrained visual style, but this is purposely not a fly-on-the-wall film.

In fact it’s quite the opposite, as Herzog’s probing presence and restless curiosity can be felt in every frame as he engages with the people surrounding the killings and the issues such actions raise.

Just a few days after filming in July 2010, Perry himself was killed by lethal injection, which provides the film with a brutal final stop.

It doesn’t come to any definitive conclusions, but therein lies its power – after the film is over the questions raised stay with us, precisely because they have no definitive answers.

The title of this film could describe many of Herzog’s previous movies, as it perfectly describes deep themes and stark feeling of awe embedded in his best work.

It is hard not to come out profoundly shaken as the questions of how and why human beings destroy one another are presented with such piercing clarity that they linger in your mind long after the final credits.

Into the Abyss is out now in the US and opens in the UK on March 23rd

> Official site
> Reviews of the film at MUBi and Metacritic
> Interesting Guardian article on the case by Joanna Walters, who interviewed Perry just after Herzog


Herzog and McCarthy on NPR

The NPR radio show Science Friday recently brought together director Werner Herzog and novelist Cormac McCarthy.

Hosted by Ira Flatow, the discussion is themed on the connection between art and science and also includes physicist Lawrence Krauss.

Aside from being a great meeting of minds, is it a genuinely fascinating hour long talk that also takes in Herzog’s latest documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, his 3D exploration of the ancient Chauvet cave in France.

There are some classic Herzog moments during the discussion in which he says the end of humanity will happen ‘quite soon’ (well, a thousand years) and that even if the human race could escape to the nearest star, there would be ‘madness and murder’ en route.

We also get a classic bit where the German auteur reads a passage from McCarthy’s novel All The Pretty Horses.

> Download the MP3 or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes (it is Hour 2 on the April 8th episode)
> Science Friday
> Find out more about Werner Herzog, Cormac McCarthy and Lawrence Krauss at Wikipedia
> Our review of Cave of Forgotten Dreams


UK Cinemas showing Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s new documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams is getting released around the UK this week.

The film follows Herzog’s exploration of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France, which was discovered in 1994 and contains paintings and markings dating back thousands of years to the Paleolithic era.

Not open to the public, Herzog managed to get permission to film inside the cave with a small crew and specially modified 3D cameras and lights.

A remarkable film about an awe-inspiring place, you can read our full review here.

Unusually, the cinema chain Picturehouse is releasing it through their distribution arm and it will be screening at selected locations across the UK.

Tonight there will be special preview screenings after which Herzog will do a live Q&A session with Jason Solomons beamed live to cinemas (more details on that here).

From Friday it will be showing at the following UK cinemas in 3D and 2D, so just click on the links below for more details.





Official site
More reviews and links about Cave of Forgotten Dreams at MUBi
> Find out more about Werner Herzog and the Chauvet Cave at Wikipedia
Facebook group
> Details of a live Q&A with Herzog (via satellite) on March 22nd

Cinema Reviews

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary is an awe-inspiring 3D exploration of the ancient Chauvet cave in France.

Almost working as a companion piece to Encounters at the End of the World (2007), which explored the vastness exteriors of the South Pole, this film takes an interior look at a truly remarkable place.

The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France was discovered in 1994 and contains paintings and markings dating back thousands of years to the Paleolithic era.

Enter Herzog, a filmmaker with a knack of unearthing the poetic in nature, who became interested in filming inside the carefully preserved caves, which the public are not allowed to enter.

Unlike his documentaries about eccentric individuals (e.g. Grizzly Man or The White Diamond), this is more about a place and the dream-like feelings which it inspires.

Filled with stalactites, pawprints and the bones of extinct animals, the interior of the caves are hypnotic, filled with charcoal drawings which suggest Paleolithic people were practising an early form of visual entertainment, or ‘proto-cinema’ as Herzog calls it.

After receiving special permission from the French government to film inside – albeit with some heavy restrictions – the German director and his small crew used specially modified 3D cameras and lights to capture the extraordinary images inside.

