“There are 50,000 spectators,” Werner Herzog explained to the rapt audience at BAM, the final image of his documentary The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Stein on display. “But we see only the man alone against the snow.”
In his interview at BAM’s Harvey Theater in Brooklyn on Thursday night, Herzog admitted to creating myths in his documentaries; he has often stated that “all filmmakers are liars”.
Herzog does not believe in documenting facts, offering data to support a thesis, but instead creates a nebulous thing from which a greater truth may be derived.
He uses whatever he has – everything from archival images of starving people gazing longingly at a sausage (Little Dieter Needs to Fly) to an albino alligator (Cave of Forgotten Dreams) – to make his film work; it doesn’t matter if the material is factually accurate. He has gone so far (in Lessons of Darkness) as to write down his ideas and attribute them to Blaise Pascal, just for effect:
At the end of the talk, Herzog read from his book, Conquest of the Useless, a journal he kept while filming Fitzcarraldo:
I did not even feel my bleeding foot. There was no pain, no joy, no excitement, no relief, no happiness, no sound, not even a deep breath. All I grasped was a profound uselessness, or to be more precise, I had merely penetrated deeper into its mysterious realm.