kortina.nyc / notes
3 Feb 2024 | by kortina

Herzog // Every Man for Himself and God Against All: A Memoir

In response to a brief mention of Herzog in my 2023 Recap, my buddy Slee sent me a copy of Herzog’s recently published memoir, Every Man for Himself and God Against All.

Though I love Herzog’s work, I hadn’t bought it myself because I find his ego a bit much at times – but I suppose this ego is also part of the charm that makes Herzog Herzog.

The book is great, and I did the audiobook, narrated by Herzog himself. I recommend it if you like Herzog.

Notes and quotes….

A great example of Herzog’s swagger: The Manhattan phone book doesn’t tell us anything about one of the James Millers in there… why does he cry into his pillow every night?

From early on in my work, I was confronted by facts. You have to take them seriously because they have a normative force, but making purely factual films has never interested me. Truth does not necessarily have to agree with facts. Otherwise, the Manhattan phone book would be The Book of Books. Four million entries, all factually correct, all subject to confirmation. But that doesn’t tell us anything about one of the dozens of James Millers in there. His number and address are indeed correct. But why does he cry into his pillow every night? It takes poetry; it takes the poetic imagination to make visible a deeper layer of truth. I coined the phrase “ecstatic truth.” To explain that fully would take another book, so I’ll just sketch out a few lines of it here. It’s on this question that I have sought public conflict with the proponents of the so-called cinema verité who claim for themselves the truth of the whole genre of documentary films. As the auteur of a film, you are not allowed to exist, or not more than a fly on the wall anyway. That creed would make the CCTV cameras in banks the ultimate form of filmmaking. But I don’t want to be a fly; I’d rather be a hornet. Cinema verité was an idea from the 1960s; its representatives nowadays I call the “bookkeepers of the truth.” That got me furious attacks. My answer was “Happy New Year, losers.”

Herzog acknowledges the problem of fake news and relative / subjective truth, nonetheless adheres to his quest for an “ecstatic truth” that is more true than mere facts.

The French novelist André Gide once wrote: “I alter facts in such a way that they resemble truth more than reality.” Shakespeare observed similarly: “The most truthful poetry is the most feigning.” That busied me for a long time. The simplest instance is Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s in Rome. The face of Jesus, just taken down from the cross, is the face of a thirty-three-year-old man, but the face of his mother is the face of a seventeen-year-old girl. Was Michelangelo lying to us? Did he wish to deceive us? Disseminate fake news? As an artist, he behaved perfectly straightforwardly by showing us the deepest truth of the two people. What the truth is is something none of us knows anyway, not even the philosophers or the mathematicians or the pope in Rome. I never see the truth as a fixed star on the horizon but always as an activity, a search, an approximation.

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