1-1: Cinema of the Pitch

DG: [00:00:14] Everybody has a favorite goal of all time. (Game montage) What a hit, I love that goal.


DG: [00:00:30] For me. It's Zidane in the final of the Champions League in 2002.


Game: [00:00:36] Welcome back, it's 16 degrees Celsius.


DG: [00:00:39] So I'm sitting in my living room. I am glued to the television set. We're watching Real Madrid against Bayer Leverkusen


Game: [00:00:44] Last chance to come up with a trophy.


DG: [00:00:49] It's the 45th minute.


Game: [00:00:52] Roberto Carlos


DG: [00:00:54] Roberto Carlos Charges down the wing for Real Madrid.


Game: [00:00:57] Good ball for Roberto Carlos.


DG: [00:00:57] He's up against the Leverkusen fullback and it doesn't look like there's any space for him to pass anyway. And yet somehow.


DG: [00:01:04] Off the top of his boot he manages to cross the ball diagonally backwards to just outside the box and who is there. Zidane is there in so much space.


Game: [00:01:16] Into the penalty area to Zidane.


DG: [00:01:22] I knew when Zidane cross the halfway line that this was going to be a goal. I couldn't quite say how it was all going to come together but I knew it was going to be a goal long before I could see how all the pieces of the move were gonna slot together.


DG: [00:01:37] And there in that singular moment they do. The ball comes to Zidane above head high and then the most exquisite athletic unbelievable balletic movement follows tracing a fantastic arc his leg raised above his head. He pirouettes and smashes the ball at the top of its trajectory.


DG: [00:02:00] It flew off his boot like a streak of white lightning. For me it was an out of body experience. I was floating on the ceiling lifted up out of my arm chair looking down on the television. As I settle back down to earth I thought.


DG: [00:02:24] Oh, Nothing much compares to this.


DG: [00:02:29] I'm David Goldblatt and this is game of our lives. A show about football, the global game. There'll be a lot more goals on this show and a lot more out of body experiences I hope because moments like the Zidane volley back in 2002 remind me that football can let you see the world through fresh eyes and not just on the pitch by the way football or soccer if you like is the most popular sport on the planet.


DG: [00:02:55] Everywhere you go it is shaped by economic and political power. Everywhere you go it's shot through with the same divisions that structure the rest of our lives. Gender ethnicity class and everywhere it shows up in a culture music literature and in film.


DG: [00:03:16] One of my favorite football movies is Zidane 21st century portrait. 17 cameras are turned on Zidane for the entirety of a game between Real Madrid and Villarreal. And then it's edited into real time 90 minute game. You get a 90 minute movie and all of it focused on Zidane.


sfx: [00:03:34] (football sounds)


DG: [00:03:39] The film was a revelation to me. Completely changed how I watch the game.


WH: [00:03:44] I think. It is mostly boring to see one single player over 90 minutes game


DG: [00:03:53] So you won't be making remaking Zidane.


WH: [00:03:56] No certainly not. (laugh)


DG: [00:03:58] That's my guest today the filmmaker Werner Herzog. And yes, maybe he hasn't seen the light on Zidane yet but he is definitely qualified to talk about Cinema. Herzog has made dozens of films of the most extraordinary range everything from the mental breakdown of the Conquistadors in the Amazonian forest to competitive cattle auctioneering in the midwest. I asked him to come on the show to talk about both film and football because as well as being an exceptional filmmaker Werner Herzog is also a huge football fan.


DG: [00:04:30] And he argues a reasonable center forward and when he watches football he sees a lot more than just the game.


DG: [00:04:37] Let me ask you about the actual televising of it I mean the way in which football looks on the television today is very very different from when both of us first encountered it. As a cinematographer, what do you make of the way in which the spectacle is staged and filmed?


WH: [00:04:57] I think there are too many cameras nowadays and it makes me confused to watch a game when the camera's switching too often. I'd like to see a wider shot of the field where you can see how, let's say, Bayern’s getting possession of the ball and how they start to organize a quick counter attack and how the entire field on a sudden is moving in.


