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German Filmmaker Werner Herzog

Herzog's latest movie is a documentary, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly: Escape from Laos" the true story of Dieter Dengler, the only U.S. pilot to have sucessfully escaped from a North Vietnamese-controlled prison. Herzog's other works include the feature films "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," "Heart of Glass," "Fitzcarraldo," and "Nosferatu."


Other segments from the episode on October 27, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 27, 1998: Interview with Werner Herzog; Commentary on black and white influences in country music.


Date: OCTOBER 27, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 102701np.217
Head: Werner Herzog
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Werner Herzog, is one of the directors who reestablished Germany as a major force in cinema after its movie industry was decimated by Hitler and World War II. Herzog was born in 1942.

Many of his movies have been about physical and emotional extremes. "Land of Silence and Darkness" is about people who are deaf and blind. "Even Dwarves Started Small" is about dwarves in a correctional institution. "Aguirre: The Wrath of God" is about a mad Spanish conquistador. "Fitzcarraldo" follows a man obsessed with building an opera house in the jungle. Herzog's "Nosferatu" is perhaps the most beautiful and disturbing film of the Dracula story.

Herzog's recent documentary, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," premieres on Cinemax Thursday evening. It's the story of Dieter Dengler, a German- born U.S. pilot who was shot down during the war in Vietnam, then imprisoned and tortured in Laos. He managed to escape against incredible odds.

Here he is describing the day he escaped.


DIETER DENGLER, FORMER U.S. PILOT, VIETNAM WAR: I ran out in the open. Nobody came from this side, except the guards. They were running in my direction. I must have heard or seen the other guys, and this big shootout started.

All of a sudden the bullets were flying. Somehow we have miscalculated. Somebody had a rifle in there. I had this submachine gun in my hands. I had never shot one before. When I pulled the trigger, it practically flew out of my hand. It raised up like that, and this allowed them to close the distance real quick.

They came within two or three feet from me. The moron, one of the guys, had a machete in his hands, and he came within four or five feet. I shot him threw the hip. It lifted him up, it through him down on the ground. Next thing, I looked up, he's getting up again. He still has a machete, he's still coming at me.

Of course, this time I couldn't miss, he was right -- two or three feet in front of me. I couldn't believe it. I didn't have a scratch. There is five dead guards laying on the ground. Two of them got away; they ran a zigzag pasture, and they got in the jungle. I knew then, right then and there, they would get help, and we had to get out of there. Where was Dwayne?

I saw him behind this bush over here. He had vomited. I yelled to him: Dwayne, let's get out of here! Let's get out of here!

We took off. We ran down between these (unintelligible) ran amongst those dead guys laying on the ground. And it was very important, because our shoes were tied together in a bundle, were hanging on the hut over here.

The shoes we needed in the jungle. But we got there, they were already taken. The other guys must have taken them, run off with them. And then Dwayne and I, we had no choice but to turn around; barefoot, we ran into the jungle.

Of the seven of us that escaped, I was the only one that came out alive. The other ones disappeared in the jungle, and nobody ever heard from them again.

GROSS: Dieter Dengler's escape was filled with hellish adventures including surviving a monsoon without any protection. I asked film director Werner Herzog how he thought Dieter Dengler was changed by all that he experienced in prison and during his escape.

WERNER HERZOG, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: I do believe that he was not very much changed, because he had a very difficult and hard childhood. And that somehow linked me together with him immediately. Both of us grew up in tiny rural villages in rural areas remote from everything.

We didn't know what TV was, what a telephone was. I made my first phone call at the age of 17. And he knew hunger, and he knew all the hardships of growing up as a post-war child. And I do believe that he was extremely well prepared, better than anyone else that I would know, for an ordeal of that nature.

He had all the qualities that make America so wonderful -- the qualities of self-reliance, courage, a spirit of some sort of a frontier, and all those things.

GROSS: You brought him back to the jungle and had him simulate some of the scenes that he lived through when he was in the prison camp. It seems like it was almost masochistic on his part to agree to that.

