What Has Werner Herzog Done Now?

What Has Werner Herzog Done Now? (photo)

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It seems like Werner Herzog never sleeps. The 67-year-old Bavarian buccaneer of cinema astounded hungry-eyed cinephiles back in 2005 when he had four documentary features in theaters (“The White Diamond,” “Wheel of Time,” the decade best “Grizzly Man” and the sci-fi quasi doc “Wild Blue Yonder”). This fall, Herzog’s again kept our senses busy with back-to-back narratives: first up was “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” a hilariously addled live-action Nicolas Cage cartoon destined for the cult classics shelf.

Equally nervy is “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done,” which Herzog himself has called “a horror film without the blood, chainsaws and gore.” Loosely based on the real story of Mark Yavorsky — a University of San Diego grad student who killed his mother with an antique sword — this ominous if sensitive portrait of mental illness stars “Revolutionary Road” Oscar nominee Michael Shannon, here renamed Brad McCullum. Struck by a mystical feeling during a walkabout in Peru, McCullum returns to California and, as we learn after the fact, murders his mother (Grace Zabriskie). Recollected in testimonials and flashbacks during a hostage crisis, the film investigates this eccentric man’s descent into hell, the events pieced together by McCullum’s fiancée (Chloë Sevigny), his theater director (Udo Kier) and a hard-nosed detective (Willem Dafoe). Herzog called me to discuss animals, working with executive producer David Lynch, and the scariest thing he’s experienced since moving to Los Angeles.

How did you stumble onto the Yavorsky story, and what still attracts you to madness in your work after several decades?

Well, let me first address madness. I didn’t want to go too deep into the clinical side of it. It would have been boring and for medical journals. There’s something that fascinated me, and that’s the kind of fear that is creeping up at you, and you don’t know exactly where it comes from.

But for the first part of your question, a friend of mine, [co-writer] Herb Golder, who had been an assistant director for me in various projects, he’s actually a professor of classical studies at Boston University. Since he translated Sophocles into English, he was always interested in stagings of ancient Greek drama. He came across this bizarre case about the staging of “The Oresteia” in San Diego, where the leading actor behaved in a very erratic way, and finally ended up murdering his own mother instead of his stage mother.

12092009_myson6.jpgYou met Yavorsky once and said he was argumentative. Was there anything positive or helpful that came out of your conversation with him?

Not really. I had to stay away from him. He had spent eight and a half years in a maximum security institution for the criminally insane, and was released because he apparently didn’t pose a danger for the community. His crime was so specifically against his own mother and no one else. [He had] this obsession with her, like with the drama where the son has to murder his mother, the queen.

The man himself didn’t look right. He lived in a decrepit little trailer in a trailer park near Riverside. He had a poster of “Aguirre,” a little shrine in the corner and burning candles in front of it. I had a feeling the man was not really kosher yet, and he was totally upset that he was never able to stand trial. The prosecutor and the defense attorney stepped up to the judge and conferred. They decided he was unfit to stand trial, which infuriated him because he wanted to have a big show and be crucified on national television. He still had some of that in him, and I had the feeling it was not going to be good for him, nor the film, if we maintained contact.

You talk about writing with Golder, but I think of you as a filmmaking warrior who ventures into the battlefield, armed with a camera. It’s hard to picture you cozying up with a word processor and banging out a screenplay. What’s your writing environment like?

It can be anywhere. I don’t have a writing environment. [laughs] I don’t need seclusion in a cabin in the forest. I wrote the screenplay for “Aguirre” on a bus with my rowdy soccer team. We had two barrels of Bavarian beer for our hosts. One and a half hours into the trip, they started to taste the beer, and then drink one of the two barrels. They were all drunk and hollering and chanting obscene songs, and I wrote my screenplay on a typewriter on my knees. I can focus. Herb Golder had spent years investigating and saying he was going to write a screenplay, but he didn’t do it. I said, “Let’s sit together for a week, and we’ll do it.” In four and a half days, we had it.

12102009_myson9.jpgThis is definitely not a traditional horror film, and I know you’re not really a film buff, but are there any horror flicks you’ve enjoyed?

I haven’t seen many, but I’ve seen one that impressed me. The first “Halloween,” by [John] Carpenter, is a very fine movie. [I liked] the simplicity of it. I remember the scariest shot in the film: you saw down suburban streets, houses left and right, shady trees, and far in the distance, a man crosses the street and looks towards you. You have the feeling: “Is he wearing a white mask?” And he disappears. In context with everything, it was so scary that I still remember the moment.

Michael Shannon’s performances always have such a strange and intense energy. What is it about him that makes such a compelling image on screen?

That’s hard to explain, but I can see a great talent like him from miles away. I actually cast him well before he had the Academy Award nomination, and I said, “Mike, you have to shoulder the leading character of my new film,” and he said, “Yeah, okay, let’s do it.” In order to warm up to each other, I invited him to join me on the set of “Bad Lieutenant,” where he plays a small part. I said, “It would be nice if you could see how I’m functioning, how I work.” That was very good.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.