Werner Herzog recently premiered his documentary, Into the Abyss, at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, to polarizing reviews. It deals with death row inmates in the time before their executions, and sounds like one of the Herzoggiest of Herzogumentaries. The distributor, Sundance Select’s original plan was to release it sometime in 2012, but now it will hit theaters in a platformed release starting in New York and LA November 11th, apparently because Herzog himself demanded it.
The decision was literally forced on distributor Sundance Selects by its filmmaker, who became “obsessed” with the subject matter and demanded they release it now — particularly as the issue has turned into a hot potato due to a recent Republican presidential debate and the execution of Troy Davis. The difficulty for the distrib was Herzog’s other current doc, the 3D Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, has been a big hit and continues in theaters, and it’s likely some of those dates will now have to be pulled to make way for Abyss.
Erik Nelson, the producer on both films, explains that there was a confluence of events. “Cave is still in theaters and we had no idea it would do as well as it has done,” he said. “You’re not really supposed to put two films out at the same time by the same director. On the other hand, what Werner wants, Werner gets. Resistance is futile. Added Nelson: “It seems now for whatever reason. everyone in the country is focused on the death penalty debate again thanks to Rick Perry and the bloodthirsty yahoos at the Republican debate, and I think Werner wants the film to be part of that discussion because timing is everything.” [Deadline]
Not that I necessarily disagree, but if you really want to be part of the discussion, maybe don’t call them “bloodthirsty yahoos” in a press release. Just a thought. (Also, as a lefty, is the death penalty battle really the one we want to fight right now? That’s probably below 50 on my list of political priorities.) Anyway, Here’s a little more info on the film, from ThePlaylist:
Herzog’s film, which we were bummed to miss at TIFF, dives into the lives of a pretty hardened bunch, focusing on two men convicted of triple murder, another who killed his girlfriend and her two mentally retarded sons, and a woman—one of only 10 on Texas’ death row—charged with abducting a newborn baby and killing the child’s mother. But it’s not just the perpetrators of the crimes getting face time with Herzog as he also reaches out to their families as well as the victims to paint a portrait of the ripple effects of crime and punishment. It’s said to be Herzog’s most straightforward doc of his career—no mutant alligators or voiceover here—it should add a powerful element to the ongoing discussion about the death penalty. [Playlist]
NO VOICEOVER???!?! I don’t know how I feel about that. Hearing Werner drop one-liners like “I loathe za feelink uff sunlight both on my celluloid AND on my skin” is usually the best part. But I read a few of the reviews, and it sounds like it’s still suitably Herzoggy.
But Herzog’s approach makes it feel fresh. “Please describe an encounter with a squirrel” is one of his questions for the prison chaplain, along with “Why does God allow capital punishment?” He gets some remarkable insights from officials in the business of execution – in particular a man who had a sudden breakdown after unstrapping his 125th prisoner from the gurney. [Guardian]
What I wouldn’t give to hear Werner Herzog interview himself about his fateful encounter with a squirrel.
“Werner, tell me about za encounter mit za schquirrel.”
“Vell, I vas schtaring into za eyes uff za squirrel, lookeeng for za zupernatural spark uff za sing vhich za Chreestians refer to as ‘za soul.’ Vhen, vissout varning, za squirrell bit me on mein flank.”
“…Oont zen? Did you zeek medical attention?”
“Oont vhy not?”
“Eet vas… not a seegneeficant squirrel. …Za poet, he must never avert his eyes.”
“…From za squirrel?”
“Ja. Eez beautiful.”