I saw Werner Herzog’s 40-second rant about the stupidity of chickens when I saw Into the Abyss, from whence this clip came, but the rant out of context is even better. It’s the perfect illustration of what makes Werner Herzog’s documentaries so entertaining and also so frustrating.
“The enormity of their flat brain, the enormity of zair stupidity, is just overwhelming. You have to do yourself a favor. When you are out in the countryside and you see chicken, try to look a chicken in the eye with great intensity. And the intensity of stupidity that is looking back at you is just amazing. By the way, it is very easy to hypnotize a chicken. They are very prone to hypnosis. And in one or two films, I’ve actually shown that.”
Our old buddy Allan Weisbecker always used to say that comedy is about obsession, and never was that more true than with Werner Herzog, who, if you watch any of his recent documentaries, tends to find a new obsession every five minutes. The stupidity of chickens, an Eskimo welder with funny thumbs, a prison chaplain’s encounter with a squirrel, the inky abyss of a grizzly bear’s eyes (“za cold eendeeference of nature”), have all captivated Werner for minutes at a time. Hearing him expound on the subjects with the intensity of an existentialist philosopher and the fascination of an awed stoner is what makes him such a perfect character. Then there are other times when you kind of want him to finish a thought, but he’s already forgotten about dead languages and moved onto the thickness of seal’s milk. I’m serious, by the way, those were both subjects of extended soliloquoys in Encounters at the End of the World. Actual seals, I mean, not Seal the singer. That would be weird. Though I would pay to see Werner Herzog narrate a documentary about Seal. “Oont za scars on eine skin ist akin to za first glaciers zat carve za valley down za mountain, clearing za path for za horreeble plague of humanity, viss zair hybrid cars, oont cell phones, oont tabloid newspapers, oont zair Schtarbucks fockeenk coffeez. But za poet must never look away. Eez beautiful. By za way, eet eez very easy to heepnotize Seal. I’ff made seex moofies about eet.”
UNBEATABLE PITCH: Arnold Schwarzenegger records a DVD commentary track of a Herzog movie that’s just Arnold literally describing Werner Herzog describing a bear.