HERZOG: Not really, because he felt very much at ease with this whole thing. The fact is that he has been at least 15 times before we made the film, back to the jungle, back to Southeast Asia. He loves Asian people. He loves the qualities, the human qualities of his former enemies.

And that may be the only change -- to come back to the previous question -- he changed his attitude about the opponent, about the enemy, the Vietnamese, the Laotians. He had no concept of who they were. I mean, he started in the war very, very early, in 1965, when nobody really talked about Vietnam and he thought it would be over in three weeks; that they just had to assist some South Vietnamese generals to stop a few insurgents from the north.

And in his first mission over in North Vietnam he was actually shot down after 40 minutes. So he didn't really capture what the war was all about. Once he was down on the ground, the entire country was not an abstract grid on a map anymore. It was -- all the sudden it was filled with voices, with human beings, with people who were starving, people who who were under pressure of air attacks, and all this.

And he -- almost immediately he started to change his attitude, to understand that there were real people down there, real suffering down there, real death down there.

GROSS: He seems to be very obsessive in his descriptions of the past; obsessed with what is required to survive. And he's almost a survivalist now. I mean, you have him saying that he keeps hundreds of pounds of grains in his house in case of emergency, because he knows what it's like to be without food.

And watching the movie, I kept wondering: was this guy really obsessive before his imprisonment, or did he become obsessive as a result of his imprisonment? And I know that you are very interested in obsession and are probably pretty obsessive yourself. So I was wondering if you had any thoughts about that?

HERZOG: I wouldn't really call him obsessive.


HERZOG: Of course, he has been changed by all these experiences, and he feels much safer to have 1,100 pounds of rice and 1,000 pounds of flour under his kitchen floor dug into the ground. Sure, that is understandable. He has developed safeguards. He's a very wholesome man, a very healthy human being.

Sometimes he -- I have the feeling he's hiding his wounds and he's hiding the terror behind some very casual remarks. I would, for example, ask him in private: Dieter, don't you have any nightmares of that time? Is there nothing left? And he says: oh, that was a fun part of my life.

So we can only sense that there's still some open wounds within the men, but he's not collapsing and not struggling for his sanity and all those things that you might have seen among many of the Vietnam veterans who came home and who were innerly destroyed.

GROSS: How come you've been making so many documentaries? I know you've made documentaries on and off through your career, but it seems to be, well, exclusively what you're doing now.

HERZOG: It's not the exclusive thing I'm doing now. Once in awhile I stage operas. I love to live and breathe and work with music. But it is true, in the last couple of years I've only done documentaries. And that was a development -- a deep question about filmmaking, probably about writing or art, in general.

What constitutes truth in, for example, a great poem? When you read Robert Frost and you have some very deep feeling about it, and all of a sudden you have this sensation there is some deep inexplicable and mysterious truth in it. And the same thing happens in movies.

And it does not happen, strangely enough, in most of the documentaries that you would see on television. You would not find it in the so-called "cinema verite," which can only scratch the surface of what is truth. It's the accountants truth, it's a bookkeeper's truth. And yet I have been for years asking the question: How can you dig into a very deep stratum of truth, into something inexplicable, something mysterious?

And, of course, you can reach it, and you can find it; but normally through invention, through imagination, through fabrication, sometimes even contorting and stylizing events right out there. And then, all of a sudden, you will find something strange and deep and elusive, and that is a certain truth. Now, with all this knowledge that I have now, I'm moving actually back to feature filmmaking.

GROSS: What's your next film going to be?

HERZOG: Well, I'm working on a film right now which, again, is a documentary, but highly stylized. And you must not make the mistake to believe that everything in "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" is the accountant's truth. Much of it has been invented, and so my very next film is very inventive as well.

In going back to Dieter's film, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," his dreams are my invention; or, for example, there's a scene where he tries to explain how death looks like for him. And he's standing in front of a tank with jellyfish in it -- a water tank. And he simply tried to explain it to me what death was looking like for him, and he had no image.

And he described it in a way that I immediately figured it was jellyfish; slowly moving, almost dancing in a void; and in a slow motion transparent strange movement. And that was exactly what was needed. He could only --couldn't express it, but I had the image for it.

