Thursday, September 19, 2013

“I saw Werner once or twice after that. And he would phone me from fishing trips in Northumberland, where his brother-in-law was an Anglican parson. He was, I discovered, a compendium of contradictions: immensely tough yet vulnerable, affectionate and remote, austere and sensual, not particularly well-adjusted to the strains of everyday life but functioning efficiently under extreme conditions.

He was also the only person with whom I could have a one-to-one conversation on what I would call the sacramental aspect of walking. He and I share a belief that walking is not simply therapeutic for oneself but is a poetic activity that can cure the world of its ills. He sums up his position in a stern pronouncement: 'Walking is virtue, tourism deadly sin.' A striking example of this philosophy was his winter pilgrimage to see Lotte Eisner.

Lotte Eisner, film critic and associate of Fritz Lang in Berlin, had emigrated in the early 1930s to Paris, where she helped found the Cinémathèque. Much later, after seeing Werner's Signs of Life, she wrote to Lang in California, 'I have seen the work of a wonderful young German film-maker.' To which he replied, 'No. It is impossible.'

She was soon to become a guiding spirit of the new German cinema, giving young directors the benefit of her immense experience and, because she was Jewish, helping to re-establish continuity with a great tradition of film-making that had been shattered under Hitler.

Werner, I'm told, was her favourite. And in 1974, when he heard she was dying, he set out walking, through ice and snow, from Munich to Paris, confident that somehow he could walk away her sickness. By the time he reached her apartment she had recovered and went on to live another ten years."

Bruce Chatwin, What am I Doing Here?