22 September 2009

Go for it, losers

“It does not bespeak great wisdom to call the film The Bad Lieutenant, and I only agreed to make the film after William (Billy) Finkelstein, the screenwriter, who had seen a film of the same name from the early nineties, had given me a solemn oath that this was not a remake at all. But the film industry has its own rationale, which in this case was the speculation of some sort of franchise. I have no problem with this. Nevertheless, the pedantic branch of academia, the so called ‘film-studies,’ in its attempt to do damage to cinema, will be ecstatic to find a small reference to that earlier film here and there, though it will fail to do the same damage that academia — in the name of literary theory — has done to poetry, which it has pushed to the brink of extinction. Cinema, so far, is more robust. I call upon the theoreticians of cinema to go after this one. Go for it, losers.”
—Werner Herzog discusses Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. 

photo via


  1. ohhhhh....grrrr....bullshit.

    If we assent to the demise of poetry (which I do not), we could just as easily blame poetry itself, or creative writing programs churning out navel-gazing self-revelatory vertiginous squalor. Or.....wait...Hollywood. Yes, that's it: Michael Bay killed poetry (and perhaps he'll kill cinema as well). But no, let's blame Benjamin, and Adorno, and Derrida; they're dead; they can handle it.

    And not only is his sentiment crap, it's capitalistic bullshit crap of the sloshiest kind. He has no problem with the suits speculating with his work because he hides behind "it's just business." "Hey, someone wanna give me a franchise. Cool"

    Drives me frickin' crazy about us liberals most of the time: we sit at the bar and we watch the big capitalistic monkey walk in and wash his balls in our whiskey and we come back the next day and the monkey walks in again, and this time we throw some dirt in the whiskey. After the monkey washes his balls again in our glass and walks away we laugh and tell all our friends how great it is that the monkey's balls are now DIRTIER than they were before! We don't really want to f*ck with the monkey (is that a Peter Gabriel song?), we'd rather steal a little enjoyment (a little jouissance) at the monkey's expense and point at the monkey/film industry/academia and laugh about the things they find joy in, like obscure references.

    and yeh, that monkey joke is a paraphrase of a bar scene in Zizek's Plague of Fantasies (crap, Zizek again: I'm killing poetry. Right now. As I type, it's dying!).

  2. I thought this was just Werner showing off and having fun. He's more than a bit of huckster, but it's for his own work, so it's understandable that he'd want to throw some colorful quotes into the media stream.
    I can't speak for him, but I think Herr Herzog's comment is more about bravado and a challenge to the critics who like to geek out on Sergio Leone references in Tarantino than a slam on the notion of criticism itself. His good friend and mentor was Lotte Eisner, a film critic herself, and he dedicated a film to Roger Ebert (of all people). Perhaps it's aimed more at the superficial and lazy critics.
    (That said, I haven't ever seen him refer to Adorno, or Benjamin or Zizek, either).
    And it's maybe more about being CALLED a successor to a franchise that he's indifferent to rather than making a franchise movie.
    Poetry IS mostly dead, though. Not on an individual level, when you or Daniel or whomever cracks open a book and reads.
    But poetry doesn't occupy even a marginal place in the culture. Maybe you know people outside of grad school and who weren't English majors who read poetry, but I don't. It's devolved into a kind of knitting hobby for a ton of people, yes, readings all the time, yes, but who's buying and reading the poetry books now? Today? Poetry in the US used to matter -- even 40 years ago it mattered more, let alone before the advent of mass media, when people -- like my grandmother -- could recite poems for pleasure. People once upon a time, had to read poetry, be up on it, even if just to front or pretend to be cool -- it's even in a Mad Men episode. You had to read John O'Hara or, say, John Berryman or Robert Lowell to be with it.
    I just don't see that playing out much any more. At least, not among people that don't write poems themselves.
    I love poetry, but as far as shaping the larger culture -- no, it's not happening. Painting is in a similar place, I think, and theatre and the novel are headed there. (BTW, you know who the best-selling poet is? Bukowski. Case closed -- when he's the most popular, it's dead, Zed.
    And not to be too philistine -- and this will sound crude -- a lot of what's called poetry has been dominated by semiotic experiments, by pseudo philosophical flights, by meta reflections on meta reflections, fed by, finally, criticism that few people outside of the academic ghetto can care about. I hate saying that, because it puts me in bed with a lot of assholes and ignoramuses, but, again, the situation is analogous with much of modern painting. It deals with themes and concerns that aren't particularly vital to people outside the institutions. I mean, I'm dying here. We're all dying, every day. I get desperate for meaning. I find that in classical poetry, I find it in stuff written 2000 and 400 and 100 years ago. I find it, less reliably, but once in a very long while, in some of today's writers.
    The monkey balls bit is brilliant -- but what's the answer?
    What is to be done, as Comrade Lenin said, before setting up the gulag?

  3. ok, so putting aside whether or not poetry is indeed slouching towards extinction, I don't think literary theory has had any effect. I can't speak to the film studies-film analogy. I doubt film studies is responsible for Transformers or X-Men or whatever crap shits outta the back end of the all-consuming beast. If Tarantino is into oblique references (visual or stylistic etc.) it may or may not be playing to the film studies crowd. Shakespeare was the master of the poetic allusion; likely one reason he's so studied, plus he's brilliant. So, the references have no negative effect on his work. In fact, it may be one reason it survived--it had resonance and relevance and complexity. Herzog's best pieces share similar traits.

    As to what to do: well, as Herzog showed us in Aguirre, the monkeys are the last ones standing.

  4. You don't see poetry as having been shaped by literary theory? What about Eliot, or Pound, or Auden or even the Agrarians, for starters? They all set out a set of literary/critical principles, and sometimes even followed them. Maybe instead of "the painted word" we have "the thought-out word." The cliche then goes that since poetry is primarily taught in the shcools, that scholars tend to come down heavily in favor of works that reward an analytical approach -- so you get someone like Pound favored over Frost. Pound offers hours of happy explication, especially the Cantos which must be a minor industry, while someone like Edward Arlington Robinson or Robinson Jeffers who are more accessible get shunted to the side because they don't fit the English Department's model. And if they aren't taught, they become more difficult to discover.
    Maybe the problem is less criticism and more how the academy has taken over the arts.
    But agreed that certainly a range of killers have murdered poetry, and the critics aren't the only one with gore on their hands.

  5. sure, shaped but not dominated. I agree on the canon and the politics but those are the things (the "business") that he says he doesn't have a problem with. He has a problem with the practice of a particular version of inquiry. He repeats the "murder to dissect" cliche.