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Spies Like Them: 'Tinker, Tailor' And Other Odd Ilk.

Set in the Cold War era, the espionage thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy spotlights a retired security agent's mission to uncover a Russian spy within Britain's MI6. David Edelstein says the movie is thrilling, creepy and full of "faces you'll love to study."

06:17

Other segments from the episode on December 9, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 9, 2011: Obituary for Howard Tate; Interview with Werner Herzog; Review of film "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for Terry Gross. Singer Howard Tate recorded a string of soulful hits in the 1960s then disappeared for the rest of the century, only to resurface in 2001 to enjoy a new wave of popularity and make some new, highly acclaimed recordings.

He died last Friday at age 72, so we wanted to listen back to the interview Terry Gross recorded with Howard Tate and producer/songwriter Jerry Ragovoy in 2003, The year Howard resurfaced with an impressive comeback album.

During Howard Tate's missing years, he had been living on the streets doing whatever he needed to do to get money to feed his drug habit. He placed some of the blame for his downward spiral on a fire that destroyed his home and killed one of his children.

Eventually, Tate found religion, cleaned up his act and became a minister in 1994, and he re-teamed with Jerry Ragovoy, with whom he first worked back in the '60s. Ragovoy, who died in July, wrote the song "Get It While You Can," which Tate recorded in 1967. Later, it was covered by Janis Joplin.

Joplin also recorded Ragovoy's songs "Try," "Crybaby" and "Piece of My Heart." The Rolling Stones recorded Ragovoy's song "Time is On My Side." Before we listen to Terry's interview with Tate and Ragovoy, let's listen to a song written by Ragovoy from Tate's 2003 comeback CD "Rediscovery."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOWARD TATE: (Singing) Sorry, wrong number. Ain't nobody here by that name. No use reminiscing 'cuz this time I just won't listen. Don't need the pain, oh no. I'm sorry, wrong number. Baby, you're just, just wasting your time. I made myself forget you, but I'm not about to let you back in my mind, oh no.

(Singing) There was a time I lived only for you...

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Now Howard Tate, you started singing in church. Your father was a minister in a Baptist church. You grew up in Macon, Georgia. You were born in Macon, Georgia, and then as a boy moved to Philadelphia.

TATE: That's right.

GROSS: So what kind of preacher was your father?

TATE: He was a Baptist preacher and folk preacher, you know, and I started singing in his church, I guess at about seven or eight years old.

GROSS: So when you made that transition from singing in church to singing on stage, what were some of the changes you had to make?

TATE: Well, just to learn the melodies, that was really the only thing because the voice was there, and I used the same technique and approach to the songs. So that was basically the only changes I had.

GROSS: And what about in your image, your look?

TATE: Well, that had to change a lot. I had to grow a pretty high pompadour back then.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Oh, I have a great record right here from your first album, the "Get It While You Can" record. Your pompadour looks like about four inches high.

TATE: Yes, it was really high. And of course, you know, Joe Tex(ph) taught me how to dress when I went on the road because the first, very first show I did out in Detroit at the 20 Grand, I didn't know how to dress, and I was playing with Marvin Gaye, and he looked like a million dollars - no, he looked like $5 million - and I just didn't know how to dress.

And Joe Tex pulled me aside, and he said: Look, man, here's where we get our suits made. And they booked me on the tour with him shortly thereafter, and I went up in New York and had half-a-dozen suits made. And he showed me where to buy the shoes and all that kind of stuff and buy those $300 patent leather shoes. And so that's how that came about.

GROSS: Howard Tate, let's talk about how you ended up disappearing for so long from the music industry. First of all, when did you and Jerry Ragovoy stop working together? You're such a great match, as we just heard.

TATE: Well, after we did the Atlantic LP, "Howard Tate," we separated. I walked away from the music industry altogether and - because I had - I might have been a little high-strung and might have misinterpreted some things at that time, as we all do, and I - it was financial issues, and I might have misunderstood some facts back there, and I'm sure I did.

