My interview with writer/filmmaker Alan Greenberg covers work with Werner Herzog and David Lynch
June 6, 2013
This week has seen me caught up on a couple of preview interviews with two little-known but talented directors. The first fellow I spoke with was writer/filmmaker Alan Greenberg (the second was Terence Nance, whose interview I will share shortly). Greenberg’s documentary on the funeral of Bob Marley, the Land of Look Behind is a luscious and contemplative work steeped in atmosphere. The most resonant images are that of the foggy mountainous land harboring small huts of Rastafarians who smoke amazingly humongous joints and offer philosophical eulogies to Marley, not to mention the land from whence they all sprouted. Besides the meandering chatter of the Jamaicans, the film’s soundtrack is also coated by interludes of luscious, droning and percussive synth music by K. Leimer while the camera slowly pans over the landscape. In the end, the giant funeral for this man becomes a festival and celebration by people who thought of him with greater regard than their own president. This documentary will convince you Marley was the king of Jamaica.
Greenberg had worked with Werner Herzog on Heart of Glass in 1976 before shooting this documentary in 1982. You can see the influence. However, Greenberg notes, Herzog was also inspired by Greenberg’s work. I spoke with him ahead of his visit this weekend to Miami Beach where he will discuss his book about working with Herzog, Every Night the Trees Disappear, published by the Chicago Review Press in May of last year. Greenberg said he considers Herzog a best friend and they remain in touch. “There were times when Werner would call me and say, ‘Alan, I stole the opening of the Land of Look Behind from you in my Gesualdo film.’ And I would look at the Gesualdo film, and he completely blew it. He did not achieve the same effect, but then you look at Land of Silence and Darkness, and you realize that’s where my influence really came to fruition because suddenly Werner was making films, not only as he’d always made films and which influenced me but now you can see it was almost a wordless documentary. There was scant narration and it was all composed in almost a musical fashion, or an oratorical fashion, and that’s how I did Land of Look Behind. I didn’t do it as a documentary. I did it as a piece of art or a piece of music.”
Greenberg will also discuss Love In Vain, his script about the Mississippi Delta blues legend of the early 20th century, Robert Johnson. He recently revised the script for a new edition, which saw release only six months ago by University of Minnesota Press as a book. But Greenberg wrote it more than 30 years ago, and it has seen prior printed editions, the first in 1983. Now he says David Lynch will direct it. He jumped the gun a bit to reveal that to me when we spoke via phone over the weekend, and Lynch was forced to release a statement that clarified, “I’m a 30 year fan of the screenplay Alan Greenberg wrote for Love In Vain. I would very much like to direct it someday. But, a number of things would have to fall in place before that would occur.”
It’s a striking notion that Lynch would direct such a film, but there’s some weirdness to Johnson, like his alleged pact with devil. Also, Lynch has been known to take true-life stories and treat them with sincere respect on the big screen, like the Elephant Man and the Straight Story. “Yeah, there are two David Lynches,” says Greenberg, “the David Lynch who did Elephant Man and the David Lynch who did Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart and Mulholland Dr. and all of those, but there’s also the David Lynch who did Elephant Man, the Straight Story, which won Oscars and was a very poignant, charming little film.”
You can read much more of my conversation with Greenberg, by jumping through the Cultist logo below, a blog run by “The Miami New Times:”
Alan Greenberg will appear at the Art Center South Florida via Books and Books Saturday, June 8, at 2:30 p.m. in Miami Beach to discuss his books and sign copies. Visit the event page for more details (that’s a hotlink).