GROSS: My guest is director Werner Herzog. His documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" premieres Thursday evening on Cinemax. We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: My guest is German film director Werner Herzog.

Now, I believe you're making a documentary on Klaus Kinski. Klaus Kinski acted and started in at least four of your films. And those films include "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," "Fitzcarraldo," "Nosferatu."

HERZOG: "Woyzeck."

GROSS: "Woyzeck." Right.

HERZOG: Yes, and "Cobra Veride" (ph). So it's five feature films that I've made. I have survived them all.

GROSS: Well, yeah, I mean, in the films that he's in of yours that I've seen, he always plays bad men of one sort or another. And I'm wondering if you felt that he had a touch of madness in him that made him especially gifted for those roles?

HERZOG: Yes, certainly, there was a high amount of hysteria inside this man. There was a blurred borderline between sanity and paranoia. I mean, the man was totally over the cliff sometimes. He was the most difficult one in the world. I think that a man like Marlon Brando was only kindergarten against him.

So Kinski would -- he was -- sometimes Kinski was the ultimate pestilence, and all the other actors in the crew would say, oh, my God, how can you do this again to make, to ask to engage him again? And I said, forget about all the hardships with him. He's somehow blessed, he has some touch of genius. There is something which makes it all worthwhile to go through it.

But at the same time I have to say we had a very deep understanding for each other. We had friendship for each other. We had a rapport, an understanding which sometimes was not even verbal; but something that does not happen very often between an actor and a director. And those moments were moments where we achieved a lot, and unforgettable images, and unforgettable moments.

GROSS: Let me ask you about your film "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," from the early '70s, which Klaus Kinski starred in as the head of a Spanish expedition to Peru. And he becomes a madman, and he keeps pushing his men forward in this expedition; forward into crossing mountains and fording rivers that they can't possibly survive.

And he just becomes more and more obsessed and mad as the expedition becomes more and more dangerous, and more and more people die. What did you tell Kinski about the character?

HERZOG: I do believe that Kinski understood the character instantly once he read the screenplay. I...

GROSS: I should say this is set in like 1560. I don't think I mentioned that.

HERZOG: Yes, it's Spanish conquistadors in search of El Dorado. And the entire army disappears without a trace in the jungle. So that's basically the story. And a madman, Kinski, grasps power -- and grabs power and leads everyone into inevitable death.

GROSS: So you're saying what you told him about the role.

HERZOG: He read the screenplay, and three days later I had a call at three in the morning that lasted until four. And I could not understand who was on the line, because there were these inarticulate screams for half an hour. And I had the feeling I should stay on the phone, and I realized it was Kinski.

And he kept screaming. Then it became a little bit more articulate that this was a figure he always wanted to play. This was the role for him. And I had the feeling the man had understood exactly what it was all about.

He had not understood, indeed, what hardship it would be to make that film, because we only had $360,000 to make this entire film; which is a $40 million project if you look at. And he had never been into the jungle. He had just not known what was expected of him.

GROSS: The last line he speaks in the film -- after he has gone completely mad and everybody is basically dead -- he says, "we will endure, I am Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Who else is with me?"

How did you come up with that last line, and what does it mean to you?

HERZOG: Well, you have to know the situation. He's on the raft with dying and dead Spaniards floating down into some void of the Amazon basin. And hundreds of little monkeys have invaded the raft. And he -- they swarm all around him, and he grabs a monkey any he talks to the monkey. And he -- mad as he is, he is planning to found the purest dynasty on Earth with his own daughter, who is actually dying.

And he talks to a monkey and he says: "I am the wrath" -- "I am Aguirre, I am the Wrath of God. Who else is with me?" -- and then tosses the monkey away.

So it is a great metaphor for -- and I can't even tell you for what. I can't even name it. But I know there's a great metaphor in the end.

GROSS: There's a wonderful camera shot -- you know, you described this last seen in which Kinski's, you know, saying, "I am Aguirre, the Wrath of God." And everyone -- the raft that he's on is just in complete shambles, and all the remaining people are either dying or they're already dead. And as you said, you know, the monkeys have invaded the raft and they're all over.

