“Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue,” said Werner Herzog, in one of his famous dictums. So would he see 1st Framework’s Of Walking in Ice day-long event, themed round his book of the same name, as a mixed blessing?
Our group of around twenty met at 8.30 at Kings Cross station on a Sunday morning — grateful at least for the extra hour in bed granted by the end of British Summertime — and the first leg of the day was a train journey to Welwyn Garden City. But the Herzog-themed ‘happening’ got under way properly when we set out on a seven-mile walk from Welwyn to Kimpton. This was a rather modest correlate of Herzog’s own three-week walk from Munich to Paris in 1974. After soup and cheese on arrival, there was a screening of Herzog’s film The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, a documentary about a Swiss ski-flyer (a more dangerous version of ski-jumping), followed by a performance-reading of extracts from Herzog’s book.
The film was Herzog’s most recent at the time he did his walk and Peter Avery’s adaptation of the book included the passages that clearly drew on the film, as well as some that reflected the character of our walk. In Herzog’s aesthetic, crossing the A1(M) has no less poetic truth than crossing an arable field.
In Herzog on Herzog, the director explains how he only fully responded to the shots of Steiner, and understood how to use them, after the immediate physical contact of carrying Steiner through the streets on his shoulders. Prior to taking the part of Herzog in the performance, James Livingstone had taken part in our walk. But perhaps because this fair-weather stroll paled in comparison to Herzog’s winter trek as a raw physical experience, he lacked the presence and the clipped intensity to carry the latter’s words and invest them with Herzog’s hubristic, dystopian authority. Warm, fed and aching slightly in my joints, apparently I was not the only one who nodded off for a moment or two. The small slides of Herzog’s route and the brief bursts of Tangerine Dream soundtrack did little to enhance the drama of the piece. I wondered if it might have worked better on radio.
But it was nevertheless an unusual and rewarding day. 1st Framework are running it again in three weeks, when the walk will be from Cookham to Hedgerley.
[And this is probably the best place to mention that I’ve recently reformatted and refreshed my collection of Werner Herzog web resources.]