VICE and the Criterion Collection Presents: Martin Scorsese on the Films of Roberto Rossellini
In the late 40s, Ingrid Bergman was the coolest, hottest, and most talented lady around Hollywood. She saw some Italian neo-realist films by Roberto Rossellini, wrote him a letter, starred in a number of his movies, and proceeded to have a scandalous affair and marriage with him. In each film, Bergman experiences some sort of deep existential crises in the midst of political and social upheaval. Since every major player who worked on those films is dead, Martin Scorsese (who was heavily influenced by the films) gives us the 4-1-1 on the three movies in this short doc and it’s fucking fascinating.
It’s only since dropping Grizzly Man and Into the Abyss that Werner Herzog became a staple of conversation between you and your friends. Before that, he was just the award-winning, critically acclaimed father of modern European cinema—the man who lugged a 320-ton boat over a hill in the Peruvian rainforest and cooked and ate his own shoe for a short documentary.
This month, Faber published A Guide for the Perplexed, a compendium of conversations between Herzog and the writer Paul Cronin. As a testament from one of the world’s most prolific filmmakers, it reads almost as self-help. “Get used to the bear behind you,” he tells us, ostensibly referring to the ambition and drive to create, but equally evoking images of Timothy Treadwell, a.k.a. Grizzly Man. I’m putting my neck out and saying it’s the best book I’ve read all year.
I caught up with Herzog on the phone last week, and we spoke about films, football, WrestleMania, and the loathsome trend of children’s yoga classes.
Werner Herzog at his home in Los Angeles
VICE: I’ve just finished reading A Guide for the Perplexed. Have you had a chance to read it? Werner Herzog: Yes, I did when we were looking through the entire text for corrections. We left no stone unturned.
Is it strange reading yourself back? I took a professional distance to it because I think it is unwise to stare at your own navel. Now it’s out for the readers. I’m plowing on with a lot of projects, so don’t worry about me.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m finishing Queen of the Desert, I’m preparing three feature films, and I am doing my rogue film school at the end of this week.
Can you explain a bit more about the rogue film school? I can explain it easily. For 20 to 25 years there has been a steady avalanche of young filmmakers coming at me who wanted to be my assistant, or who wanted to learn from me or be in my team. And this has grown rapidly in numbers. For example, a few years ago, when I did a conversation on stage at the Royal Albert Hall—which has something close to 3,000 seats—it was sold out in minutes. And of these 3,000 people, there were at least 2,000 who would have liked to work with me. So I tried to give a systematic answer to this onslaught. The rogue film school can happen 50 times a year or once a year. I just need a projector. I could feasibly do it in the middle of the desert.
An off-beat and beguiling journey into the dark corners of the mind, Go Down Death is something you haven’t seen before. It was shot on black-and-white Super 16mm and filmed in 14 days in an old abandoned paint factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The film feels like it was beamed from another plane of existence. It’s an ensemble piece that takes place entirely on constructed sets of decaying buildings that are inhabited by amputated soldiers, tone-deaf bar singers, child gravediggers, and shape-shifting doctors, all surrounded by an unseen, foreboding presence existing outside the frame.
It’s also the kind of rare filmmaking that sticks with you. I found myself recalling moments from the film—like the howling sound of the wind or a character muttering the line “Ghost haunt me, but I’ll haunt no one”—days after I’d seen it. Perhaps the film’s lasting quality can be attributed to its grim subject matter. There’s a lot of talk of death, disease, and the breakdown of the body. It’s all very exposed and vulnerable. You’ll probably find yourself feeling those qualities after the credits roll.
Zach Braff Will Never Stop Making Movies, and It’s Your Fault
Zach Braff’s new movie, Wish I Was Here, ends with the milquetoast, whiny protagonist (played by Braff, because who else could play this role?) proclaiming that it’s OK to abandon your dreams and just be a normal person. That might be the most controversial part of the most annoying movie of the summer. Whereas Braff’s last film, the equally irritating navel-gaze-athon, Garden State, famously encouraged its audience to “Let Go” as the credits rolled, this new weenie roast of a movie implores you to give up. Of course, there’s one guy out there who stubbornly continues to push his monotonous artistic agenda on a culture that has long since moved on: Zach Braff. Kickstarter and online donations will allow Zach Braff to keep making movies, even if most of us don’t want him to.
Wish I Was Herebecame infamous last year for being partially funded through 46,520 donations to hisKickstarter pagethat promised Braff-aholics across the country that they would get the unvarnished vision of their hero.At last, the Hollywood fat cats will get out of Zach Braff’s way to make the movie he wants! We’ve waited too long to get the Real McCoy!
The problem with that is those Hollywood fat cats get paid millions of dollars to make the movies lots of people want to see. This is why no one will give me $2 million to make a sci-fi romantic comedy set in the 25th century that features me falling in love with a talking salmon. OK, actually, it’s very possible that this movie could get made if certain directives were put in place:
My character is to be played by Robert Downey Jr. or hot up-and-coming African American actor Michael B. Jordan.
The talking salmon will be voiced by Cameron Diaz or Melissa McCarthy.
Instead of being set in the distant future, all the action takes place in a hot-shot San Francisco tech start-up.
James Cameron or Christopher Nolan has to direct.
What do all of these elements have in common? They are people, places, or things the general public has already made clear that they enjoy. It’s been a long time since Zach Braff did anything that the general public enjoyed. Did you see The Ex? Were you enthralled by The Last Kiss? Did you obsessively blog about the last few tedious seasons of Scrubs? Do you sometimes punch yourself in the face just to feel something real? Of course no one who gave a shit about the bottom line would give Zach Braff more than a pat on the back to make a passion project. Braff was hot shit on a gold-plated serving dish after Garden State, but I am here to offer a rather startling, potentially earth-shattering revelation: It is not 2004.