And so I walked away from it, very bitter. You know, right or wrong, I was very bitter and, you know, and that's what happened.

GROSS: Jerry Ragovoy, what's your version of that story?

JERRY RAGOVOY: Well, there's very little to contradict. He simply disappeared, and I never knew what happened to him.

GROSS: Didn't say goodbye, didn't say our collaboration's ended?

TATE: No, no flowers.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And were you aware of what Reverend Tate was just describing, that he was feeling very bitter about his financial standing within the music industry?

RAGOVOY: He sort of disappeared virtually overnight, and I never had to - had the opportunity to discuss why, how or when. It just happened, period, he was gone.

GROSS: So where'd you go when you were gone?

TATE: Well, I went back, and I sold insurance for a while, but I was so depressed until I fell into the drug scene, and I couldn't get it out of my mind that I hit so fast when we came out of the stall. We came out, and we - they released "Ain't Nobody Home," and I was working.

I came home from work one day, and a big limousine was sitting in front of the door, and they said you got to get in here right away. They gave me $1,000. They said you got to get a suit, you're playing with Marvin Gaye tomorrow. That's how fast I hit.

And right behind that, "Look at Granny Run" and "Stop." And so that kept flashing back in my mind because there must be so many thousands of artists that cut records, millions, and they can't hit. And I came out of the chute and hit, you know, big time.

And so that flashed back through my mind, and that - I thought drugs would alleviate that depressed feeling that I had, which was a crucial mistake. It only led to destruction, homelessness and all of that, and that's what happened.

GROSS: What was your drug of choice.

TATE: Cocaine.

GROSS: An expensive choice.

TATE: Expensive choice, and it'll completely destroy you, and it destroyed me. It's a miracle that I'm sitting here, and I'm back.

GROSS: Okay, so first of all I'm having a hard time picturing you selling insurance. Okay, so you're selling insurance for a while, and then there was also something else that happened in your life: Your house burned down. And I think that was a turning point for you, also.

TATE: Yes, that was something else to depress me. I lost a daughter, 13 years old, in a house fire. And behind that, my marriage was - we - I went through a divorce. And so it was just a devastating period for me. And I thought the more drugs I did that, you know, that would be the answer. But it wasn't the answer.

GROSS: Did you ever say to yourself - did you ever look around at the other people who were doing what they were doing to feed their habit and look at the drug dealers who you were buying from and look at the other homeless people who you knew and say to yourself: What am I doing here? I'm Howard Tate. I'm a recording artist. I'm a terrific soul singer. What am I doing here?

TATE: Well, there was times when I would, within myself, remember who I was and where I'd come from and the success I had had. But cocaine, those drugs destroy your very will. They destroy everything about you, your pride, everything. And I lived for the drug. There's wasn't many times I realized I had fallen into that subculture with that subculture, and I was trapped there. And least that's what I thought because I never thought I'd make it out alive.

GROSS: Did you sing at all during that period, and I don't mean performing, I mean, just singing to yourself?

TATE: Never sang a note. I never sang a note all those years. In fact, when I - Jerry, I met Jerry in New York, and he says I'm going to send you a couple of demos. If you learn these songs, I'm going to have you come to Atlanta to see how you sound on them. He sent me the demos, and the truth about the matter, Terry, I never once opened my mouth to sing those demos, not once.

I could not bring myself to listen to the singer that he had on the demos for me to learn the songs by, and I could not bring myself to sing those songs. I only did it when I got down to his studio and stepped up to the mic and opened my mouth, and it was all there.

GROSS: Let's hear another track, and it's a song that you did together many years ago, that, Jerry Ragovoy, you wrote. And a lot of people will also know this song from Janis Joplin's version of it. And the song is "Get It While You Can." Before we hear it, Jerry Ragovoy, what inspired the writing of this song?

RAGOVOY: I wrote that in the very middle - in the middle '60s with Mort Shuman, and we simply just wrote it because we thought it was a message that was very powerful and almost universal and almost surely have longevity. And that was one of the reasons we wrote it.

