Herzog plays surprise role as L.A. booster

Helmer begs to differ with those who call L.A. culturally bereft

There are not many corners of the planet that filmmaker Werner Herzog does not have at least a passing familiarity with. His films have taken him from Ghana to Guyana, the jungles of Peru (three times) to the Patagonian Andes, the Alaskan interior to a Caribbean volcano to the far-flung wonders of Plainfield, Wis., and now outer space (his film “The Wild Blue Yonder,” which features footage shot aboard the space station, is screening at the L.A. Film Festival).

Born in Munich, Herzog finally abandoned his German home at the behest of his wife, Lena. “I’ve been working and moving wherever,” he says. The Herzogs briefly moved to San Francisco before relocating to Los Angeles, the core reactor of a power grid he would seem at defiant odds with. In his half-decade here, he has pulled actor Joaquin Phoenix from an overturned jeep and been shot during an on-camera interview for the BBC. (Let’s see Tom Cruise top that.) So it is with typical contrarian gusto that Herzog embraces civic boosterism with the zeal of the converted:

“I believe the city with the most substance in the United States is certainly Los Angeles,” he says. “And of course, you have to forget about the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, forget about the stretch limos and pyramid energy and all the crazy things here. You will find it’s a place where things get done, that has an enormous attraction to real, real talented people. Culture is being produced here, and I’m speaking way beyond Hollywood. Of course, Hollywood creates the collective dreams of humankind at the moment, but 35 minutes from where I live is the JPL mission control center, and I’m there with scientists and mathematicians. Every trend worldwide was created in Southern California — computers, the free-speech movement, acceptance of gay and lesbian people as a decent and dignified part of our civilization, the skateboarders — you just name it. Anything that’s coming along, with only one exception, and that’s Muslim fundamentalism.

“But the pleasant thing is that Hollywood doesn’t really need me, and I do not really need Hollywood either. My contacts are people who are partially in the film industry, let’s say — Ricky Jay, the magician, some writers, David Wilson of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, mathematicians, people in the oil industry, photographers. My wife is a photographer, and she runs a geophysical consulting company; she comes from Siberia originally, but loves Los Angeles like me. So it’s very pleasant to be here.”

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