WH: [00:05:24] And I see. I like to see with my peripheral vision what is the opponent's team doing how do they move their entire team a little bit more to the left or to the right. How do they form themselves in a, in a defensive pattern. So I, I like to see certain patterns that emerge very quickly.


DG: [00:05:48] So you don't like too many close ups?


WH: [00:05:49] I don't like close ups that much. Sometimes I like close ups when when there is a disputed moments. Was this a real foul that made the referee award a penalty? For example. And I like replays of certain moments that are interesting but replays normally give your replays off the goals, of the key fouls that injured one of the player. So I, I like to see replays of of moments that are very special they may not lead to anything, but I love to see that.


DG: [00:06:30] Tell me, you're a Bayern fan clearly. You grow up in a small village you know some way outside of Munich. Not necessarily easy as a young boy to get to the football. I wonder how did you first encounter football?


WH: [00:06:43] Basically when my family moved to Munich after 11 years of complete isolation in the most remote mountain valley. So there was no football club nothing. But the moment we were in Munich we went to the stadium and I do remember some very very remarkable moments at this small stadium of 1860 Munich which had a capacity of 22-24,000. We were very much enthralled with 1860 and they actually became champions of Germany in the mid-60s sometime.


WH: [00:07:22] And I really loved the club. It was more the proletarian sort of audience that they had. Bayern was always considered as a rich kids club, and the Munich bastard child of Hollywood. And in the 50s and sometime towards the end of the 50s there was great excitement because for the first time a Brazilian team would come, and it was FC Santos. And we somehow got tickets and got into the packed stadium in for the first time I see Brazilian football. They had all white trousers.


WH: [00:08:04] White jerseys, they were in all white. And I think eight of the players were black. Among them Pele 16 years old, and I immediately was mesmerized by this kid, Pele. And I remember him because his shirt was too short and there was a gap between his pants and his


DG: [00:08:33] And his shorts and his top.


DG: [00:08:34] Yes, and I thought he was very dark belt until I looked and looked well his his shirt was just too short. Probably in travelling this team travelling they left his shirt behind and he got a shirt from a youth player, a child from the children's team. And it was something I had never seen before or after in my life I think.


WH: [00:09:01] Santos won 9 to 1. They scored one after the other and I saw something like magic a kid, 16 years old, scoring one goal after the other and, and doing things on the field that I never thought would be possible.


DG: [00:09:20] And what did I mean everybody else, this is the first time anyone's seen a Brazilian team I imagine.


WH: [00:09:26] I believe so yes. Well, for Munich, it was the first time that a Brazilian team ever played in the stadium.


DG: [00:09:34] And was at the end of your relationship with TSV is that the point at which you then move over to buy it?


WH: [00:09:40] No it came somehow naturally because I was not a real hardcore fan of any club until today. I'm not a hardcore fan. It's kind of foreign for me this notion of being a fan of a club. I like to watch them and today German Bundesliga on my TV in Los Angeles. Well there's a bouquet of teams playing you see on a weekend two or three Bundesliga teams playing. And for me it's a little bit connection back to my own country.


DG: [00:10:18] I was really struck watching the lovely self-portrait that you filmed 20 30 years ago portrait Werner Herzog. And it begins at the Munich Beer Fest and there you are enjoying the atmosphere and you fly off in a plane at one point and you remark casually that you don't really like crowds very much. And I wonder A, is that still the case? And B, how do you feel about football crowds?


WH: [00:10:46] Well I was not specific enough. I do like crowds that have one single purpose, watching a football game and whenever, for example, I arrive in their city in England mostly London I would try to see the next big football game. And I. I would love to. Could be any team that's just playing on the weekend because I, I understand immediately the country and the people and how they their, their collective soul. And in English stadiums, it's particularly beautiful because they have these very ancient chanting.


WH: [00:11:27] And there is something about Scottish and English crowds which is and I say it with necessary caution barbaric in meaning barbaric doesn't mean like barbarism of war atrocities mean barbarism in terms of early let's say battles of Scottish tribal people against God knows whom. A form of knowing where you come from. This is my tribe in its Celtic Glascow and the other one is Glascow Rangers in there are two tribal groups meeting each other in chant chanting obscenities at each other.