GROSS: And how did Howard Tate end up singing it?

RAGOVOY: Well, we thought it came out so terrific in our own opinion, I decided to do with Howard and did an arrangement, and we recorded it, and several months later, Janis Joplin recorded it.

GROSS: Had she heard his version? Is that what happened?

RAGOVOY: Oh absolutely. That was the reason she recorded it.

GROSS: And Howard Tate, how did you feel when Janis Joplin not only recorded it but had this huge hit of it? Like, it was a song that was more associated with her than with you because most people had heard her version. More people had heard her version than yours.

TATE: Well, I never heard Janis sing this song until I came back. Of course, when I left the music industry, I just completely cut myself off from it, and I didn't listen to radio or anything like that. So when I heard the story and how her record was such a hit, and I heard her sing it when I came back, I was amazed.

GROSS: When was this? Was this like recently?

TATE: Well, it was two years ago, close to three years ago.

GROSS: That's amazing to me that you'd be so disconnected that you wouldn't even know she did...

TATE: I didn't even know she did it.

GROSS: Wow.

TATE: I didn't know B.B. King did "Ain't Nobody Home." I didn't know Jimi Hendrix did "Stop" because I just walked away from it, and I didn't listen to the radio. I didn't want to hear anything about it, and I just isolated myself from it completely.

BIANCULLI: Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy, speaking to Terry Gross in 2003. Tate died earlier this week at age 72. Before we hear more of Terry's interview, let's listen to Howard Tate's 1966 version of the Jerry Ragovoy song "Get It While You Can," which Tate recorded Janis Joplin got to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET IT WHILE YOU CAN")

TATE: (Singing) When you love somebody, you're taking a chance on sorrow. But who knows, baby, we may not be here tomorrow. So if someone comes your way with love and protection, get it while you can. Get it while you can. Get it while you can. Don't turn your back on love.

(Singing) I wanna tell you a little bit about myself. Once I had a good woman, but I didn't count my blessings. Oh, I wish she could hear me. I've learned a bitter lesson. So if someone brings you love, don't throw it away like I did. Get it while you can. Better go on and get it while you can. Get it while you can, baby, don't turn your back on love. Get it while you can...

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2003 interview with soul singer Howard Tate, who died earlier this week at age 72.

GROSS: You had talked a little bit about your period of being homeless and being addicted. And then I know there was some kind of spiritual awakening or being born again. What exactly happened? What exactly was the religious side of this transformation?

TATE: Well, Terry, the truth is I never thought I would escape the subculture of drug. That is a prison that any hard drug such as cocaine, heroin, anything like that, once you get hooked on that, you believe the only way out is death. I seriously thought I would end up dead.

And I just called on the name of the lord one day, and I just said Lord, help me. And when I said that, I was being attacked. I wanted it. The urge was hitting me. And I couldn't get away from it. But when I said that, it left me.

Only when I would say that, Lord help me, would that urge leave me. I would come under attack. I would really be under attack. I would want that drug so bad that - I mean, you know, I would walk 30 miles to get $20. I would be people let me clean your garage, let me wash your car, let me cut your lawn, let me clean your gutters, just to get $20.

Only when I called on the name of the lord did that urge leave me, and I started realizing something's happening in here, and if I want to ever escape this, I'd better seriously call on the lord and ask him to completely set me free. And that's what happened. He set me free.

GROSS: Howard Tate, this meant changing your life a lot. Now, we neglected to mention that after this period of homelessness and drug addiction you had a spiritual experience and lived in a shelter for a while, joined a church, started your own ministry, became Reverend Howard Tate.

So starting music again meant giving up some of that new life that you'd created, right?

TATE: Yes, it meant giving up some. It didn't have to mean giving up some of it. But we had a split in the church, you know...

GROSS: About whether this was a good thing or not?

TATE: Whether it was a good thing, yes.

