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End of humanity ‘no tragedy’ – Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog has made a new film for BBC Arts about his friend, Bruce Chatwin (BBC/PA)
Werner Herzog has made a new film for BBC Arts about his friend, Bruce Chatwin (BBC/PA)

Werner Herzog has said the removal of the “fragile” human race from the planet would be “no tragedy”.

The German director has shared his unsentimental view of the value of humanity, which he believes faces many threats, including from itself.

Herzog believes that mankind, with its violent divisions and self-inflicted troubles, would not be mourned.

Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog with Bruce Chatwin’s rucksack in Nomad: In the Footsteps Of Bruce Chatwin (Claire Rawles/PA)

The director has created a new BBC film charting the nomadic life of his friend, late travel writer Bruce Chatwin, who described a life of more primal experience.

Herzog imitated the wanderings of Chatwin for his new film, but believes humanity cannot escape the traps of progressing technology, civilisation and sedentary life which threaten the species.

He said: “Changing a nomadic life into a sedentary life is one of the decisive steps in changing to our kind of civilisation, which is fraught with all kinds of problems.

“There is no tragedy in it. There is no tragedy in it if, let’s say, the human species disappears from the face of our planet.

“We are fragile and, of course, the self-inflicted damage that we are doing is not really good for our species.

“There are many other elements that could finish us off. Microbes are pretty much after us, for example.”

For Nomad: In The Footsteps Of Bruce Chatwin, Herzog travels the world to describe the ideas of his friend, who wrote about human relentlessness after his time as a journalist and cataloguer for Sotheby’s.

Werner Herzog and Bruce Chatwin (The Chatwin Archive/PA)

Herzog believes the wandering freedom enjoyed by Chatwin and the ancestors is no longer available to everyone.

He said: “There is not much space of movement left. We are too many human beings on the planet.”

On the political state of mankind in the 21st century, the director added: “Division always existed; it started with tribalism and it continued in nation states.

“The state of war has been a phenomenon … from pre-history until today.”

The director of Aguirre, The Wrath Of God and Fitzcarraldo traced the travels of his friend, who died as a result of Aids in 1989, across Patagonia, Australia, and the UK.

British Writers – Bruce Chatwin – London – 1960
Bruce Chatwin at the age of 20, with some antiques from Sotheby’s (PA)

Herzog said he and Chatwin were kindred spirits, and shared a realist view of the world – even when the writer was facing the end at his home in the south of France.

He said: “When I came to southern France there was only a skeleton left of Bruce. He said to me ‘Werner, I’m dying’.

“I said to him, almost matter of fact, ‘Yes, I can see that’.

“There was no sentimentality about all this. He was the last one who would be sentimental.

“There was a rather relentless view of the world. Unsentimental.”

Herzog said “nobody is reading any more” and people only consume the written word in “tweets and Facebook entries”.

But the film-maker hopes his Arena documentary for BBC Arts can inspire more people to read his friend’s work.

He said: “If a few more people read his books it would be wonderful and the film has achieved everything I want it to achieve.”

Nomad: In The Footsteps Of Bruce Chatwin airs on BBC Two at 9.45pm on Saturday September 21.

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