Werner Herzog hasn’t left narrative fiction films behind, but in between oddball features, cartoon voice work and otherwise engineering his own pop culture renaissance, he’s carved out a pretty compelling late-period parallel career as a documentarian, enjoying near-mainstream success with Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World, and his current 3D opus, Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
For his next non-fiction project (according to Variety), Herzog’s going to the Big House with Gazing Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life. The trade reports that the film will feature Herzog engaging in a “dialogue” with what sound like some of the most horrific criminals he could find. He found them on Death Row (the film’s original title). So many documentaries about capital punishment are politically motivated, and usually pretty anti-death penalty; what’s potentially most exciting here is seeing Herzog’s bleak worldview mapped onto the content. Prediction: not a date movie.
It’ll also be great (if not exactly “fun”) to see Herzog’s non-fiction take on the topic of murder, as the subject has been on his mind for years: in 1975 he and filmmaker Errol Morris planned to collaborate on a documentary about the Pride of Plainfield himself, Wisconsin murderer, graverobber, amateur taxidermist and probable necrophiliac Ed Gein (a documentary over which the 17-year old, true crime-obsessed me would have flipped). Morris conducted hours of interviews with Gein at the state hospital, but the project unraveled when Morris lost his nerve and stood Herzog up at Gein’s mother’s grave, which the two planned to secretly exhume to see if she was still in there. Seriously. (Herzog later returned to Plainfield to shoot portions of his 1977 cult favorite Stroszek.)
If you were going to make a spoof of a Herzog film, Gazing Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life would be a pretty perfect title for such a purpose. Alas, Herzog has snapped it up himself, but take heart - The Vast, Cold Unfeeling Void: Herzog In Space is still up for grabs. For now.