GROSS: Well, that must have been odd having other people kind of voting on what your future should be.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TATE: Right.

GROSS: So what was the pro and the con side about?

TATE: Well, the pro side was that, you know, this could be a good thing because I could go all over the world and reach so many people with the life I live and have so many people, you know, that I can see and talk to and reach. And the con side was, well, you can't have it both ways. You know, either you're going to do the work of the lord, or either you're going to serve the devil. And that was the con part of it.

I'm one to believe - and I prayed a lot about this - that you can't put God in a bottle or a box, you know, and the lord answered me and said that I gave you that voice, you know, and when I set you free from being a junkie all those years and brought you back and kept you alive, you know, when you were drugging out there. You could have got your throat slit. You could have got a couple of bullets in the back of your head walking the streets all night, as you did. I took care of you.

So if I choose for you to use that voice, (unintelligible), you know, and spiritual because you can certainly sing some spiritual records, too, you know, who's to question me?

GROSS: Now, you said that the church basically voted on whether you should be singing secular music or not. So who won the vote?

TATE: Well, they gave me an ultimatum that either I would not come back and record and sing secular music again, or I would be cut off from my salary, and they cut me off from my salary, and I had to move out of the home, the rectory that they had provided.

And so I had to do that, and I gave - so I wanted to build a rehab center and buy houses to house the homeless in the state of New Jersey, and I knew I'd need a lot of money to do this. And I said to them: Well, you're not able to give me the kind of money I'm looking for. I think the lord is leading me with all that happened - they re-released the "Get It While You Can" album in Europe, and it took off and sold all over the place, and that's how I was rediscovered.

And so if God is opening up this avenue for me to get the money to help others to escape the prison I was in, the drugs and the homelessness, then I'm going to take that route. And so I gave up the pastorship and became pastor of Gift of the Cross Outreach Ministry, I'm the pastor there, and I decided to record the CD.

GROSS: Okay. I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.

TATE: Thank you, Terry.

RAGOVOY: Thank you, Terry.

BIANCULLI: Terry Gross spoke to Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy in 2003. Howard Tate died last week at age 72. His comeback CD, "Rediscovered," was produced by Jerry Ragovoy, who died earlier this year. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

DAVID BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross. Filmmaker Werner Herzog's latest documentary, "Into the Abyss," about death row prison inmates, is in theaters now. His previous one, called "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," has just been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. It's also been released for those who have the latest in high-tech TVs, in 3-D, which is the way it was initially projected in select theaters. "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is a documentary Chauvet Cave in France. It's a cave that features cave paintings which are 30,000 years old, the oldest ones known to scientists. The cave had been sealed off by fallen rock for over 20,000 years before French scientists discovered it in 1994.

The climate and ecology in the cave are so delicate that visitors are no longer allowed to enter it. The cinematic results are remarkable, enabling us to see a glimpse of our prehistory: Paleolithic art, cave bear claw scratches, animal bones, and incredibly beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.

Werner Herzog's other films include "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," "Fitzcarraldo," "Nosferatu" and "Grizzly Man." Those films are about men - and one vampire - who go to extremes. Terry Gross spoke with Herzog earlier this year when "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" was released to theaters in 3-D.

TERRY GROSS:Werner Herzog, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

WERNER HERZOG:Thank you.

TERRY GROSS:Let me start by asking you to describe some of the cave paintings that you find most extraordinary.

WERNER HERZOG:Well, the whole ensemble of the cave and all the paintings is awesome. So it's very hard to single out one specific part of it. But for me, the most intense of all is the so-called "Panel of Lions."

You see lions - five, six, seven of them - stalking something, their eyes with incredible intensity pointed, all exactly pointed at one object. And you don't know what they are stalking. So it's really very, very beautiful, very intense, very accomplished.

TERRY GROSS:I was amazed at how some of the images were shaded in, and there was a certain amount of depth implied in how they were shaded. I was expecting, when I walked into your film, to see amazing line drawings and stick figures, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TERRY GROSS:And it's so much more sophisticated than that.

