Werner Herzog has constantly pushed the boundaries of cinema in wildly inventive ways, but he’s not fully sold yet on the cinematic power of virtual reality. The director spoke with The New Yorker’s Patrick House in an interview published yesterday in which he ponders the current existence and future of the medium in ways only Herzog could express.
As House notes early on, Herzog was initially apprehensive of using 3D technology but has since become one of its biggest proponents and most effective users, as evidenced in stunning documentaries like “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.” That’s not to say Herzog will eventually come around on the VR movement — he certainly seems skeptical throughout the interview — but it should be noted that Herzog may one day take to VR, which would not doubt be met with much interest among cinephiles.
For now, Herzog is treading lightly. He told The New Yorker that he had seen documentary-like VR footage of “ice floes near Greenland,” but the footage “tired him” very quickly. “What was more convincing was animated films,” he said. “Digitally created landscapes and events made a better impression on me.”
Check out some of the best highlights of the interview below, and be sure to head over to The New Yorker for House and Herzog’s complete interview.
Whether or Not He Would Call VR a “Cinematic” Experience
“No. I am convinced that this is not going to be an extension of cinema or 3-D cinema or video games. It is something new, different, and not experienced yet. The strange thing here is that normally, in the history of culture, we have new stories and narrations and then we start to develop a tool. Or we have visions of wondrous new architecture—like, let’s say, the museum in Bilbao, or the opera house in Sydney—and technology makes it possible to fulfill these dreams. So you have the content first, and then the technology follows suit. In this case, we do have a technology, but we don’t have any clear idea how to fill it with content.”
Why VR Isn’t Yet a Technology to Explore the Human Condition”
“It’s not convincing yet. Short forms that I have seen look fairly convincing and fairly good, but I do not see a real, big form of expressing the state of our existence. It happens somewhere else. It happens, for example, on the Internet, which may become more autonomous. I can only express it in the form of a question. The Prussian war theoretician Clausewitz, in Napoleonic times, famously said, “Sometimes war dreams of itself.” Does the Internet dream of itself? That’s a big question. Now let me ask the Clausewitz question about virtual reality. Does virtual reality dream of itself? Do we dream or express and articulate our dreams in virtual reality? It remains to be seen.”
The Potential Problem of Filming in VR
“It would be interesting to film the [cave in ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’] in virtual reality. However, our focus always would be at one particular place, and then we would start to turn around and try to get some kind of orientation in space. It wouldn’t be imperative, but it would be interesting to see that.”
Whether or Not VR Films Will Kill the Close-Up
“I haven’t thought about it yet. You see, it’s all completely evolving. Our understanding of our brain, of our mind, is in its infancy. We do understand there is a certain vocabulary or grammar inside our minds. When you do an fMRI and somebody reads a text in English, and a different test person reads the same text in Portuguese, the pattern that you can observe points at a grammatical structure that cannot be English but must be Portuguese. So you can discern that the person is reading an English text or a Portuguese text.” “
“It’s very, very fascinating. And when imagining an elephant, or seeing an elephant, moving from left to right on the screen, the pattern of brain scanning shows a fuzzy image of an elephant. Very, very fascinating. And the same image occurs when you read a written text: “An elephant is moving from left to right.” It creates the same sort of brain pattern that emanates from your thoughts. It’s very strange and very beautiful, and we do not know much about it.”
Herzog’s entire conversation can be read in full on The New Yorker website.