And the camera first kind of like zooms across the river to the raft, and then circles around the raft in this slow, but still kind of dizzying shot. Would you talk to me about that shot? It's really a magnificent shot. It's the shot that closes the movie.

HERZOG: Yeah, it's the most simple thing you can do. Everybody thought it was very complicated type of helicopter shot. It was actually a regular speed boat. And I maneuvered it myself, because I have a very good sense in my body how fast the camera should approach, and then circle around the raft.

The only problem is that when you slow your boat down, coming from such a speed, you create a huge wake which overtakes you. And you have to look behind you and see what is happening. And so I kept looking at the camera, and I kept looking at the wake behind me. And I hardly could see the raft.

I almost collided a couple of times with it. And I kept circling around it until we actually collided. But by then the film in the camera had run out.

GROSS: Now, in that shot, Klaus Kinski -- he's standing up, everybody else is lying down because they're all dead or dying -- and he's tilted to one side. I mean, he's not standing straight. He's all the way tilted at an angle, which just kind of emphasizes the madness that has overtaken him. What that his idea or your idea to have that tilt?

HERZOG: It's not only in the last scene. I had the feeling that Aguirre should be somehow deformed, and little bit disfigured. We thought about a hump on his back, a vicious little hump, like -- like a little piece of cancer; like a little fist in his neck. But then we made a little hump on his chest, like a chicken chest. And I wanted him to walk like a crab a little bit; a little bit sideways; a little bit spidery; a bit eerie in his kind of movement.

And I think he did it very, very well. And it is not only the final scene. You will see throughout the movie. And the more the film closes down to its final scenes, the more it becomes visible.

GROSS: There's such intensity on Kinski's face in the film, and I'm wondering how he prepared for the role, what advice you gave him for that role, and how he prepared for it to capture -- to capture the madness, the obsession?

HERZOG: There is no rule for that. I'm not into this kind of method acting like the Lee Strausberg (ph) studio. I just loathe these kind of endless talks about a character.

It went in a different way. Sometimes, for example, when Aguirre turns mad and he declares to his men that he was the Wrath of God, and he threatens them and says: everyone whoever just takes one grain of corn too much will be imprisoned for 155 years. And he says: "if I, Aguirre, want the birds to drop dead from the trees, the birds will drop dead from the trees."

So we had the text. Kinski wanted to play, to scream and throw a tantrum and have a fit of insanity. And I had the feeling it would be much much better to have it at a very low level, totally reduced, totally dangerous, almost in whispers. So I provoked Kinski with a very nasty remark, and Kinski started to scream and throw a tantrum -- so he kept screaming for one and a half hours until there was froth at his mouth.

And then he had exhausted himself. He was kind of finished and destroyed. And then I said, roll the camera -- and I said, Klaus, this is wonderful. Now, let's try and keep it very, very low in voice. Do it.

And he did it, and he did it once and that was it. And it's one of the greatest scenes I've ever seen on a screen.

GROSS: Werner Herzog will be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

Back with more of our interview with the Werner Herzog, one of the film directors who remade the German cinema after it was destroyed by World War II. His documentary, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," premieres Thursday evening on Cinemax.

Many of Herzog's films are about physical extremes and extreme states of mind. Herzog is considered to be an obsessive filmmaker. The late Klaus Kinski, who starred in Herzog's films "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," "Fitzcarraldo" and "Nosferatu," was known for his volatility and paranoia.

Now, you made two films -- well, two films that I know of with Kinski in the jungle, "Aguirre" and "Fitzcarraldo." Did you get along well in the jungle together? I mean, I imagine that making a film in the jungle -- I know that making a film in the jungle is exceptionally difficult. And I know "Fitzcarraldo" had many, many difficulties that you had to overcome. But what did that do to your relationship with Kinski?

HERZOG: Well, it was our very first relationship, even though by coincidence I lived in the same apartment with him for three months when I was 13. And I met him there. I saw a totally mad person who would destroy the whole apartment in a whim or whatever.