WERNER HERZOG:Well, I think art, as it bursts on the scene 32,000 years ago, is fully accomplished. It doesn't start with - I say it in quotes - primitive scribblings and first attempts like children would make drawings. No. It's absolutely and fully accomplished, and not in Roman and Greek antiquity or in Renaissance or in modern times painting has gotten any better.

TERRY GROSS:Now, the Chauvet Cave where you filmed wasn't discovered until 1994. Tell us some of the things that the keepers of the cave have been doing to keep it as untouched, as pristine as possible.

WERNER HERZOG:When they discovered the cave, they did everything right to preserve it. They immediately understood the importance of the cave. They would only very carefully move along the floor by spreading out sheets of plastic and step on it, because you could immediately see that there were fairly fresh tracks of cave bears.

The cave bear actually went extinct 20,000-or-so years ago, but there are still fresh tracks of them. And, of course, later, when scientists moved in, they did it with utmost caution, never touching anything. A metal walkway was built, and you never leave this walkway.

All these precautions were necessary also for preserving the cave in a way that not too many people entering would leave, with their breath, some mold on the walls, which happened in the most famous other cave, Lascaux in the Dordogne area of France - too many tourists, too many visitors with their exhalations, with their breath created a mold on the wall that is now very hard to control, and the cave is categorically shut down now. Same thing with Altamira in the Pyrenees in Spain.

TERRY GROSS:And is your interest in the paintings themselves or also in the knowledge that there was, like, tens of thousands of years ago there was an instinct to make art, there was an instinct to represent the world?

WERNER HERZOG:Yes. It is strange and very significant that all of a sudden we have the presence of what I would call the modern human soul. We should be careful to define what soul means, but all modernities, all of a sudden, bursting on the scene. Neanderthal man actually did not have all this, and other civilizations did not have it. Earlier human beings did not represent the world in figurative means: painting, sculptures and so on.

TERRY GROSS:So this happens with Paleolithic man.

WERNER HERZOG:Yes, it does.

TERRY GROSS:So once you decided you wanted to make this film about the Chauvet Cave, how did you get permission to go inside with a film crew and shoot it, considering how hard they've been working at the cave to keep people out of it so that the cave can be maintained?

WERNER HERZOG:Yes, of course it was the biggest of all battles. And we took our time. I had to approach the Ministry of Culture, but there's also the regional government which has to give its okay. And, of course, the scientists, the Council of the Scientists, have to see you and give their okay.

And I was very lucky that the French minister of culture, Frederic Mitterrand - he's a nephew of the former president - Frederic Mitterrand turned out to be a great fan of my films. And in this respect, I already had some slight advantage. But beyond all this, I think I was just very, very lucky.

TERRY GROSS:Well, what about the regional government and the scientists? Did they know your movies, and were they open to the idea of you doing the film?

WERNER HERZOG:Well, they had to be convinced, and I had to meet the scientists, and I had to explain myself. And I had to explain myself how I would do it technically.

Of course, the restrictions were enormous. I was only allowed four hours a day for a week. I was only allowed three men with me. I was only allowed to carry along what we could carry in our hands. So we couldn't move heavy equipment in there and install it - lights that would only emit light without any temperature. And, of course, all the restrictions; you never step off the metal walkway.

This is why the crew sometimes could not hide away. You cannot just step behind the camera and hide, because you would step on the floor of the cave.

TERRY GROSS:And they wanted you to keep on the walk so that you didn't contaminate the rest of the cave, yeah. Mm-hmm.

WERNER HERZOG:Oh, you never - can never touch anything. It's not just contaminating. There are footprints, fairly fresh footprints. You do not want to superimpose your print of your hiking boot upon it. There's...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TERRY GROSS:Over the cave-bear print. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERNER HERZOG:Yes, you just don't do this. And there's a footprint of a child, maybe eight-year-old, this is very mysterious. We couldn't film it. We were not allowed, because it was deep in a recess of the cave.

