England’s World Cup adventure begins in Brazil’s Amazon jungle at Manaus. Werner Herzog goes with them, armed with a whistle.
In 2009, the German director Werner Herzog published Conquest of the Useless, his account of the shooting of his movie Fitzcarraldo in Manaus, Brazil, and the surrounding Amazonian jungle. As a result, he was recently asked by FIFA to return to Manaus and referee the England vs. Italy game to be played there in June. What follows are excerpts from his diary as the game approaches.
– Manaus, June 7 –
I WAS IN COPPOLA’S HOUSE on Broadway when the FIFA call came through. “Werner,” a voice said, menacing, rotting with moisture, “this is Blatter. Italy v. England. Manaus. June 14, 2 a.m. kickoff to avoid the alligators that drag themselves through the dead heat of the streets at night. Haul that over a huge fucking hill and smoke it.”
The river is a monster. Or maybe Roy Hodgson is a monster. Hodgson says that the tropical nature of Manaus is the problem, but the problem this morning is the frog under my pillow and the army ants in my under- wear. When will nature come to her senses? Why did I agree to referee this game?
The humidity is directing me, attacking me from the back, like Beckenbauer. A vision has seized hold of me, the pyramid has inverted, and the mummies are tumbling around me, their swaddling cloths unraveled, desiccated, caught in the jungle canopy, waving like the banners at Wolfsberg v. Mönchengladbach.
And this is where, yet again, I diverge from Hodgson. It is not, I repeat, the tropical nature of Manaus that is the problem but the nature of nature itself, malevolent, scolding, tormenting, making wrong decisions (yes, yes, I know, there are no wrong decisions in nature), blowing its whistle when it should keep silent, showing humanity the red card for eternity. Brainless, blind, nature is the worst of referees.
Two days ago I bumped into Prandelli in the stadium shop, the air-conditioning had broken, and it was steaming like the jungle canopy after a thousand years of rain. Of course I am not supposed to speak to anyone associated with either of the teams, but he waylaid me in the jaguar-fang-amulet aisle.
“Referee Herzog,” he said, “Wouldn’t you agree that that Italy v. England is the most fascinating match you can imagine in a town like Manaus?” I nodded and hurried away. I sense that the Italians believe they have an edge because of the opera house; its history, the karma. They know, of course, that the first performance on Jan. 7, 1897, was not Evita, as my third official Kinski had foolishly imagined, but Amilcare Ponichelli’s Italian opera La Gioconda, “The Happy Woman,” which, as even a center back could guess, is about an unhappy woman. I heard a rumor that Prandelli sent Hodgson an MP3: Cecilia Bartoli singing “En- gland will be an unhappy woman.”
This morning a note from Hodgson slipped under the door of my hut: “I am the danger.”
What can he mean? Surely the river is the danger, or the primeval insects, or Rooney. Then, when I left the hut, a shimmering vision: a shiny new silver Fiat 500 suspended on the end of a crane surrounded by a swarm of butterflies. No note required. I brooded for a long time, then I sang Schubert lieder to my- self to drive away the shadows. I wondered if the Fiat was the electric version, and if so where would I charge it in this place where Internet service is less frequent than an open-play goal by Roberto Soldado?
– Manaus, June 9 –
THE GAME IS FIVE DAYS AWAY. This morning the England team visited the stadium. I happened to be there, checking the goal-line technology system. We do not want a re- peat of that awful moment in 1966 when the Russian lines- man, busy adjusting his belt, failed to see that Geoff Hurst’s shot had not crossed the line. Luckily things were better in South Africa, where the world could watch and verify that Frank Lampard’s “blast” had barely reached the penalty spot, let alone entered the net.
But I hold no grudge against England; it is nature, with its flesh-eating flowers and shamelessly sexual banana fronds, with which I cannot reconcile. So here they were, Team England, “inspecting the pitch.” Rooney led them out. In interviews he has compared the humidity in Manaus to a June night in the Yorkshire town of Barnsley. I do not know if he is joking. And if he is, what is the joke? In Barnsley too, so Kinski tells me, there are eels and blindworms, and the local population drinks heavy pints of masato and chews yuca fermented with saliva.
– Manaus, June 12 –
TODAY THE HUMIDITY IS 85%, the temperature 96, although it feels like 97. The chance of precipitation is 40%, and the wind is ENE at 6 miles per hour. The dew point is 77°F (oppressive) and the windchill factor barely registers. I am going to stay in my hut, turn on my three- speed folding personal fan, and read, for the hundredth time, the instructional handbook for referees that a local casino owner kindly provided for me. This useful slim volume not only explains offside but also includes the precise times that I am to show yellow and red cards, and to whom! How the authors could know just when Mario Balotelli will head for the dressing room is one of nature’s muggy mysteries.
– Manaus, June 14 –
TODAY IS THE DAY. I think the river is a dark brown god. Just kidding! The ecstatic truth of the game is almost upon us. Early this morning, I decided to take a boat from my hut to the opera house, and then I remembered that the Teatro Amazonas is not accessible by water, even though it was in my film. To relax his team, Prandelli brought its members to the Manaus rehearsal performance of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, while Hodgson, also looking to provide some R & R for his heat-exhausted players, flew them in single- engine planes, with stops at jungle landing strips, to the very location where I had filmed Fitzcarraldo.
Once he arrived, Hodgson held a special screening followed by a Q & A with those among the Camisea extras who are still alive. I was deeply touched when I learned of this.
Perhaps Balotelli will stay on the pitch after all.