Werner Herzog is not a great director. He doesn’t care about making things look the way he wants them to look. He wants the world to look the way it is, even if it looks cheap, or as though no-one prepared it for the camera. He’s drawn to purity. He was raised in the hills. For Herzog, people are fascinating when they behave like animals, when the natural environment ravishes niceties. He wants to film people when their survival is in question. Anything that’s not human knows only life and death. Pure existence – that’s what Herzog is after. His re-imagining of Bad Lieutenant is, he says, about “the bliss of evil”. Animal-like, the lead cop preys on crime.
In movies, there are certain things you can’t do. You can’t let dogs die. You can’t show a man’s penis. You can’t sleep. And you definitely can’t sympathise with a Nazi. In fiction, however, you can do whatever you want. Jonathan Littell’s novel The Kindly Ones proves this axiom, repeatedly. Here is one book that will never be a movie. This is not just because its hero is a Nazi, but also because he’s an incestuous, matricidal, tree-shagging Nazi…who often quotes poetry. Since the novel was originally written in French, I suppose there is a chance that The Kindly Ones could be a French movie. But even Gaspar (Irreversible) Noe would find some of it worthy of a “Sacrebleu!”
Historians reckon Robin Hood is a 16th century story. At least, the guy we know: who robs from the rich, gives to the poor, romances Maid Marion and kills bad people with a bow and arrow. I imagine Robin was pretty appealing to the average 16th century peasant…stuck in his home village, married to his homely cousin, unsure what Shakespeare was on about, or whether he was Protestant or Catholic that week. Then, as now, Robin Hood offered escapism. Our 16th century guy wasn’t bothered if Robin was real, or whether Robin spoke with a regional accent; he wanted a peasant to get one over on the rich boys. Could someone explain this to Ridley Scott?
Let’s pretend I hated this movie. A comedy about suicide bombers shouldn’t be difficult to hate. Any attempt to trivialise murder is obviously wrong. There’s also the problem, even if the comedy is successful, that the British Muslim bombers might emerge as caricatures; that the Islamic faith might be mocked; that – even if the director avoids offending victims of suicide bombing – he may grossly offend Muslims. The premise is, frankly, Hell-worthy. Still, some might argue the whole point of comedy is risk. And, contrary to doubts, Four Lions (the new suicide bomber comedy) is frighteningly funny. I, for one, won’t pretend I didn’t laugh.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously once wrote: There are no second acts in American lives. What he meant was that for him there was to be no second act. Because he was capable of shame (and he was an alcoholic). Compare his life with the life of, say…Mickey Rourke, and it becomes quite clear that there are second acts in American lives, provided a) you have no shame, and b) there’s a funny story to your initial downfall. F. Scott, poor lamb, felt guilt and shame that Tender is the Night wasn’t better. Mickey Rourke scarcely regrets making Another 9 ½ Weeks. That’s why one of them died, broken, aged 44, and the other is playing the villain, aged 58, in Iron Man 2.