The mysterious thing is that next to this footprint, probably a boy, probably around eight years old, parallel to it runs the footprint of a wolf. And I was very, very puzzled: Did the wolf stalk the boy? Or did they walk together as friends? Or did the wolf leave its footprints 5,000 years later? It's stunning. The lapse of time is completely and utterly stunning.

TERRY GROSS:Everything is covered in this calcified crystal. What does that come from?

WERNER HERZOG:Seeping water that actually leaves layers, creates formations of stalactites and stalagmites. But it's also significant, it is so fresh, it is so as if it had been left yesterday. Things are so fresh, and all of a sudden you see a painting of a cave bear, a charcoal painting, and about half-an-inch layer of calcite over it, which takes thousands of years to form. So you know this is not a forgery.

That was actually the first indication: This is not a forgery. This is for real. And, of course, through carbon, radiocarbon dating, you can establish fairly precisely when was the painting done.

There are swipe-marks of torches. You see, when a torch burns down, and in order to rekindle it, it's like cutting the wick of a candle, you swipe the torch against the wall. And little fragments of charcoal were analyzed through radiocarbon dating, and we know pretty precisely when somebody swiped this torch - something, let's say, 28,400 years ago.

DAVID BIANCULLI:Werner Herzog, speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID BIANCULLI:Let's get back to Terry's interview from earlier this year with Werner Herzog. His "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" documentary is now out on DVD, including 3-D.

TERRY GROSS:Why did you want to use 3-D? And a lot of people are asking the question, 3-D, to show two-dimensional cave paintings? Why do you need 3-D?

WERNER HERZOG:Well, that was my opinion when I saw photos. It looked almost like flat walls, maybe slightly undulating or so. And thank God I went in there without any camera a month before shooting. And what you see in there, it's limestone and you have these wildly undulating walls. You have bulges and niches and penduns(ph) of rock, and there's a real incredible drama of formation. And the artists utilized it for their paintings, for the drama of paintings.

You see a horse that comes out very shyly out of a recess, of a niche. You see wild views of penduns(ph) or bulge of the rock, now it's a bulging neck of a bison coming at you. So it was immediately clear that – not only clear, it was imperative to do this in 3-D. As we were probably the only ones ever allowed to film.

TERRY GROSS:And also like the stalactites and stalagmites in 3-D are really remarkable to behold.

WERNER HERZOG:Yes.

TERRY GROSS:So you were only allowed, not only a limited amount of time but a limited amount of space. You couldn't lug in whatever equipment you wanted to. It had to be proportionate to the walkway that you were confined to. And to the proportions of the cave. So did you have to customize your equipment in order to even bring it in?

WERNER HERZOG:We did, yes, and of course 3-D cameras are fairly clumsy, and of course we were not allowed to have support from outside. You see, the climate in the cave is so delicate. They open the steel door for entering and they open it for getting us out. But if you had forgotten something, yes, we would open the door again but that would have meant the end of the day of shooting. And for 3-D, when you have a wider shot and you see a large part of the cave and you move very close into one particular painting, you have to reconfigure your entire camera, you have to build, literally build a different camera.

Because in 3-D the two eyes, or rather the two lenses, have to move closer to each other, and when you are fairly close, these two eyes or lenses have to squint slightly. So in semi-darkness, only with a few screw drivers, and with the help of torchlight we built our own camera for closer shots. But – which you can do if you have real, real competent, good people with you.

TERRY GROSS:One of the things I especially liked about your use of 3-D is that you used it to represent as accurately as you could the unique, rare world of this cave, as opposed to some kind of fantasy world where, you know, using 3-D for special effects. What did you learn about visual perception from working in 3-D?

WERNER HERZOG:When you start editing and you have to be aware you cannot edit very fast, like – and that's a mistake of many of the 3-D films nowadays; they use the same very quick cut, cut, cut, cut, cut technique of action movies. However, our eye, our brain needs a little more time to adapt to a new three-dimensional shot reality. So they are cutting too fast. I always understood 3-D not only as a specific spatial formation. I also sensed there was a certain different way of time, of narrating it.