Watch Michael Shannon Fuck a Corpse in James Franco’s Short Film ‘Herbert White’
Because my film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s book, Child of God, will be released this August, I thought I would share one of my previous attempts at transforming literature into film. When I was at NYU, I made a short based on Frank Bidart’s poem ”Herbert White,” which you can watch here.
For me, summer means time to watch movies and read books. Since we talked about books last week, here are some movies to watch between the blockbusters full of explosions, men in tights, and aliens on the big screens. It’s hard to choose, so I just put down the ones I’ve watched lately. Much love.
This summer’s fiction issue is themed around movies—”Hollywood,” Clancy Martin says. We shared an intuition that a lot of the most interesting writing being done today is being done for movies and TV. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that we watch a lot of movies. So we made a long list of our favorite movies and looked up the writers who worked on them, and we harassed them and their agents and their publicists for months. We started with a really long pitch letter, but we learned that in LA it’s proper etiquette to write three-word-long emails. We tried to romance them by inviting them to dinner at the Chateau Marmont. An interesting thing about the writers in this issue—David Mamet, Michel Gondry, Louis Mellis, Alec Sokolow, John Romano, Merrill Markoe, Kevin McEnroe—is that none of them gave a damn about what we could pay. In fact not one of them even brought it up. So maybe one lesson of this issue is, if you want to be a writer and not have to scramble for every dollar, the old maxim holds true: Go to LA.
But back to movies. Here’s what we like about movies: They have stories. They are entertaining. The dialogue is simple. We were watching Searching for Bobby Fisher last night at the hotel in Chennai. William H. Macy says, “It’s just a game.” He’s the father of a seven-year-old chess player talking to another father, and we know that what he means is, “I’d like to rip your head off and s**t down your throat.” Similarly, just a few nights ago we were watching The Shining, and the actor who plays the manager of the Overlook Hotel describes the murders to Jack Nicholson during the job interview. He says, “I can’t believe it happened here, but it did,” and all three of the men in the room somehow already understand that it’s going to happen again. Because of the genius of actors and directors, there’s so much you can do—as a writer—with a line of dialogue that you just can’t do in other forms of writing. But all this is covered in an interview with Robert McKee—Alec Sokolow (Toy Story) makes McKee work through his theories, and Tony Camin, possibly stoned, asks McKee the tough questions, e.g., “Wasn’t Who Framed Roger Rabbit the third in the trilogy ofChinatown?” There are also a few pages of Nabokov’s screenplay version of Lolita with notes in his hand, masterfully introduced by Blake Bailey, and a story by Thomas Gebremedhin that evokes Santa Monica like no other fiction we’ve read (and ought to be a movie).
Pick up a free copy of our fiction issue anywhere VICE is distributed, but those go quickly, so subscribe to make sure you get a copy every month. You can do that here. If you’ve got yourself an iPad, download our free app for even more pictures, extended video footage, and special extras.
This is, more or less, how I imagined the genesis of The Wolf of Wall Street went down:
Marty and Leo wanted to work together again, of course; they have a great track record stretching back to Gangs of New York. When their relationship began it was mutually beneficial but they were coming from different directions: they were both talents, but at the time Scorsese was the critically overlooked doyen of crime films and scholar of cinema history, while Leo was the former critical darling whose entire identity was eclipsed by his Beatle-sized, world-dominating fame. Scorsese could get his decades old dream project made and Leo could work with his directing hero. Gangs was not the best of their outings, but at least it brought them together, and their films got better, culminating in the long due triumph of The Departed. By the time the duo got to Wolf I’m sure they were as in synch as the ATL Twins as far as how they worked and the kind of material they wanted to explore.
So, while Gangs was not their best outing, it led to The Departed winning several Academy Awards, including Best Director. (An aside: Did the .44 magnum/pussy cameo in Taxi Driver keep him from getting the Oscar until he was 64?) And I’m positive that with this long-anticipated repairing, they got their money. A superhero-sized budget, because they’re LeoandMarty, and their films do well both financially and critically, so if you’re a dude with some money to burn from stocks or oil or computers or wherever you’ve made your pile, why wouldn’t you want to get a piece of that game? So, they have the dough and they can do anything they damn well please because the money is independent and fuck it, they’re Leo and Marty and who the hell is going to tell them, “no?” This combo shits out Golden Globes like they’re going out of style (maybe they are? Heh heh) and people go to their dark, masculine dramas in the same numbers that they go to see dudes in tights with big Ss and bats on them. If they want to show Leo doing cocaine bullets out of a faceless girl’s ass, fuck it; if they want a ten minute Quaalude sequence (the best part of the film, funny as hell!), fuck it; and if they want their scumbag protagonists to go largely unpunished… FUCK IT, THAT’S LIFE.
Go See The Night of the Hunter Next Tues. in Williamsburg
For the eighth feature in our screening series with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation at Nitehawk Cinema, we present The Night of the Hunter, actor Charles Laughton’s sole directorial effort. Considered a commercial and critical flop upon initial release, it has since risen from cult staple to full-blown classic. And rightfully so: its intriguing mixture of Southern Gothic dread mixed with bold German Expressionism makes it a near anomaly of the era, so it makes sense that it took everyone a few decades to catch up to its brilliance. Beyond the sheer technical and storytelling perfection, there’s a bravura, career-defining performance from Robert Mitchum as the ghoulish villain pulsating at the center (there’s a reason why his infamous knuckle tattoos been referenced by everyone from Spike Lee to The Simpsons.)