So I knew what was expected of me. And, of course, there were moments of great harmony and there were moments of unbelievable confrontations. And one of the worst was for no reason whatsoever Kinski threatened to leave the set 11 days before the end of shooting.

GROSS: Which film was it?

HERZOG: I'm speaking of "Aguirre: The Wrath of God" -- so my first film together with him. And he packed all his things into a speed boat and he was just about to leave. Of course, it would have destroyed the entire film. And I told him that I had somehow made up my mind months ago what would be the borderline of what could be acceptable and not.

And, of course, the film, in my opinion, was more -- had more value than his or my private feelings, and disgust, or whatever. And I said to him, if you leave the set now, you will reach the next bend of the river, and I will shoot you. You will have eight bullets through your head, and the last one is going to be from me.

So the bastard somehow realized that this wasn't a joke anymore. It was -- it wouldn't have taken me one second to deliberate, and he sensed that. And he screamed for help. He screamed for the crew to help him -- assist him against this madman -- and he meant me.

He screamed for police, but, of course, the next police station was 450 miles away. The result was that he was very docile during the last 11 days of shooting. And we finished the film.

GROSS: Do you really think you would have shot him?

HERZOG: If I try to put myself into this situation, and that was back in 1972 -- beginning of '72 -- so, 27 years ago -- yes, I think so.

GROSS: Was he angry with you? Did he think you were pushing him too hard for the movie?

HERZOG: No, no, no. It was -- it was just somehow he had forgotten his lines. And he would always look for an excuse, and he screamed that an assistant soundman had grinned at him. And I had to dismiss him on the spot. And I said: no, number one, he didn't grin. And even if he had grinned, we'd just repeat that thing and we'd take him out of your line of eyesight. That's all right.

I cannot -- and he ultimately demanded me to dismiss him right on the spot. And, of course, the entire crew would have walked out of the film if I had done such an injustice. It was his fault. It was his mistake. He just did not -- was unprepared and didn't know his lines anymore. And the moment he stopped, he would find some sort of an opponent or some reason why he had stumbled.

GROSS: So it was basically a really a large temper tantrum.

HERZOG: It was more than that. It was close to -- very close to insanity.

GROSS: Oh, OK, yeah. If you're just joining us, my guest is Werner Herzog, and his documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" premieres October 29th on Cinemax.

I want to ask you about another film that you made with Klaus Kinski, and that's "Nosferatu." And I'm glad to say -- you just told me that this film will be rereleased, probably at the beginning of 1999, which is very exciting, because it's a terrific film.

And I love this version of the vampire story. Instead of the kind of dapper Count that most Americans are familiar with through Bela Lagosi, he's a very rat-like ghoul, but one who seems very pained by his sentence of interminable life; and pained by the fact that he has to drink people's blood. But it's inevitable. He must. He has to, and he does it.

Would you talk a little bit about your vision of "Nosferatu"?

HERZOG: Well, my "Nosferatu" is based on the greatest German film ever, in my opinion at least, Murnau's silent classic "Nosferatu," which went out in 1924. And as a German filmmaker after the war, we grew up as -- not only me, but all my peers -- we grew up as a fatherless generation, as a generation of orphans.

Our fathers either had fled the country, were chased out, or they had sided with the barbarism of the Nazi regime. So we had no one to learn from, and we started to look out for our grandfathers, and that was Murnau, Fritz Lang and others.

So I just needed to connect myself with a culture, with a legitimate great culture of Germany. And that was the culture of the grandfathers, or even earlier then that. So I made this film. But, of course, it's an homage to Murnau, and has been very important for me to do that film. And I'm glad that the rights are back to me now. 20th Century Fox has distributed the film worldwide.

But in the last 10 years or so they didn't really do anything about the film. And there will be a very fine DVD edition, for example, with the English and the German version parallel on the same laserdisc; and some personally annotated comments and photos and other things. And I'm really looking forward to see this film back to life.