TERRY GROSS:Now, there's a scene in your documentary about the cave in which you're talking about the possibility with all the torches inside that our ancestors would have been able to see their shadows and see shadows on the wall.

WERNER HERZOG:Yes, most certainly, yes.

TERRY GROSS:Yes. And that leads you to think about shadow dancing and that leads you to think about Fred Astaire and the shadow dancing scene, and then you show the Fred Astaire...

WERNER HERZOG:I couldn't help it.

I could not help it.

TERRY GROSS:I have to stop you here, wait. Wait, wait, wait, wait. I actually met you a few years ago at a reception after you – after a screening of your films at the University of Pennsylvania, and you were talking about how you had been watching Fred Astaire films. So I thought, okay, I see how Fred Astaire ended up in this documentary about a 30,000 year old cave, because you were watching Fred Astaire films. Go ahead.

WERNER HERZOG:Yes, that is correct. Yeah, it is actually arguably or for me certainly the greatest single sequence in all of film history, Fred Astaire dancing with his own shadows, and all of a sudden he stops and the shadows become independent and dance without him, and he has to catch up with them. I mean it's just so quintessential movie, it can't be – it can't get more beautiful. It's actually from "Swing Time." And when you look at the cave, and there certain panels, there's evidence of some fires on the ground. They were not fore cooking. They were – because there's no evidence of any habitation in there.

They were used for illumination. You have to step in front of these fires to look at the images, and course when you move, you must see your own shadow. And immediately Fred Astaire comes to mind, who did something 32,000 years later which is essentially what we can imagine for early Paleolithic people.

TERRY GROSS: So I know one of the things, one of the questions that interests you about the cave – I think this is one of the questions that interests you, is were there kind of like spiritual ceremonies there, is that one of the uses of the cave? And I'm wondering if you have ever practiced religion, because I think one of the musics you're interested in is Gregorian chant.

WERNER HERZOG: Yes. Of course it's a variety of questions. But we can assume there was probably some religious ceremonies there, maybe shamanistic, although today we should touch this term only with a pair of pliers, because the New Age vapid babble about pseudo-philosophy uses, abuses shamanism. So probably something like that. But we simply do not know. We just do not know.

But when you see an alter like rock and very carefully placed almost like staged, fresh skull of a cave bear on it, and evidence of charcoal around it, as if they were fumigating it, you have - it's not illegitimate to say this probably was a staging for a religious ceremony. We do not know, and I think the newer generation of archeologists points out we have to take it as it is, this is what we see, whether it was religious or not we will never know.

TERRY GROSS: And yourself?

WERNER HERZOG: Well, I had an intense religious phase in my adolescence and I do understand religious sentiment. I do understand the quest for something higher, something beyond us. Has been a very dramatic phase in my life, and – although I'm not a religious person anymore, it has left me in a way, but I do understand people who are deeply religious.

TERRY GROSS: Well, Werner Herzog, thank you so much for talking with us.

WERNER HERZOG: You are very welcome.

DAVID BIANCULLI: Werner Herzog speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. His "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is now out on DVD and 3-D and his new documentary "Into the Abyss" is still in theaters.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

David John Moore Cornwell worked for British Intelligence before writing spy novels under the name John LeCarre. His 1974 novel "Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy" features spymaster George Smiley on the hunt for a mole in the agency. That novel was turned into a 1979 British miniseries with Alec Guinness and is now a film starring Gary Oldman as Smiley. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Most people will find the first 20 minutes of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" difficult to follow. I did, and I've read John le Carre's novel and seen the haunting 1979 BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness - although decades ago. The movie is chopped up into short scenes featuring people we don't know working for a circus - what? - and for someone called "C," and talking about a woman called Karla?