WH: [00:12:09] And I've seen similar things in Peru at the National Stadium. At the time when I was there, the stadium was a misconstruction. It was way too steep. The stands were at an angle so steep that of course catastrophes happened, but it was good to see the audience. And there was a particular sort of sport for the audience. Those who had seats had straw mats to sit on it. And when one part of the audience was discontent.


WH: [00:12:43] They would fling these cushions onto the field like frisbees. And you saw, you saw them, thousands of them all of a sudden filling the air sometimes they would set them on fire and you would see for example all of a sudden part in the stands we are looking at one man and howling in delight because he would pee into a condom and then swing it over his head and toss it into the part of the stands of the opponents. And, and these kind of projectiles would go to and fro so there was a particular Latino sort of joy.


DG: [00:13:24] Scatology in this.


WH: [00:13:25] Yes, yes.


DG: [00:13:25] So doesn't the, Werner. Doesn't that make you want to get a camera out? And when you see that stuff do you not think this is something I want to film, something you want to capture? Crowds look amazing. They have a kind of collective and complex energy to them and conventional TV coverage of the crowds is incredibly poor. I just wondered if, you know, in a parallel universe if you were filming crowds what would you want to capture?


DG: [00:13:51] How would you think about going about that?


WH: [00:13:53] The collective joy in the collective tribalism in the collective chanting but again like I would not like to do a film where you only focus your cameras on crowds. In certain moments, I want to train the camera on the pitch on the field, and I see there is there something really outrageous going on and there's a penalty. Cut. And from now on I want to see the crowds for the next five minutes. You see that's there the crowd has to be in context has to be in context what is going on on the field itself.


DG: [00:14:31] The other context it seems to me you need to put crowds into is the city that they're in.


WH: [00:14:37] Sure.


DG: [00:14:37] Because there's the whole process of arriving at the stadium. There's the place of the stadium within the urban landscape. There's the process, which I find really interesting, of how stadiums fill and at what rate and at what place because before the game.


WH: [00:14:51] Yeah.


DG: [00:14:52] You know what it's like. There's two hours of you know of gathering and collecting and meeting and smoking and drinking and you seem to like filming complex landscapes both natural landscapes but also complex human landscapes. I mean again how might one I mean what's what the what's in there for the filmmaker there do you think?


WH: [00:15:10] Afterwards being in the pub after the game as part audience and the debates and the still chanting going on in the pub itself. Yeah it's a very strange and beautiful and unusual world, but of course it has very ancient roots the kind of gladiator arena and of course the audience is as much and essence as the game on the field.


WH: [00:15:41] And we have seen games where FIFA, for example, would not allow any audiences let's say for the Champions League game. Belgrade or so because the spectators in Belgrade would be utterly racist and they would throw bananas onto the field. When the wing player, a black wing player would sprint past, they would do monkey sounds and throw bananas.


WH: [00:16:12] Rightfully so. Not only should partisan Belgrade in such a case be somehow banned from for a decade, but they would ban any audience for the next game. And you see a Champions League game and their empty stands and all of a sudden. It's as if it were nothing.


DG: [00:16:32] Yeah it's meaningless.


WH: [00:16:33] It's Meaningless.


WH: [00:16:34] It becomes utterly meaningless.


DG: [00:16:36] Weirdly eerie to be able to hear the players on the pitch and to hear the shouts I mean and you can even hear you know the ball kind of being clipped suddenly really clearly. And yet as you say is completely meaningless.


WH: [00:16:49] Yeah yeah.


DG: [00:16:49] I mean there is few things more sort of melancholy I think than that moment.


WH: [00:16:54] And I.


WH: [00:16:54] I also liked it very much but I have seen it only in Lima with Cristal. I was taken to the dressing room by Gutendorf the coach and I would be with the players in the dressing room and in Peru very strange because for example one of them actually very very intimidating player, he looked like Sonny Liston, the boxer.


