Werner Herzog: The Thinking Man's James Cameron

Sanity is a relative term in the realm of Hollywood directors who generally function on a mental health continuum ranging from borderline OCD cases on the benign end to paranoid schizophrenic megalomaniacs on the deeper end.

On that far side, James Cameron has long sat as Hollywood's, raging at all within his grasp, building cruise ships and sinking them; the sort of man whom makes one constantly thankful that film directors aren't allowed to use and shoot off real tanks and bazookas and aircraft carriers and near-future laser weapons.

But while Cameron's mania is well developed version of a teenager's desire to see stuff realistically get blown up and see a cartoon characters supernatural boobs, on a more ethereal level of the spectrum, floating above Cameron, is German director Werner Herzog. Whereas Cameron is incapable of articulating his vision of a world built around things getting blown up, Herzog is a poet of obsession and devastation, who can beautifully articulate his world view, as he did in his documentary Grizzly Man describing nature as "a place of chaos, hostility, and murder."

And while Cameron is on the brink of releasing his zillion-dollar Avatar, enhanced with specially invented cameras to motion capture every pulse of a human eyelid, Herzog's world is about to be nakedly on display in his first dramatic film in years, the low-budget, exploitation-invoking Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. And while the world's press will spend the next month fawning over Cameron's auteur's journey into the world of a bunch of new gadgets, a piece in the LA Times captures the sense of a truly visionary megalomaniac at work with nothing but an equally off-kilter actor and some lizards.

The film which stars Nicholas Cage in his finest performance in a decade as an out-of-control, drug addicted cop in post-Katrina New Orleans. Audiences will have the sense, familiar from late 70's - early 80's films, of being in a film about a world out of control when at some point during the two hours it is no longer clear whether it is the just characters who are drugged out of their mind, or is it the filmmakers, or perhaps, the feeling grows on one, it may in fact be the audience ourselves, you'll wonder as you check to see if anyone has slipped something into your popcorn.

The LA Times piece reveals, however, it being a Herzog set, the director himself asked many of the same questions:

Cage's tweaker technique was so realistic, it caused the movie's director, Werner Herzog — who worked with Kinski on five films — to call into question what the Oscar winner was really putting up his nose.

"We had prop cocaine. Nicolas would sniff it, and I would ask him to shift positions," Herzog recently recalled. "From the moment I would ask him to move, he would be acting erratic. All of a sudden, I had the feeling: For God's sake, has he taken cocaine?"

Within the movie there a couple moments which have caused noted mirth and distress in early screenings when the film switches to the point of view of an iguana. While these moments stood out to many as some obvious candidates for the cutting room floor, Herzog reveals they are the very heart of his vision:

Herzog's epiphany took place at a party about midway through shooting. "Werner had had a couple of drinks," Cage said. "He said in this distraught voice, 'The iguanas are the best thing in the movie. And I must have five minutes of iguana time! And if I don't have my full five minutes of iguana time, I will never make another movie again!' "

Cameron may have his 3D, but until he can see the world as a lizard, he'll always be just a boy playing with toys.