Back in 1992, Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant starred Harvey Keitel as a corrupt New York cop battling his own demons as he tried crack a murder case. Almost two decades later and German director Werner Herzog has reimagined this premise with Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which stars Nicolas Cage as a drug and gambling addict investigating the killing of five immigrants in post-Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans is a 2009 American crime drama film directed by Werner Herzog and takes its title from Abel Ferrara's 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant; however, according to Herzog, the film is neither a sequel nor a remake.
The script was penned by TV writer William Finkelstein.
One major change from the original film was moving the setting from New York City to New Orleans. Herzog insists that the film is not a remake, saying, "It only has a corrupt policeman as the central character and that's about it."
At the 2009 Academy Awards, Herzog stated that he has never seen Ferrara's film, saying "I haven't seen it, so I can't compare it. It has nothing to do with it."
Herzog did not like the idea of a remake and desired to change the title of the film, but was unsuccessful. Herzog stated, "I battled against the title from the first moment on", but added, "I can live with it, I have no problem with it at all. The title is probably a mistake, but so be it."
Abel Ferrara, director of the 1992 film, has been quoted by various media outlets as being very angry about this film. After the film was first announced, Ferrara was quoted as saying "As far as remakes go, ... I wish these people die in Hell. I hope they're all in the same streetcar, and it blows up."[
When asked later for his response to Ferrara's statements, Herzog stated that he does not know who Ferrara is, saying "I've never seen a film by him. I have no idea who he is."
At a press conference at the Venice Film Festival after the film's premiere, Herzog said of Ferrara, "I would like to meet the man," and "I have a feeling that if we met and talked, over a bottle of whiskey, I should add, I think we could straighten everything out."
ON THE FILM'S TITLE AND SHOOTING IN NEW ORLEANS: It does not bespeak great wisdom to call the film The Bad Lieutenant, and I only agreed to make the film after William (Billy) Finkelstein, the screenwriter, who had seen a film of the same name from the early nineties, had given me a solemn oath that this was not a remake at all. But the film industry has its own rationale, which in this case was the speculation of starting some sort of a franchise. I have no problem with this. Nevertheless, the pedantic branch of academia, the so called "film-studies," in its attempt to do damage to cinema, will be ecstatic to find a small reference to that earlier film here and there, though it will fail to do the same damage that academia -- in the name of literary theory -- has done to poetry, which it has pushed to the brink of extinction. Cinema, so far, is more robust. I call upon the theoreticians of cinema to go after this one. Go for it, losers.
What the producers accepted was my suggestion to make the title more specific--Port of Call: New Orleans, and now the film's title combines both elements. Originally, the screenplay was written with New York as a backdrop, and again the rationale of the producers set in by moving it to New Orleans, since shooting there would mean a substantial tax benefit. It was a move I immediately welcomed. In New Orleans it was not only the levees that breeched, but it was civility itself: there was a highly visible breakdown of good citizenship and order. Looting was rampant, and quite a number of policemen did not report for duty; some of them took brand new Cadillacs from their abandoned dealerships and vanished onto dry ground in neighboring states. Less fancy cars disappeared only a few days later. This collapse of morality was matched by the neglect of the government in Washington, and it is hard to figure out whether this was just a form of stupidity or outright cynicism. I am deeply grateful that the police department in New Orleans had the magnanimity and calibre to support the shooting of the film without any reservation. They know -- as we all do -- that the overwhelming majority of their force performed in a way that deserves nothing but admiration.
ON FILM NOIR AND NICOLAS CAGE: New Orleans. This was fertile ground to stage a film noir, or rather a new form of film noir where evil was not just the most natural occurrence. It was the bliss of evil which pervades everything in this film. Nicolas Cage followed me in this regard with blind faith. We had met only once at Francis Ford Coppola's, his uncle's, winery in Napa Valley almost three decades ago when Nicolas was an adolescent, and I was about to set out for the Peruvian jungle in order to move a ship over a mountain. Now, we wondered why and how we had eluded each other ever since, why we had never worked together, and it became instantly clear that we would do this film together, or neither one of us would do it. There was an urge in both of us to join forces.