This adds another layer to the project as it becomes about the actual filming, as well as what the images captured might mean, and the crew and their equipment become part of the action, giving the whole thing a vérité feel.

We see Herzog and regular DP Peter Zeitlinger navigate the metal walkways inside the caves and some of the artwork is fascinating, providing glimpses of another era.

As experts talk about what’s inside, this is intercut with footage of academics talking about their findings.

The German auteur brings his probing curiosity to the interviews, discovering that a scientist used to be a circus juggler and also finding some gentle comedy in how hunting with spears might have worked thousands of years ago.

Using graphics and computer models, the film also details the relative flurry of activity that has taken place since the mid-90s as scientists have mapped the dimensions of the cave and the nature of the rock inside.

What prevents the film from being just another nature programme is Herzog’s unique presence, as his distinctive voice and working methods lend a quirky gravity to proceedings.

He seems equally absorbed by the challenges of filming outside and inside the caves, at one point using a prototype remote controlled drone (operated by Jonathan Watts) to capture shots of the local landscape.

For such a veteran director, the use of 3D cameras might seem a radical departure but it is far removed from the CGI spectacle of mainstream features using the format and enhances the claustrophobic beauty of the caves.

When the film ventures outside, the effect is less dramatic although a scene where someone literally pokes a spear towards the camera may suggest Herzog is having a laugh at Hollywood’s current adoption of the format (he has since stated that he will never use 3D again).

The atmosphere is enhanced considerably by Ernst Reijseger‘s score, which fuses strings and choral singing to compelling effect and helps create the sense of awe the film reaches for.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is more restrained than Herzog’s previous documentaries, even though he still crams in a segment involving a radioactive albino crocodile, but the awe-inspiring subject matter and the maverick sensibilities of the director make for a perfect match.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams opens in the UK on March 25th

> Official site
> More reviews and links about Cave of Forgotten Dreams at MUBi
> Find out more about Werner Herzog and the Chauvet Cave at Wikipedia
> Find out what UK cinemas are showing the film at Picturehouse and Find Any Film
> Facebook group
> Details of a live Q&A with Herzog (via satellite) on March 22nd


An Evening with Werner Herzog

Last April Werner Herzog sat down for a 2 hour chat with author and essayist, Pico Iyer at UC Santa Barbara.

It is a wideranging discussion and as you might expect is filled with lots of classic Herzogian anecdotes.

> Roger Ebert Time profile on Herzog
> Werner Herzog at Wikipedia

blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

Blu-ray: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Werner Herzog’s brilliantly surreal remake (or is it?) of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film is relocated to New Orleans where a corrupt, drug addled cop (Nicolas Cage) finds himself involved with a drug dealer (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) who is suspected of murdering a family of African immigrants.

On top of this he struggles to keep his life in check, which includes his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes); his hot-headed partner (Val Kilmer); a local bookie (Brad Dourif) and all manner of surreal visions.

This sounds like it could be the premise of a conventional crime movie and there are elements of William Finkelstein’s script that bear the hallmarks of the traditional cop procedural. But filtered through the lens of Herzog, we have something different altogether.

As the story progresses Cage’s character takes gargantuan amounts of drugs (coke, heroin, crack), shakes down clubbers and then screws their girlfriends in front of them, runs up huge debts, threatens old age pensioners and does all this wearing an oversize suit with a funny looking revolver.

But this only scratches the surface, as Herzog adds some wildly surreal touches involving iguanas and alligators shot in extreme hand held close-up, whacky interludes involving dogs, horny traffic cops and hilariously over the top dialogue delivered by Cage in a couple of different accents (my favourite lines being “‘Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing!” and “to the break of DAWNNNN!!!!”).

Strange, out of control and defiantly off its head, it seems destined for cult status: appealing to cinephiles and late night stoner audiences.

When I first saw it last year I was unsure if it was a crazy joke or surreal genius. Having seen it again I’m sure it is the latter.

Not only does Herzog filter the material through his own unique mind, but Cage arguably gives his greatest performance in years, which is wild and out of control in all the best ways.