GROSS: My guest is film director Werner Herzog. We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is film director Warner Herzog. And his films include "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," "Fitzcarraldo," "Woyzeck." His "Nosferatu" is about to be rereleased. And his latest documentary, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," premieres October 29th on Cinemax.

You were born in 1942 and grew up in Germany at the very end of the war and in the post-war period. I'm wondering what your early memories are off the war or the post-war period?

HERZOG: I do have clear memories of that time. You have to imagine that when I was born in Munich, only two weeks later a bomb hit the house next to us. And our place was half-destroyed, and my mother discovered me, the baby, under a foot of shards of glass and debris. But I was unhurt, but my mother fled to the remotest mountain valley in Bavaria. And we got stuck there.

So by the age of 11 I had no idea what a telephone was. I had never seen movies. I had never seen a TV set. I barely had seen cars in my life. And you may not believe this, but I made my first phone call at the age of 17. But I made my first movie at the age of 19.

So that explains a little bit about my background. And, of course, I remember the hardships. And I remember that I was hungry as a child, and we had nothing to eat and things like this; which was quite all right, because I had a wonderful childhood, and I wouldn't like to miss that.

GROSS: You are very interested as a filmmaker in unusual, sometimes a surrealistic kind of landscapes, and extreme landscapes; whether it's, you know, it's the jungle or the desert or a bombed-out area. And I'm wondering if you had a lot of visual images like that kind of imprinted in you in the post-war era when Germany was so bombed out?

HERZOG: No, I belonged to those Germans who didn't have a childhood image of the post-war Germany, because in this mountain village there was no real warfare. It was just occupied by 60 Americans at the very, very end of the war. It was the last pocket when -- of unoccupied territory, when Germany shrank more and more and more. All of a sudden, this was the last remaining unoccupied square mile or whatever.

And 60 Americans moved in their jeeps, and they were totally relaxed, troops chewing gum. And I had the feeling this was all the Americans of the world. And for the first time I saw a Black man. And I was totally mesmerized by seeing him, because I had only heard about Black people in fairy tales.

And I immediately became friends with him and talked to him for hours. So what I want to say is the climate was not the climate of total destruction that Germany had witnessed. All around me it was a mountain village -- a mountain valley, remote, and just nature around. And only when I was 11, and the war was well over, I saw destroyed cities and bombed-out places. And I developed a concept of what must have happened.

GROSS: And were you frightened by that concept?

HERZOG: No, not really. It's strange, because everybody thinks that German children who grew up in the post-war time had a terrible childhood. On the contrary, nobody was frightened. All of my school friends who grew up in the cities, they were -- they were delirious about speaking of this time when they grew up in ruins and there was no -- it was pure anarchy in the best sense of the word.

There were no fathers around to tell them what to do and how to do things. It would be the masters and the kings of, let's say, a whole block that was bombed out. And it was a most wonderful playground for children.

For example, in my case, in this last days of war some soldiers had fled into this area and had hidden their weapons under the hay or in the forest. And by age four, age five, I had a working submachine gun and fired with it. And I try to hunt a crow, because I wanted to make a soup I was so hungry.

And my mother discovered that, and she was totally calm and explained to us how lethal a weapon like that could be, by just demonstrating it, by shooting one single round through a thick log of beechwood. And we were so stunned by it -- by the force and violence of such a weapon that we immediately had a clear sense of how to behave.

And it was just learning by experience. And the childhood of practically all the children who grew up in the post-war time was -- was wonderful, as strange and as paradoxical as it many sound.

GROSS: Now, you did have a father, I believe. And I think you described him as someone who was a militant atheist. And at 14 you converted to Catholicism. Was that like in reaction against your father?

HERZOG: I do not believe so, because I grew up without the presence of my father.

GROSS: Oh, I see.

HERZOG: In other words, my father was away in the war, and then he was a prisoner of war and came back a year and a half later, and then almost immediately divorced my mother. So I grew up without his presence. I wouldn't say it was a move against an overwhelming father figure. He was simply was not there. But at the age of 14 there was a time of extremely lucid moments that I had.

I had a very intensive religious urge, and I started to travel on foot. I walked are all around the country Albania, always following its borderline. That's exactly -- Kosovo, where there's all this turmoil right now. But I was only 14 and a child.