Film noir always is a consequence of the Climate of Time; it needs a growing sense of insecurity, of depression. The literature of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett is a child of the Great Depression, with film noir as its sibling. I sensed something coming in the months leading up to the making of the film: a breakdown which was so obvious in New Orleans, and half a year before finances and the economy collapsed, the signs were written on the wall. Even films like Batman turned out to be much darker than anyone expected. What finally woke me up was a banality: when attempting to lease a car I was confronted by the dealership with the unpleasant news that my credit score was abysmal, and hence I had to pay a much higher monthly rate. Why is that, I asked -- I had always paid my bills, I had never owed money to anyone. That was exactly my problem: I had never borrowed money, had hardly ever used a credit card, and my bank account was not in the red. But the system punished you for not owing money, and rewarded those who did. I realized that the entire system was sick, that this could not go well, and I instantly withdrew money I had invested in stock of Lehman Brothers while a bank manager, ecstatic, with shuddering urgency, was trying to persuade me to buy even more of it.
ON THE SCREENPLAY: As to the screenplay: it is William Finkelstein's text, but as usual during my work as a director it kept shifting, demanding its own life, and I invented new scenes such as a new beginning and a new end, the iguanas, the "dancing" soul (actually this is Finkelstein's, who plays a very convincing gangster in the film), the childhood story of pirate's treasure, and a spoon of sterling silver. I also deleted quite a number of scenes where the protagonist takes drugs, simply because I personally dislike the culture of drugs. Sometimes changes entered to everyone's surprise. To give one example: Nicolas knew that sometimes after a scene was shot I would not shut down the camera if I sensed there was more to it, a gesture, an odd laughter, or an "afterthought" from a man left alone with all the weight of a rolling camera, the lights, the sound recording, the expectant eyes of a crew upon him. I simply would not call "cut" and leave him exposed and suspended under the pressure of the moment. He, the Bad Lieutenant, after restless deeds of evil, takes refuge in a cheap hotel room, and has an unexpected encounter with the former prisoner whom he had rescued from drowning in a flooded prison tract at the beginning of the film. The young man, now a waiter delivering room service, notices there is something wrong with the Lieutenant, and offers to get him out of there. I kept the camera rolling, but nothing more came from Nicolas. "What, for Heaven's sake, could I have added," he asked. And without thinking for a second I said, "Do fish have dreams?" We shot the scene once more with this line, and it looked good and strange and dark. But it required being anchored in yet an additional scene at the very end of the film, with both men, distant in dreams leaning against the glass of a huge aquarium where sharks and rays and large fish move slowly as if they indeed were caught in the dreams of a distant and incomprehensible world.I love cinema for moments like this.
WERNER HERZOG (Director)
Academy Award-nominated German film director, screenwriter, actor and opera director Werner Herzog was born Werner H. Stipetić on 5 September 1942 in Munich. His family moved to the remote Bavarian village of Sachrang in the Chiemgau Alps after the house next to theirs was destroyed during bombing towards the close of World War II. When he was twelve, he and his family moved back to Munich.Read more
INTERVIEW WITH EDWARD R. PRESSMAN - PRODUCER
How did the idea come about to do another Bad Lieutenant?
A: The idea of revisiting Bad Lieutenant has been something I've thought about for some time. I'm very proud of the original film, and I've always found it to be a compelling character study -one that could be explored further. Bill Finkelstein's approach gave us a gritty and engaging central character, one that would do justice to the original film and appeal to a wide audience.
Why did you choose New Orleans over New York?
The idea of shooting in New Orleans appealed to everyone involved. It was Nicolas Cage who first suggested the idea and Werner responded to the elements that New Orleans' culture, scenery, and post-Katrina environment could bring to the story. The location also made sense financially because of the Louisiana tax subsidies.
How did Werner Herzog become involved?
A: We wanted this to be a director driven film. Werner is a director with a unique vision who could really put his own stamp on it. We have known one another for many years. Tom Luddy of the Telluride Film Festival, and a mutual friend, reminded me that Werner and I actually had competing projects on Cortéz about 15 years ago. I spoke to Werner's agent, David Gersh about Bad Lieutenant. Werner read the script quickly, and we met at the Chateau Marmont. He responded to the darkness of the story and the character Bill had written and wanted to make the movie with Nic Cage. In fact, Werner had also wanted Nic to play Cortéz those many years ago. We contacted Nic through CAA. He liked the script and wanted to work with Werner. It was good timing and the right project for their first collaboration.
