“Is the ecstatic truth actually a religious term?”
That question was posed to Werner Herzog a few weeks ago in an interview with the German broadsheet Die Zeit (The Time). Those of you who tuned in last week know that ecstatic truth is Herzog’s way of describing the poetic, transcendent heights of illumination to which his films aspire. “Yes, there is something of that there,” Herzog replied, “something of late medieval mysticism.”
However, he immediately provided a caveat, one that should warm the cockles of conservative hearts everywhere: “But I want to get away from the religious, from the mystical,” he stressed, “because it leads all too quickly to the cloudy waters of the New Age, which is the most horrific thing you can possibly imagine in the spiritual realm.” And then, the coup de grace: “And this is something you see in a film like Avatar, by the way.”
So in Hollywood, to tout conservative views is to be considered an outsider, a maverick, a wild man:
When he made Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) — a documentary about Dieter Dengler, a German-born American fighter pilot who was shot down and tortured during the Vietnam War, only to stage an amazing escape — the Left noticed that the usual anti-American propaganda was nowhere to be found. “The film was generally very well received by American audiences,” Herzog says, but adds that “Inevitably I was asked why I did not denounce American aggression in the Vietnam War and why the film made no political statement.” Herzog’s reply to this pressure was to double down, raise more money outside of the system, and make Rescue Dawn (2007), a fictional treatment of the exact same story starring Christian Bale as Dengler.
Werner Herzog, you see, is no slave to political correctness, no lap-dog for the media, and not at all on board with the hippy-dippy attitudes of the Hollywood Left. He saw in Dieter Dengler a man who, in his words, “had all the qualities that make America so wonderful: self-reliance and courage, a kind of frontier spirit.” That was what counted, and no amount of disparagement was about to deter him from portraying Americans at their best.
Next week, Grin takes a closer look at the only film of Herzog's I've ever seen, Grizzly Man. I remember the movie as an unsparing look at a mis-guided, foolish, obsessed man; I'll be glad for the chance to re-visit it.