DG: [00:17:24] That's an intimidating prospect.


WH: [00:17:27] He looked like Sonny Liston then they called him the surgeon, the audiences, because he would deliver his opponent to the surgery room. But he was the most devoutly sunken prayer. He had erected a little altar with little statue of the Virgin and he would put candles around it in would kneel in prayer for at least half an hour before the game started.


WH: [00:17:55] The other players would psych themselves up in the strangest thing was some sort of a ritual. It may sound as if I make this up. They had a, they had a toilets. They had a restroom and showers but before the game many of the players would just lean their forehead against the wall on and pee against the wall. So shortly before they left for the field, just a minute before they left for the field at least 6 7 of them peed against the wall. So it was steaming with urine and then they left.


DG: [00:18:38] I have no problem believing that. I mean bizarrely urination.


WH: [00:18:42] I have seen it.


DG: [00:18:43] Has quite a big place in global football I mean certainly in Africa. It's an essential element of all sorts of Muti is to have a bit of urine and as you say the old condom game where you fill it up with urine. That was the standard form in England but with bottles. Anybody actually had toilets in those places and you couldn't leave the stands. And then there's the famous case of a Brazilian president of a football club back in the 50s who was convinced that if his dog peed on the players then that meant good luck so he would bring his dog into the dressing room to then pee over his players until there was a kind of strike.


DG: [00:19:24] But you know really.


WH: [00:19:26] The rituals are wonderful.


DG: [00:19:28] Ritual magic. You know...


WH: [00:19:29] You see it in Africa more than anywhere else you see it in Africa I've seen it in in Ghana. The Voodoo priest somehow performing rituals behind the goal and on the goal line. And everybody was just howling in delight and encouraging him. And it was before the game. Serious serious.


DG: [00:19:52] Sure, I mean it's a serious living tradition of magic and religious practice. I mean it's amazing that the Confederation of African Football are constantly trying to ban it and there argument of course is that it makes Africa look in inverted commas backward but I look at it and go Well John Terry has to listen to the same c.d every time he plays and put you know plasters on his left foot first and 18 other rituals so it's like.


WH: [00:20:20] And how they step onto a field with a left foot and touch the lawn with the right hand and all sorts of things that you see in English teams for example.


DG: [00:20:30] If it actually, as they often say in Africa, if actually made any difference.


DG: [00:20:35] Every game would be a draw. Right? But you know it's not a performance enhancing drug as far as I can see. It's part of you know football's got to be show and it's got to be ritual or it seems to me it's nothing. Then it just is 11 against 11 and it is just the ball in the back of the net and for it to be elevated into anything else that sort of ritual is an absolutely essential component of that.


WH: [00:20:59] It's a essence of the people


DG: [00:21:02] From a completely different perspective you came at football and lo and behold the connected world which is your movie about the Internet and along the way you meet up with the robot world cup folks who I would call envisage building robots good enough to be the best humans by 2050.


DG: [00:21:22] I mean clearly something bigger is at stake. This is about robots dealing with nuclear power disasters and a thousand other uses for them. But let's just imagine for a moment that they actually do get really good. I mean and the way technology has developed in the last 30 years there's no reason to imagine they wouldn't.


DG: [00:21:38] How would you would you feel about watching a World Cup that's robots versus people or robots versus robots are we still watching football? We still doing the same thing or have we moved into something else at that point?


WH: [00:21:50] It's hard to imagine would I enjoy it or not. I would probably marvel at the technical advances that we have made in just a few nights ago I saw on news a robot that normally when they walk, they jump they fall over they topple over. They showed a robot human shaped basically which would hop on a bench and then hop over another bench and then do a somersault backwards and not topple over. And I thought my goodness this is totally stunning and probably the prediction that you might have robotic football players is not completely farfetched.


DG: [00:22:35] But if we do I mean how do we feel about watching it? I am wondering I mean I think it is completely completely feasible but I wonder, you know, it's a bit like watching videogames isn't it?


WH: [00:22:46] Exactly, I want to see.