And at that time I knew and I decided that my destiny inevitably was to be a poet or be the one who had to make the images -- who had to make the films. And I (unintelligible) all this very, very clearly, knowing that it would not be an easy life.

GROSS: Now, I've read about this walk around Albania when you were a teenager. And I can't say I really understand what motivated you to do something so both extreme and in some ways pointless.

HERZOG: No, it was not pointless, certainly not at that time. And whenever I have traveled on foot -- and I've traveled very, very large distances -- it always would have a very intensive, essential reason in my life.

GROSS: Well, what was the reason with Albania?

HERZOG: It was a deep mystery. There was in the middle of Europe a white dot on the map, a country that was totally inaccessible. It was like Tibet in the '50s or '40s when nobody was allowed to do in. Visas were denied to everyone; and also some sort of heritage -- my mother's family comes from the Balkans. They were actually Croatians.

So there were deep reasons behind all these things. I can give you an example, which is easier to understand: When I wanted to marry and have children, I could have done it over the phone to propose. Or I could have written a letter and proposed. Or I could have taken a car. But I had the feeling a real man walks to his woman and proposes and asks the questions.

So I crossed the Alps and I walked about a thousand miles and knocked at the door of my future wife. And in this case I actually told her that I had come on foot because I had one question to ask. So I asked it. And I think that was the right way to do it. So there was a very existential reason for it.

GROSS: Film director Werner Herzog is my guest. And his documentary, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," is showing now on Cinemax.

You've made films about people who are blind and deaf, films about dwarves, films about extreme environments, two films set in the jungle, lots of films about people who have gone mad and are very obsessive.

I wonder if you think that interest in extremes comes from a part of your personality that is wild, or just something that is just a part of you; if it is just this natural understanding and gravitation to extremes?

HERZOG: Well, apparently it must be some part of me, and I think there is -- you observe it right -- that there is something personal about it; even though I am very cautious to look too intensively at myself. You may not believe this, but until this very day I do not even know the color of my eyes.

I do look into mirrors every single morning when I shave, but I'm looking at how I am shaving and whether I do it right. But I would not look into my eyes. I don't want to take a close look.

GROSS: Why not?

HERZOG: I don't know. I think it's a safety precaution. In other words, I'd rather die. I'd rather jump from the Golden Gate Bridge before I would go to an analyst.


GROSS: That's funny, because from someone who has such insight as a moviemaker, and who in a way studies states of mind, as a moviemaker, to be so opposed to analysts. Or to the kind of introspection that you're talking about seems almost paradoxical.

HERZOG: No, it is not paradoxical. It is the only healthy way to stay alive.

GROSS: To study other people's madness then not look at the color of your own eyes.

HERZOG: No, no, no. You're better -- it's a hysteria here in America, in particular to discover your inner self and talk about inner growth and all these stupid things. Once in a while, it is very sane -- it's almost clinically sane to take a certain distance from yourself, and to look at yourself with a certain caution; and do not step too far.

You see, what's wrong about analysts is that -- let me put it in a different way -- when you rent an apartment and you illuminate it with neon lights to its very last corner and you put light everywhere, the apartment becomes uninhabitable.

And it is the same thing when you illuminate the inner structure of a human being too intensively, that's something which is against our destiny; which is against how we're created. And it does not do good to us. And it shouldn't be like that. Human beings become uninhabitable when you do that too intensively.

GROSS: Werner Herzog, I'd love to talk more. We're out of time. It's really been a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much.

HERZOG: You're welcome.

GROSS: Werner Herzog. His documentary, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," debuts Thursday evening on Cinemax. It's about a U.S. pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam War, taken prisoner, and then escaped from the prison camp.

