Werner Herzog: ‘I’m not a scholar. Don’t push me into that corner’

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The acclaimed film-maker talks about his latest project, a documented series of conversations with Mikhail Gorbachev, and his avoidance of certain labels

Director-documentarian-deity Werner Herzog has gazed extinction in the face, fired a direction through madness, and plotted the outermost limits of human experience. For a serviceman of such prominence, sitting down with one of the most significant public figures of the twentieth century was no biggie.

” We had an point rapport ,” Herzog says of his recent rendezvous with Mikhail Gorbachev, in an interview with the Guardian during the Tribeca film festival. His new non-fiction feature Meeting Gorbachev recounts three tete-a-tetes across the span of six months between the film-maker and the final general secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, in which two identities knows we exuding an intense presence immediately took a sheen to one another.

” We have same backgrounds ,” Herzog explains,” growing up after the war and knowing what it means to be hungry, having traveled very extensively, living in a very remote area without even leading ocean, a ravaged scenery. We knew of one another. Apparently, Gorbachev had received some of my cinemas and done a lot of homework on me. He had a huge stack of mentions about my job … We accompanied him chocolates without sugar from a London chocolatier .”

During the most prolific period of a long, diversified, full career- he currently has three new facets playing galas all over the globe, and what he calls an ” avalanche ” of obligations to go with them- Herzog got the chance to realize a dream. Quixotic forms accepting herculean efforts have all along been dazzled the head, from the arduous ship transport of Fitzcarraldoto the defiance of nature’s law in Grizzly Man. He’d always respected Mikhail Gorbachev from afar, and when the chance for a private meet presented itself, he couldn’t fight the opportunity to get to know a leading player of modernity a little bit more. Far from the glowering Russky of 80 s pop culture in the west, Gorbachev struck his clients as” a charming, disarming presence ,” according to Andre Singer, Herzog’s longtime collaborator and co-director on this project.

Biographical films, especially those with a focus on magnets for political controversy, tend to keep their subject at an arm’s length in the interest of maintaining some clinical separation. Not an issue for Herzog, who blows right past the feigning of nonpartisanship into an intimate hagiography. He and the Russian reformer openly regard each other with heat and affection; the true topic of the movie isn’t Gorbachev in some vacuum-clean of posterity, but Herzog’s individual known of him. Journalistic moralities don’t apply when you’re prosecute ecstatic truth, and by the director’s own statement, he’s in a class by himself.

” I “ve never” interviewed anyone ,” he says.” I have had conversations, but an interview would symbolize a journalistic stance with a catalogue of questions. That’s the first thing I told[ Gorbachev ]:’ I’m not a writer, I have no paper in my hands. You’re talking to a poet .'”

He’s playing at a game of his own creation, in which he can exempt himself from the requirements placed on career reporters while doing the things reporters do, namely the organizing of real-life fact into a persuasive narrative. Through voice-over narration, he instantly shows the purger of Stalinism as a hero still under flame in his own country for his progressivist reclines. Herzog inverts the revolutionary’s maxim that” the personal is political”, quarrelling that the political can be made personal just as easily.

” The film testifies a historical context ,” Herzog surrenders,” but it also shows the soul of a follower, and for a fleeting minute, it seems you look into the soul of his country itself- the feeling of Russia .”

While Herzog’s on-camera chitchats may only be cordial, he’s a much more slippery fish when he’s not the one asking the questions. Inquire about the resonance that this film may have in an America hijacked with paranoia in an easterly direction, and he bristles that he’s” not a pundit. Don’t pushing me into that angle .” Same response when grilled on his opinion of Edward Snowden and other hot-button specifics. He prefers to traffic in lofty philosophical feelings , not nitty-gritty policy postures. By casting Gorbachev as an embattled incarnation of hope and modify, he is expected to mold the west’s perception of Russia as the big-hearted bad bugaboo into something a bit more sober-minded.

” That’s part of what the film achieves ,” Herzog says,” that the demonization of Russia in the west has been a very big mistake. The feeling has been set by the media, their mongering. I wish for this to be a little step towards examining Russia and Russian politics in a big way .”

Andre Andre Singer, Werner Herzog and Mikhail Gorbachev in Meeting Gorbachev. Photograph: The Orchard

For an American writer invariably inundated with headlines about techno-terrorists expending rows of Cyrillic code to destabilize democracy, the objection to Herzog’s line of contemplating is clear. What of the intruders, proven real beyond any figment of public curiosity?

” What of China ?” He shoots back.” Have you ever heard of Titan Rain, discussed in my movie Lo and Behold: Daydreaming of the Connected World? The biggest hacker of all. China hacked into the White House, into the Pentagon, into Wall street, into Nasa, everywhere. They’re siphoning off billions in intellectual property rights, and they’re doing it systematically. Have you ever heard that the United Regime hacked into the private phones of Angela Merkel? The Brazilian chairperson? The French chairman? The Italian chairwoman ?”

If it sounds like the sort of deflection referred to as whataboutism, known better these paroles come from someone with a sincere covering doubt for the contemporary world. Herzog lives off the grid, exploiting no cellphone and computers only when necessary. (” You cannot hack into me. When I must use email, I activity the necessary precautions. I do not divulge my darkest secrets and criminal actions .”) If he believes that attempts on our privacy are coming from everywhere all the time, then one might see how he’d think it strange that Russia’s required the most attention.

Herzog’s been in and out of “the two countries ” since the 70 s, through perestroika and glasnost and the “catastrophe” of the Yeltsin years. He’s watched the tide gradually turn, as the once-resentful citizenry has gradually espoused Gorbachev’s progressive bequest even as they continue to live under the reactionary oppression of Vladimir Putin. With a studied knowledge of Russian history, he construes their frenetic modernity through a sociologist’s see. For instance, one mention of the dashboard cameras in Russian culture and he’s off like a shot 😛 TAGEND

Werner Werner Herzog attends the Meeting Gorbachev screening during the course of its 2019 Tribeca film festival. Photograph: Dia Dipasupil/ Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

” The dashboard cameras are a reflex of the Yeltsin years. Under Yeltsin , no pensions be payable , no university teaches were paid, police were underpaid, and so the country was handed over to organized crime. Let’s face it, they’re announced oligarchs today, but it’s nothing more than organized crime. Russia lapsed into emit destitution and the loss of all dignity. At that time, since Russian police were scarcely paid at all, they’d stop you at a traffic light and tell you that you’d run a red light, and it would cost you 10 dollars, or rubles, a fee. The dashboard cameras could prove what did or did not happen. The knockout of this, for example, is that a comet that went down near the Siberian town of Chelyabinsk was recorded by 30 or 40 cameras .”

Again, any anxieties over a surveillance government take a back seat to a fascination somewhere between the academic and aesthetic. When I carry my own nervousnes over the prospect of has been continuously watched, there is a long pause until Herzog replies with deliver, freezing-cold indifference,” OK. I been recognized that .”

Herzog lives in his own nature, reductions in a Hollywood-solipsism way and more in an alien acces. It’s not that such concerns of the common rabble don’t matter to him, it’s that such concerns of humanity don’t matter to him. In one situation, Herzog expects Gorbachev( whose health precipitously declined over the course of the film’s yield, leaving him very sick to attend its well-received Russian debut at the recent Moscow international movie carnival) which terms he’d like to see on his gravestone. The former general secretary greetings “we tried”, an answer of sage-green clarity and humble empathy. I pose this same query to Herzog, and after a moment’s consideration, all he can say is,” Mine? I don’t care .”

Meeting Gorbachev is out in the US on 3 May with a UK date yet to be announced.

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