INTERVIEW WITH NICOLAS CAGE
What was it about Bad Lieutenant which initially attracted you?
I was up for the challenge of it, the risk of it. I'm at a point now where I need to look for work that keeps me interested, keeps me excited about acting. I know Harvey [Keitel], and thought he was excellent in the first Bad Lieutenant, and felt that Abel Ferrara directed a great movie. With Werner and this script, I thought we could take the original Bad Lieutenant and make it a much more abstract film. And New Orleans itself - I have a very close connection with this city. In many ways, I was reborn here; became a philosopher here. It's the city that woke me up to the possibility of other ancient energies… and that is both a blessing and a curse. I've made four pictures here and this is my fifth. I was afraid to come back and do another movie, but when I'm afraid to do something, I know I have to do it. I have to face the fear, get over it and work through it. These are the main reasons.
And speaking of challenges, Cage had a bad back throughout the filming of Bad Lieutenant. Instead of trying to hide the fact, Cage used it for the character.
Let's be totally honest - I designed Terence. I came in with a vision, and a bad back, I was thinking of things like Richard the Third. I like to get my body into it. My mother was a dancer, so I like to use the body as part of the instrument of acting. So I saw this back injury as an opportunity to transform myself.
I was told you chose the setting for this film. Can you talk about this?
I chose New Orleans for the reasons I previously expressed, and it's a city like nowhere else in the world. We have a Bad Lieutenant in New York, and because this is a new movie entirely, Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans, let's give it a cultural twist that we haven't seen before.
New Orleans is a very potent city in my life for various reasons. It's a combination of different energies - African, French, English, Spanish - and there's a lot of magic there. I've had a lot of experiences there, and I wanted to go back there and confront it. I knew that I would channel that energy, and it could either be a disaster, or be something beautiful, so I was up for the challenge."
What was it like to make a film with Werner Herzog?
Werner had come to me in 1995 to do Cortez, and I had just come off of Leaving Las Vegas. I was being very selective about what I was going to do and not do, and when Cortez came across my desk, I didn't feel it was wise to play this dictator who was pretty horrific. A lot of actors who play Manson or Hitler, you don't see them again, and I didn't want that to happen to me. I was also much younger then. I would have a different way of looking at it now. But to get back to Werner - I grew up watching his movies, and my father and Werner are friends. My father is a huge admirer of Herzog's work, as are some of my colleagues, and they all recommended that I do it. I really like Nosferatu, Aguirre: Wrath of God and Stroszek. Those are pictures that stand out. I thought it would be good to work with him.
I'm always looking for a new way to express myself. I just did a picture in Bangkok with two Chinese brothers and an all-Thai crew, because I thought they would bring a 'new me' out. When you've acted for 30 years, you have to find new ways of reinventing yourself, and if you can't find it on your own, you have to go to strange places and see if they can find it for you. Now, I'm working with a German, a great artist, to see what his sensibilities are. What can he see in me, what can he bring out?
Bad Lieutenant is a self-generated motor. Werner knows this and we've worked well together because of this. He lets me do what I need to do, and I let him do what he needs to do.
In putting together the character Cage also decided, along with Herzog, to not use a Southern accent for the role.
Werner and I agreed we don't need it. He could have been from anywhere. He is a New Orleans cop, his identity was New Orleans, he took pride in being in the South, he said, 'We don't hit women down South,' so that's his identity, but he could have been from anywhere. Just like me." Curiously, a sinus infection in Australia also contributed to how he played McDonagh. "I was in Australia when I got the script," said Cage. "The strangest thing is that in Australia they still use cocaine to clear your sinuses, and I had a massive sinus infection. I was trying to understand how to recall something from 100 years in my past, and I couldn't get it, and then they sent me to the doctor, and he put this cocaine solution in my nose. Then I came out and just started taking notes, and I noticed that my mouth was getting really dry and I was feeling very invincible. Then I started doing the scenes, and improvising the scenes, and coming up with ideas, and swallowing a lot. Then I was graphing it in the script, finding scenes where he was doing coke, and figured out how to behave - to start swallowing a lot or do a lot of lip smacking. Or scenes where he'd be doing heroin, and I figured he'd be very itchy, and there's going to be nodding and he's going to be much slower. The problem is, I didn't know when Werner was going to cut the scene with me taking the heroin, or the scene with me taking the coke, so we'd have to re-graph the whole direction of the performance.
