And speaking of Werner Herzog, as I all too often do, I was, of course aware of his “Minnesota Declaration” which contains the line “Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.” It’s a good line but it had never really occurred to me to wonder why Herzog was in Minnesota or what he was doing there. Well, it appears he was at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, on April 30th 1999, speaking about “Lessons Of Darkness,” which is one of the most compelling documentaries I’ve ever seen, showing the ruined, and often burning, oil fields of Kuwait, ignited in the wake of the first Gulf War.
In that Minnesota Declaration Herzog also says, “Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures amid ancient ruins of facts.” I guess I don’t think taking pictures of ruins is exactly the worst thing in the world. In Minneapolis I walked through Mill Ruins Park on the banks of the Mississippi. The ruins belong to a flour mill that burned in 1991, having been abandoned some twenty odd years earlier: other buildings nearby are also abandoned but appear to be in fairly good shape.
Like a lot of people, I’m attracted to ruin, and I certainly enjoyed the sight of the ruined (and now carefully preserved) mill - they’ve turned it into a museum – but in fact I didn’t take any photographs of the burned out mill. It seemed too obvious. I photographed the abandoned but intact Gold Medal Flour elevators instead, but I don’t know if that would buy me anything in Mr. Herzog’s eyes.
I wonder if he would agree with W.S. Gilbert (as in “and Sullivan”) who wrote, “There’s a fascination frantic in a ruin that’s romantic”? I’m guessing probably not.