DG: [00:22:46] You're sort of watching the brilliance of someone else's programming.


WH: [00:22:49] Yes, but I want to see Nobby Stiles.


DG: [00:22:51] With his missing teeth?


WH: [00:22:54] His missing teeth.


DG: [00:22:54] Human imperfection.


WH: [00:22:56] Missing teeth and leaving deep plowing marks on the field and when he misses the ball and he's booed sprinting over to the stands and showing his bare ass.


DG: [00:23:09] Hahaha.


DG: [00:23:10] Werner, do you have a favorite goal? Or a moment in your footballing life that just stays with you more than any other?


WH: [00:23:19] I would have quite a few favorite goals but lets,


DG: [00:23:23] You're allowed more than one. We're generous.


WH: [00:23:28] I do remember a goal. I think by George Best. The goal area crowded by defenders. And he's something like maybe 10 meters away from the goal. And he somehow flicks his foot, and in the crowd you see two or three defenders rise, jumping up blocking it but he doesn't, he doesn't shoot. It was a trick flick and the moment they come down back on their feet he lobs the ball into the goal


DG: [00:24:00] It's so lovely.


WH: [00:24:04] Just stunning.


DG: [00:24:06] Humor, guile, elegance. All sort of combined together with also a kinda quite cheeky sense of humour. There are a few human physical moments I think that can communicate so much in such a tiny compressed moment of action.


WH: [00:24:21] Right.


DG: [00:24:22] So final question Werner. If there is if there is going to be a Werner Herzog movie.


DG: [00:24:29] What would it. What would it look like?


WH: [00:24:32] Probably Africa game that is preceded by rituals maybe even interrupted by rituals where there is entire 200 person choir singing hymns.


WH: [00:24:51] Well trained like in church. People drumming and dancing in the stands. A game that is completely out of the ordinary where you see magic on the field. It's, I want to see the 16 year old Pele back in the 50s playing in Munich again. Something like that and that was pure total magic and it's still with me.


DG: [00:25:20] Well I hope we all get the chance to see it Werner. Thank you very much for answering our questions and being with us.


WH: [00:25:26]  Thank you.


DG: [00:25:32] Hollywood are you listening? Let's get that movie made. By the way it turns out Pele was actually 19 years old in that game. But I'm sure it was still magical. Seriously though I actually saw the kind of guy in Werner's talking about a couple of years ago. I was in Lagos Nigeria the most extraordinary city most extraordinary place to go and see football. I headed out to Agege stadium, a little suburb in the north of the city, (stadium sounds) inside the stadium.


DG: [00:26:05] There's a brass band playing there Pentecostal ladies in their Sunday best in the stands and the sound of African gospel fills the air.


GE: [00:26:15] A stadium is not a burial ground, is it David?


DG: [00:26:18] That's Godwin Enakhena.


GE: [00:26:20] So that's why we have a band. That plays purely gospel tunes and people they dance to these tunes.


DG: [00:26:28] He was the director of Mountain of Fire and Miracles FC. They were the first team from Lagos to make it to the top football league in Nigeria in a decade, and they were founded by evangelical church from the suburbs. It's a pretty remarkable tale and we're going to hear about it next week.


DG: [00:26:47] In the meantime check out our website Game of our Lives dot F.M. where you'll find all sorts of extras including my five favorite football movies. If you liked game of our lives leave us a review or Apple podcast, subscribe, tell a friend. Tell your mum. This show is a production of Jetty studios. Our senior producer is the wonderful Raja Shah. Our producer and sound designer is Meradith Hoddinott. Our editors are Casey Miner and Kanishk Tharoor. Kyana Moghadam does the social media. Graelyn Brashear does the audience development. Graphic design is from Sophie Feller. Our producer Lacy Roberts helps us with everything we need. And very special thanks to the man himself who set this whole thing in motion Tony Karon. Our music is from Bang Data, and you can hear more from them at bang data dot com.


DG: [00:27:37] Our executive producer is Julie Caine and our general manager is Kaizar Campwala. I'm David Goldblatt and will be back next week.