Cage described his role in Bad Lieutenant as being 'impressionistic', and his Leaving Las Vegas role as 'photorealistic'.
A lot of people like to say things like "over-the-top", but you can't say that about other art forms, such as a Picasso, or a Van Gogh, but why can't it be the same with acting? In Leaving Las Vegas, I had a couple of drinks. I wanted to. I had prescribed scenes where I decided I would get drunk, and anything goes. And I'm glad I did it. But with Bad Lieutenant, I say that this is Impressionistic, because I was totally sober, and I was looking at a landscape from over 20 years ago, and I wasn't sure I could do it. It was a challenge. But I believe that the filter of my instrument would give you something more exciting because it was Impressionistic.
Working in independent films versus big studio productions and the direction of his career.
I have been blessed to be able to be eclectic, and I thankful for that," "As I got older, with my work I became aware of the responsibility of film, and I feel one of the best ways I can apply myself as an actor is to go beyond movie stardom and celebrity. These movies, these so called 'popcorn' movies, or family movies, actually provide something quite beautiful and something quite necessary, which is a family bonding experience. So God bless the popcorn film, especially movies where you can take the kids, because I remember looking forward to seeing these movies with my parents, and if I can give that back, I'm gonna do it. I don't care if people have criticism for it or not. I think it's a good thing. And I still have interest in the midnight audience. I want to make movies for my roots, the people who like to go see Bad Lieutenant at midnight or Vampire's Kiss or Bringing Out the Dead or Wild At Heart, so I'm going to keep doing a little bit of everything.
Interview with Peter Zeitlinger - Director of Photography
You've worked with Werner for over twelve years on a wide array of motion pictures. How does Bad Lieutenant compare?
This is Werner's first movie shot in a large American city. It was an altogether different experience. This was also the first time we've worked with such sophisticated equipment. I'm used to working with larger crews, but Werner isn't, and this created several challenges for the two of us. We've never worked a "Hollywood" movie together and the workflow structure was a little foreign.
What is your photographic approach to this film?
I needed to create a realistic look and environment for Werner, with the lighting and other elements, without distracting him - so he could concentrate on creating the scene with the actors. We shot without rehearsals and without marks, and the camera would constantly see in 360 degrees, so the spaces could not have any visible equipment. Everything had to appear as if Werner and the actors were not on a set. Thankfully we had a lot of very big, powerful lights to make this work. I wanted to make the film look like film noir, and with a script set almost entirely during daylight hours, this was definitely a challenge.
Tell me about your experience filming in New Orleans.
New Orleans is a wonderful town… very beautiful locations. The people of the city are great and the local crew is very knowledgeable and professional.
Interview with Toby Corbett - Production Designer
Tell me what it has been like to design a production for Werner Herzog.
Werner Herzog was a major influence in my early years. I see his approach as being very documentarian, as opposed to my more narrative background. Herzog is used to creating a look through the reality he creates, and I found myself responsible for enhancing his environments, understanding that the design on this film was to help define the characters and the locale.
What was your visual approach to designing the look for Bad Lieutenant?
Filming in New Orleans allowed for a lot of freedom. The traits of Cage's character have several parallels with certain aspects of New Orleans - the disaster, the suffering, the depravity. There are several design motifs that run constant in the film, most notably water and religion. My set decorator, Leonard Spears, and I have put religious iconography in the picture for character accompaniment, and as an homage. New Orleans is also a very Catholic city and I think this was a good contrast for Nic's character.
What challenges did you meet?
Werner doesn't like to discuss production design. I found that he responds to the environments that I create. This left me with a lot of creative freedom, but it also posed quite a few tough challenges.
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