Herzog about “Into the Abyss”

«… the amount of senselessness and the amount of nihilism of this crime. In a way, inexplicable for me. And until today, in a way, still inexplicable. You do understand, for example, a bank robbery and somebody starts to shoot and a bank clerk gets shot. It’s within our comprehension, but it’s very hard to really grasp what went on in this triple homicide. The amount of senselessness.»

«Number one, I do not do interviews. I have no questions. I do conversations but I have no catalogue of questions. And when they ask me, are you a TV journalist? I say ‘No I am a Bavarian filmmaker, I do films. But lets face it I’m not a journalist, I’m a poet.»

«I made myself quite knowledgeable about the case itself. I read the case file, which is around a thousand pages and I’ve seen crime scene videos, which you actually see in the film itself, photos, first reports from homicide detectives, listening to the tape confession of Michael Perry. So, I knew what happened in… in the real world, out there.»

«I told them in writing immediately, ‘this film is not meant to be a platform for you to prove your innocence. Are you still willing to see me?’ However, I gave them the chance to declare themselves and he proclaims his innocence. And I did not want to prove his guilt either. I’m not in the business of guilt or innocence, but for your comfort I can tell you that I have, for example, listened to the confession of Perry which is so in detail that only the perpetrator could know all the details. They’re all verified by findings at the crime scenes and what the film doesn’t even mention or show, during the subsequent murders of two teenage boys, after the mother of one of them was murdered, there was a girlfriend of one of the perpetrators along as an eye-witness. And an overwhelming amount of physical evidence. But we have to understand someone who has no defence any more and is going to be executed eight days later, talks him or herself, as a last recourse, into innocence. They possibly even believe in their innocence, because when you are ten years in solitary confinement, in a concrete cubicle these things occur, and there’s no more defence for him. It shouldn’t give you sleepless nights as to whether he was innocent or guilty, what gives me sleepless nights is that there is capital punishment. I would be an advocate of life in prison.»

«Well, what you hear in the film right at the beginning is that Perry’s father died only ten days ago, or twelve days ago. So, the father wasn’t there. He had no siblings and his mother categorically refused to be on camera. After Perry was executed I very cautiously approached her, ‘would it now, since everything is closed and your son is dead, would you like to reconsider’ and again it was no. From that moment on, of course, I would not bother the mother any more. But I had the feeling that after the execution she might like to say something of significance but there was a very laconic no and that was that.»

«…as the secondary title [A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life] suggests, all of a sudden what emerged from the footage was a kind of urgency of life, when we talk to someone who is on death row how do we see  life. It’s not only a look into them, it’s a look into ourselves. As you mentioned, the father of Jason Burkett, he talks about life, about what he’s done wrong, how we should raise our children and it’s a very compelling and convincing take on it. Either way, not only the father of Burkett, but in other cases, when I’ve spoken to death row inmates and speaking about life and children and so on it’s always, always inevitably small family values. We have a tendency to dismiss it as petit bourgeois or whatever but all of a sudden it becomes serious, small family values and absence of family cohesions, broken families, drugs, all sorts of things.»

«I do connect and I have it in me. I’m good at that. There’s no technique or anything and there’s no catalogue of questions. Can I bring it to the short formula? You can do this if you know the heart of men, then you can do it.»

«When you speak about documentaries it’s all movies for me. Many of them are feature films in disguise, they pretend to be documentaries but when you take a good luck they are not. But here, in film speaking to death row inmates you do not script, you do not invent. You do not stylise in a way that I would in other films. In other documentaries by the way.»

«I’ve always postulated a deeper stratum of truth than the mere facts. Because facts, per say, do not constitute truth. My example would be that if you are fact based, in that case the Manhattan phone directory would be the book of books. Five million entries, every single one verifiable and correct, but it doesn’t illuminate you. That’s what I’m trying, moving away from merely fact-based movies into invention, to poetry. Take your audience along with you into the imaginary, into the world of poetry and into the world of wonder and marvels. And that’s exactly what I do in Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Even at the end, who for God’s sake would have a final chapter about radioactive mutant albino crocodiles, but I do. And audiences love me for it and love the film for it.»

«It’s such a beautiful end to the film. I said to Fred Allen, the former member of the tie-down team, that you have to have the last word in the film because it’s so beautiful. It’s about life and he’s marvelling in the world since he’s quit executions, about the birds, the ducks and the humming birds… pause… ‘Why are there so many of them?’… Cut. The end of the film.
It’s like some sort of present falling in my lap as a filmmaker. It’s like the fairytale of the barefoot girl, the poor girl stepping out into the night and the stars are raining, the golden stars are raining into her apron. That’s what happens to me and it happens to me all the time, like the girl in the fairytale. I am very lucky, yes.»


«Even though an execution is a state order, killing is somehow a public event, of course they have one or two media representatives, and they have some state witnesses and the family of the victims can send some representatives and the family of the perpetrator can send family. Although, it is a semi-official public event, I think nobody should ever ever ever see an execution

«Please mind, I’m not in the business of Texas bashing or America bashing, but you have to see statistically the amount of executions is slightly declining. More and more states who would sentence you to death have a moratorium and would not kill you. So those are all good signs. Of course, when it comes to an election year, very essential questions are somehow swept to the surface. Capital punishment is one of the questions, but we have to accept it as it is. We have to understand capital punishment is not going to go away quickly. When you look at Florida, for example. It is so embedded in the mood of the electorate. I do not have any voting power in the United States. I am a German citizen and I can vote only in Germany. Of course, it is something America has to settle itself. Let me add one more thing, America is not alone. Almost all populous nations in the world are pro-capital punishment: China, Pakistan, no Russia, just Japan did it, Iran. All the real populous nations in the world have it.»

«In this case, I had the feeling he [Michael Perry] was the most dangerous person I have ever seen in my life (…) …and he looks like a kid, like a lost kid. He could be the best friend of James Dean. And he somehow touches your heart in a way. But at the same time, my instincts tell me he was the most dangerous of all of them that I’ve met. (…) I have no argument, I only have my instinct. (…) [Jason Burkett] looks intimidating, he’s big, he can be threatening, I’m fairly certain of that. But, I wouldn’t be afraid of him.»

«He denies it and that’s why the film doesn’t make any fuss over it. Although, in the car that he took possession of, he put signs on it, a big sign  “Gauge,” like 12 gauge shot gun, on one side, on one side window “AB” and on the other side window “23.” I asked him, “Mr. Burkett, does ‘AB’  signifie that you are a member of the Aryan Brotherhood and am I right in the assumption that the “23”  signifies the 23rd letter of the alphabet, ‘W,’ for White Supremacy?” He fell silent for a moment and he said, “No, no, I have no affiliation with the Aryan Brotherhood.” I left it at that and it’s not in the film. You see, he still has an appeal going on for a re-trial and the last thing I would like to do is include certain suspicions that are not very viable and would make him look very bad.»

«I do not want to judge, but you see, I have read 800 pages of the case file of all the first statements of witnesses and forensic evidence and I have read the entire transcript of the entire trial. Many hundreds of pages and more and I think, I believe, the question of innocence and guilt has been settled by a court of law properly.»



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