The Menhir and the Moviemaker

From a 2013 Werner Herzog interview with the magazine 032c. This has been sitting for years as an unfinished (or should I say barely begun?) post. I was taken with his description of how he was determined to work out how pre-industrial humans had managed to erect immense stone monoliths in Brittany.

Related: The film mentioned here, “Fitzcarraldo,” is the subject of a great documentary, “Burden of Dreams.”

Herzog: “Fitzcarraldo” came to me when I was in Brittany looking for a storm-tossed coastline setting for another film. I slept in cars on the trip, or broke into vacation homes with surgical instruments.

Q. With a lock pick?

Herzog: No, no, you can only use those for old-fashioned locks. For a security lock you need two fine, needle-like instruments. In any case, it was evening near Carnac as my headlights suddenly hit these menhir. There were over 4,000 menhirs, weighing up to 600 tons; they were dotted up and down the hills of the landscape. It was as if I had been struck by lightning and I slept on the edge of the menhir field. The next morning, when the tourist shop opened, I bought a brochure. It said that only extraterrestrials could have made them. I thought, what complete and utter nonsense; I will only leave this place when I know, as a Stone Age man, how I would have carried these stones across the land and erected them. Within a day I had a solution – ultimately that was the same technique used in “Fitzcarraldo” to get the boat over the mountain, with ropes and pulleys.

Q. That’s where the film came from?

Herzog:That was one part. This question completely captivated me: How can I move a thousand tons over land? Later, a friend in Peru told me about a rubber baron who had 4,000 slaves, a billionaire who drowned in a boating accident at 35. It sounded boring. The friend had almost left when he opened the door one last time and said: “Incidentally he dismantled an ocean liner into hundreds of parts and managed to travel via an isthmus to another river system, which wasn’t passable further upstream because of rapids. That’s how he was able to get a huge rubber territory for himself.” I knew then, that’s “Fitzcarraldo,” and he has to get a ship over a mountain. Overnight the entire film was there.

032c, October 22, 2013

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