TORONTO—Werner Herzog wants to make something clear, and if you don’t pay attention, the German director is going to get cranky. Despite the title, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage, is not a remake of, sequel to, or second cousin twice removed of Abel Ferrara’s movie Bad Lieutenant, which starred Harvey Keitel.
“It has nothing to do with his film,” Herzog growled to a small table of reporters in a hotel lounge just before his movie’s North American premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. (It opens Friday [November 20] in Vancouver.) “Put this to rest! You are the media. I can talk to the waves of the ocean for the next five decades and nobody will listen. You are the ones who have to set it right. I’ve never seen the [Ferrara] film. You know now the films have nothing to do with each other.“
Herzog snapped at the reporter who dared to mention that the movies do have the same name, they are both about an ethically impaired, hallucinogenically enhanced police lieutenant, and the media kit makes a point of mentioning the similarities between the films.
Watch the trailer for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
“It is not my idea. It was the idea of one of the producers who owns the rights to the title. And it was a speculation to start a franchise. And from day one, I said: ”˜This is a mistake. It will backfire. It is wrong.’
“I tried to persuade everyone to accept a different title: Port of Call New Orleans. What we have now is a strange hybrid. I never could prevail. However, I can live with it easily. Those are things I can accept easily, because the more important thing is what do you see on the screen, and I think we have a very fine film, with a great performance and a great location and a wonderful story. And what we see is actually completely untouched by anyone. What you see is the director’s cut. And the producers were completely respectful to Cage’s and my work. So it’s easy for me to live with a mistake that one of the producers made. So what. Who cares?”
So was the movie informed by the spirit of post–Hurricane Katrina New Orleans?
Not so much.
“It didn’t inform anything,” Herzog said, “because it was meant to be shot in Detroit.” The movie only went to New Orleans for “tax purposes”. But Herzog felt that both cities have a “Gomorrah side to them”, and New Orleans’s underbelly is more appealing. “When you are in Detroit, it would only be the ugly side of evil. And what I told Nicolas on the second day of shooting was, ”˜We have to go for something—a new form of film noir. We have to go for the bliss of evil.’ ”
Another reporter attempted what sounded like an easy question: clearly, Herzog’s work is influenced by being German?
“I’m not that much German. I’m Bavarian. And my films are Bavarian, and I’ve never left Bavarian culture.”¦Port of Call New Orleans is a Bavarian film. And so is Fitzcarraldo. Fitzcarraldo—there’s only one man who could have made it besides me, and that would have been the mad king, the last mad king of Bavaria: Ludwig II, who built the dream castles, which are the role model of Disneyland.
“Let’s assume an American director would have done the film, or a director from Denmark or Finland or Taiwan. Would you have seen the iguanas?” The film has a sequence shot from an iguana’s-eye view, likely the world premiere of the iguana-cam. Before anyone could answer the rhetorical question, Herzog continued. “No, you wouldn’t. And would you have this kind of music? No. And would you have a wild performance elicited from Nicolas Cage in that way? I doubt it. It would have been different. But let’s not ride on this lame horse for too long. I’m just not a Hollywood director. Period.”
A reporter dared to suggest that there are similarities between Cage and the actor Herzog is most famous for working with, Klaus Kinski. Herzog shot that down. “There are no similarities, but Kinski was somebody whom I pushed to the brink of his possibilities. And I said to Nicolas, ”˜I’ll take you to where you have not been before.’ And he knew. He understood. And most of the time it was very easy for him, because just sensing me next to the camera, he knew he had to go to his limits. Just my sheer presence, and I would always be close; I would never sit. I didn’t have a director’s chair.”
Maybe that was because he hit a reporter with it?