The Blu-ray transfer is crisp and sharp – in many ways a better experience than the print I originally saw it on – and in HD one can really appreciate the visual mood created by Herzog and his regular DOP Peter Zeitlinger.

The extras include interviews with the cast and key crew as well as a substantial 30 minute making of featurette which goes behind certain sequences, interviewing the key talent.

Most of it consists of Herzog setting up shots, discussing his creative process and we also get some interesting contributions from the cast and crew.

In years people will wonder how one of Europe’s greatest arthouse directors ended up making a film with Nicolas Cage in New Orleans, but they will be grateful for what is a unusually memorable collaboration.

> Buy Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans on Blu-ray and DVD
> Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans at IMDb

Amusing Animation

When Werner Herzog Rescued Joaquin Phoenix

Sacha Ciezata has created a neat animated short depicting the time when director Werner Herzog rescued Joaquin Phoenix from a car crash.

Using the audio from a recent press Q&A for My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, it also references the bearded version of Joaquin Phoenix from I’m Still Here, even though the incident took place back in 2006.

For some reason, which I can’t fully explain, my favourite bit is when Herzog ‘confiscates’ the cigarette lighter.

> Werner Herzog
> The Guardian report from 2006 on the incident

Amusing Viral Video

Nicolas Cage on crack

This viral video for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is actually quite a good taster of the film’s gleeful insanity.

I love the fact that it directs you to a site called

Read my full thoughts on the film here.

N.B. If Cage’s lawyers are reading this, the title of the post clearly refers to his character in the film being on crack. Happy? Good.


Trailer: Bad Lieutenant

Try and figure out if this early trailer for Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant (subtitled Port of Call New Orleans) is a comedy or straightforward remake.

> Bad Lieutenant at the IMDb
> Werner Herzog at Wikipedia

Interesting Random

The Klaus Kinski Tape

Actor Klaus Kinski and director Werner Herzog became famous for their numerous collaborations and on-set bust ups.

However, this footage of Herzog playing back an audio tape from the set of Aguirre, Wrath of God is fascinating precisely because we don’t see the manic, bulging intensity of Kinski’s face.

For those who haven’t seen them, Lesley Blank’s Burden of Dreams (a documentary about the making of Fizcarraldo) and Herzog’s My Best Fiend are essential viewing.

> More on Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog at Wikipedia
> Watch My Best Fiend on YouTube

Documentaries The Daily Video

The Daily Video: Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe

This is the 1980 short documentary directed by Les Blank which shows director Werner Herzog living up to his promise that he would eat his shoe if Errol Morris ever completed his 1978 film Gates of Heaven.

> Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe at the IMDb
> Find out more about Werner Herzog and Errol Morris at Wikipedia

Cinema Interviews Podcast

Werner Herzog on Rescue Dawn

Werner Herzog directing Christian Bale and Steve Zahn in Rescue Dawn

In a career spanning over 40 years director Werner Herzog has created some of the most remarkable films in modern cinema.

From his early works like Signs of Life, his collaborations with actor Klaus Kinski (Aguirre: Wrath of God, Nosferatu and Fitzcarraldo), dramas such as Heart of Glass and Stroszek, through to more recent films like Grizzly Man, he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to create dazzling cinema in extreme circumstances.

His latest film is Rescue Dawn, which is the story of Dieter Dengler, a German-born US fighter pilot who was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam war. He was a POW for several months before somehow managing to escape after an epic struggle through the jungle.

He first covered the story in his 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and now Rescue Dawn is a feature film of the same story with Christian Bale in the lead role of Dengler.

I spoke with Werner in London recently about the film and other aspects of his career.

Listen to the interview here:


To download this as a podcast via iTunes just click the image below:

Rescue Dawn opens in UK cinemas on Friday 23rd November

> Download this interview as an MP3 file
> Official site of Werner Herzog
> Check out reviews of Rescue Dawn at Metacritic
> Find out more about Herzog’s career at the All Movie Guide
> A lengthy Senses of Cinema essay on Herzog by David Church
> See Werner get shot at during a BBC interview with Mark Kermode
> A collection of photos from the set of Rescue Dawn on Flickr