Ordinarily I edit out the the sound of a phone ringing during an interview, but there was something about the way Werner Herzog responded to it when it happened during our talk on November 5, 2011, that it seemed wrong not to include it. The film we were discussing was his documentary, INTO THE ABYSS, his consideration of the effect of three senseless murders had on those involved, most chillingly, on the convicted murderer who was executed eight days after being filmed by Herzog. The other convicted murderer got a life sentence, and what I termed the randomness (Herzog disagreed) of the sentencing became a jumping off point for his explanation about why he isn’t comfortable speaking directly about the criminal justice system in the United States. He was, however, forthcoming in his praise of the papal condemnation of “The Culture of Death”, and why he feels that everyone, including people he might not personally like, deserves respect.
INTO THE ABYSS is his documentary in which social, ethical, philosophical and theological issues converge in a perfect synthesis as Herzog uses the murder of a three people over a shiny red car in a small town in Texas as a study of why people kill, and the ripple effect on everyone that the crime of murder touches, including the people charged with carrying out executions in the name of the people. Herzog has been making movies for six decades including AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD, FITZCARRALDO, RESCUE DAWN, GRIZZLY MAN, and the exquisite 3-D film, CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, in which he and his camera were allowed access to newly discovered prehistoric cave art, and to the people who are studying it.