Meanwhile, the star, Gary Oldman, doesn't say a word for the first 18 minutes. You have to infer that it's the early '70s, and the Cold War is going strong; that the Circus is MI6, the U.K.'s CIA; that C stands for "Control," the only name given for its mysterious chief; and that Karla isn't a woman but a Soviet spymaster, who's allegedly planted a mole in the Circus' upper echelon.

You have to think back to the days of double agents like Kim Philby, some of whom were actually triple agents or double-double agents, meaning they pretended to have turned against their country but were actually trading not-so-valuable intelligence for access to higher circles.

I was skeptical of the need for a new "Tinker, Tailor," with the Cold War so long gone and the terrific original just out on DVD, and those first 20 minutes confirmed all my doubts. But then the story took hold, and I was thrilled to pieces all over again. Oldman is Circus agent George Smiley, who appeared in eight Le Carre novels and whom Guinness, I think, played definitively.

He was naturally dry and furtive, whereas Oldman is a hot-dog whose reticence here is a kind of stunt. But I grew to love Oldman's Smiley. Behind that phlegmatic exterior are hard eyes that have seen — and even approved — too much torture and killing. He'll never be warm, never function fully as a human being. But he'll endeavor to be, in this twisted context, upright.

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" opens with Control, played by John Hurt, directing an agent on a secret mission to Budapest to learn the name of the Circus traitor. The outcome is catastrophic, and soon Control and his top man, Smiley, are expelled. The Circus is now run by five men, the chief an officious Scotsman called Percy Alleline, played by Toby Jones.

The other top agents are Colin Firth's Bill Haydon, David Dencik's Toby Esterhase, Ciaran Hinds' Roy Bland, and Stephen Graham's Jerry Westerby. One is a mole. It's after Control's death that a minister's aide, played by Simon McBurney, summons Smiley back to duty. You might not believe it, but the first voice you'll hear is Gary Oldman's.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLIP FROM "TINKER, TAILOR, SOLIDER, SPY")

GARY OLDMAN: (As George Smiley) I'm retired, Oliver. You fired me.

SIMON MCBURNEY: (As Oliver Lacon) The thing is, some time ago before Control died he came to me with a similar suggestion: that there is a mole. He never mentioned his suspicions to you?

OLDMAN: (As George Smiley) No.

MCBURNEY: (As Oliver Lacon) Oh. I just thought because you are his man, so to speak--

OLDMAN: (As George Smiley) What did you say to him?

MCBURNEY: (As Oliver Lacon George Smiley) Well, I'm afraid I thought his paranoia had rather gotten the better of him. He's going to put his whole house down. That bloody mess in Budapest. Damn it, George. It's your generation, your legacy. I would've thought if there was any truth in this then he'd want to...

EDELSTEIN: The story that follows would be pretty dry were it not for a character named Ricki Tarr, a Circus agent and assassin who vanishes for months, then shows up in Smiley's house with a story about a woman who nearly told him the name of the mole before she was captured by the Soviets. He loved her. He wants her back.

Tarr is played by Tom Hardy, the young British actor with huge lips and a plaintive, tortured beauty that makes him one of the most charismatic actors of his generation. Hardy immediately pulls you in, and so does the lovely young Russian actress, Svetlana Khodchenkova, as the woman he can't protect.

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is full of faces you'll love to study, like the one belonging to Benedict Cumberbatch as Smiley's aide, with his hooded eyes and impossibly high cheekbones. John Hurt's chain-smoking Control is a human husk, as if his innards were eaten away by paranoia and hatred. Then there's Colin Firth, who has stripped himself down to pure old-boy condescension. You think, who are these people?

Le Carre's Circus might have gone with the Cold War, but the peculiar psychology of spies and spymasters seems endlessly contemporary. The Swedish director Tomas Alfredson made the peerlessly creepy vampire movie "Let the Right One In," and a case could be made that his characters here are like even creepier vampires, sacrificing innocents, preying on one another's doubts, forever afraid of the light.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. The classic TV miniseries version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" shown in the U.S. on PBS has just been released on DVD.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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