Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Werner Herzog and the Death Penalty

Werner Herzog's new movie Into the Abyss, about the death penalty, is coming out soon. I just read an interview with him in The Nation. In the interview, he describes the commonalities in his movies:
It dawned on me that Into The Abyss could have been the title of many of my films. It’s always this vertical look, trying to look deep inside the human condition.
This reminded me of another interview with him I read, in which the interviewer describes him as non-mainstream, which, from a certain perspective, is undeniable. But Herzog disagrees, arguing that in a very real way his films are "dead center." Most of us tend to think about the world "horizontally" in terms of what is most common, popular, or typical. It is easy to conflate what is "normal" or "typical" with what is "central" - it becomes central to us because of its normalness and its commonness. This can distract us from what is central from the "vertical look" Herzog describes in the first quote. One of the impressive things about Werner Herzog is his undaunted dedication to the vertical.

Another quote from The Nation interview, really struck me as just another example of how different the world can appear, depending on our state and our circumstances: 
The inmates are housed at Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, but Polunsky Unit doesn’t have a death house. So they transport them forty-three miles to Huntsville, to Walls Unit. And many of them for a decade or more have never seen the world out there any more. I mean, they see a little stripe of the sky sometimes. And during this transport, the last trip that they make, they see an empty gas station, they see a cow in the field, and one of the inmates with whom I spoke, Hank Skinner [who was schedule to be executed by the state of Texas on November 9 before receiving a last-minute stay], he was transported to the death house actually twice and the second time he got a stay twenty-three minutes before execution. And what he tells me about his last trip, seeing the world there, all of a sudden everything is magnificent. It’s a glorious world out there. And when you do this trip, which I did, actually with a camera, these forty-three miles, it’s very bleak, it’s very forlorn part of Texas. And yet all of a sudden an abandoned gas station is magnificent. What he says. it resonates in me wherever I am looking around. For him this was Israel, it was like the Holy Land. And back to your question, what have I learned, yes, all of a sudden listening to the children down there [outside the hotel] and seeing some roofs here, this is like the Holy Land. Magnificent. Noisy children. It’s just phenomenal.
This is a movie I am going to see. 

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