Coming up, Ed Ward on Black and White influences in country music.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Werner Herzog
High: Filmmaker Werner Herzog. His latest film is a documentary, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly: Escape from Laos." It is the true story of Dieter Dengler, the only U.S. pilot to have successfully escaped from a North Vietnamese-controlled prison. It debuts on the Cinemax cable Thursday October 29. Herzog's other works include the feature films "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," "Heart of Glass," "Fitzcarraldo" and "Nosferatu."
Spec: Werner Herzog; Movie Industry; "Little Dieter Needs to Fly: Escape from Laos"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Werner Herzog

Date: OCTOBER 27, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 102702NP.217
Head: Country Music: Black & White
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Too often, the African American and Scots Irish folk traditions are seen as totally separate streams which only came together when Elvis Presley joined them on a single record. In the first of a two-part series, rock historian Ed Ward shows that things were never that simple, and that Black and White music were influencing each other even before Elvis' mother was born.


ED WARD, ROCK HISTORIAN: What kind of music is this we're hearing? The answer is fairly obvious. It's so-called "old timey music"; the sort of country music which predated and gave birth to bluegrass, and disappeared in the 1930s as more modern forms emerged.

Now, what about this?


WARD: Country blues, which originated in Mississippi around the turn of the century and gave birth to a whole genre of American music.

What you couldn't have guessed, because you can't see the musicians performing these tunes, is that the first group was made up of African Americans. And the guitar player on the second piece was Frank Hutchinson, who was White and from the coal mining country of West Virginia, where Black and White miners lived together and shared poverty.

These two may be extreme examples, but they illustrate a solid point: no matter what musical segregationists might say or wish, the line between so-called Black and White musical traditions in America has always been very porous.


WARD: What's really ironic is that the banjo, played here by a noted Black national street musician, Nathan Frazier, has become identified with White country music, when the instruments origins are indisputably West African.

Played by Whites initially as part of a minstrel show in which they impersonated Blacks, it was soon taken up enthusiastically by less showbiz-oriented types. Although it's equally indisputable that many of the fiddle tunes the banjo has come to accompany are of Celtic origin, every major banjos style, until Earl Scruggs introduced the three finger roll style of picking in the 1940s, was a Black innovation.
So, of course, was the blues. But long before people looked at Eric Clapton or Johnny Winter and asked if White folks could play the blues, they were already doing it. Whites were enthusiastic purchasers of blues records from the beginning. The sales of Mamie Smith's 1921 "Crazy Blues," the first record to use the word, can't be explained any other way.

This paved the way for one of the first American superstars.


Standing on the corner
I didn't mean no harm
Along come a police
He took me by the arm

It was down in Memphis
Corner of Beale and Main
He says, "Big boy
You'll have to tell me your name."


Vinny Rogers, it can be safely said, made his career playing blues. True, the sentimental tunes he recorded sold well, too, but it's his blues numbers we hear in our heads when his name comes up. Just to confuse things further, his accompanist on "Blue Yodel Number 9," which we just heard, our Louis and Lil Armstrong.

And although it's hard to say just where Rogers' yodel came from, his records sold well enough that young Chester Burnett (ph), who traveled with Robert Johnson, said he was inspired by it to create the whoop which gave him his stage name, Howlin' Wolf.


Oh, smokestack lightning
Shining just like a (unintelligible)
Whoo Whoo
Whoo Whoo

WARD: Nor was Rogers the only country musician of the 1930s who mined the Black tradition and shaped it to his own ends.


Corin, Corrina
Where you been so long
Tell me, Corrina
Where you been so long
Ain't had no lovin'
Since you've been gone

Swing now, boys

WARD: Bob Wills, who picked cotton as a youth with Black sharecroppers in West Texas, mixed the fiddle tunes he learned from his grandfather with ideas he heard on Count Basie and Fletcher Henderson records; and with his band the Texas Playboy's, laid the rules for the music which became known as Western swing.

Note that "Corrine, Corrina," an early hit of his, is a straightforward blues and comes directly from Black sources. Everything we've heard so far was recorded before the radio became all pervasive, and before radio played phonograph records. Once that happened, things really got mixed up.

GROSS: Ed Ward currently lives in Berlin.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Ed Ward
High: Rock historian Ed Ward begins his two part series on Black and White country music.
Spec: Music Industry; Entertainment; Minorities

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Country Music: Black & White
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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