The starting and ending point of Werner Herzog's gaze has always been the investigation of the depth of human soul. "What fascinates me the most about making films is the possibility of creating a new grammar with images, while investigating on the human conditions".
From a trip to the top of a vulcano about to erupt, to the long dialogues with Death Row inmates in American prisons, Herzog confirms his attitude as 'storyhunter', through untravelled paths, with an idea of Cinema that knows how to reach uncharted territories and unseen Worlds at its core.
"If I had lived at the beginning of last Century I probably would have been an explorer, crossing the Sahara or the Antarctic looking for the unknown", says Herzog without making a mystery of his adventurous and contstantly moving attitude, made of travels in most remote lands, which also reveals his filmmaking standard towards an interior dimension, something mysterious and enigmatic that is within the human being, his thoughts and the mechanics of his vision.
Well before entering Death Row, Herzog had pushed himself in the depth of the search for the enigma that lies in the concept of Origin: the first vision of the World, the first gaze, the origin of Man.
All Herzog films deal with this challenge of opening your eyes for the first time and see figures of which you didn't even know the existence. The beginning of Die fliegenden Ärzte von Ostafrika (1970) gains a special meaning, where a plane has to land on a strip that was never used before. If we turn the concept around, this also means that no inhabitant in that region had never seen a plane. This information is fundamental, not only for its antrophological character.
The magnificent ambition of Herzog lies right at this point, in his desire to see a gaze for the first time. This reminds us of Kaspar Hauser, his adult birth, his way to open the eyes to the World. "This film gives me an excellent chance to show a sort of first vision of things. I want to show what a tree looks like when you see it for the first time in life, as if it were the first time that you open your eyes to see how the World is made." "I have a feeling that my appearance on this Earth has been a heavy fall", says the protagonist of Kaspar Hauser - Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (1974), to demonstrate his otherness.
Hearing him talk, though, you realize that it's the opposite. It's not only about who sees, but also who is seen for the first time, and the Masai in East Africa and the Death Row inmates reproduce, in their gazing at the camera, that sense of of loss, stillness or otherwise, their confidence to the limits of manipulation towards the mechanical device of cinema. It's an experience that was even more radical in Ten Thousand Years Older (2002), where the observer and the observed faced each other for the first and the last time. In Brazil, the nomadic tribe of the Uru Eu Wau Waus lives its first dramatic contact with Western civilization, a fatal circumstance for the indigenous population, because it suddenly projects them ten thousands year forward.
A gaze that disintegrates time, enough to switch a population from their original condition to their extinction. You almost hear the words of the Miliritbi or Dayipu aboriginals in Wo die grünen Ameisen träumen (1984): "You white men are lost and do not understand Earth. Too many stupid questions. Your presence will end soon. You have no judgment, purpose, direction".
Another short-circuit, another clash that will make your eyes close. And then open them again and see for the first time.Grazia Paganelli