Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019) Movie Script

"In my grandmother's dining room
there was a glass-fronted cabinet,
"and in the cabinet, a piece of
"It was a small piece only,
but thick and leathery,
"with strands of coarse,
reddish hair.
"It was stuck to a card
with a rusty pin.
"On the card was some writing,
in faded black ink,
"but I was too young then to read.
" "What's that?" "
" "A piece of brontosaurus." "
"My mother knew the names of two
prehistoric animals -
"the brontosaurus and the mammoth.
"She knew it was not a mammoth.
"Mammoths came from Siberia.
"The brontosaurus, I learned,
was an animal that had drowned
"in the Flood, being too big for
Noah to ship aboard the ark.
"I pictured a shaggy,
lumbering creature,
"with claws and fangs, and a
malicious green light in its eyes.
"Sometimes, the brontosaurus
would crash through the bedroom wall
"and wake me from my sleep.
"This particular brontosaurus
had lived in Patagonia,
"a country in South America
at the far end of the world.
"Thousands of years before,
it had fallen into a glacier,
"travelled down a mountain
in a prism of blue ice,
"and arrived in perfect
condition at the bottom.
"Here, my grandmother's cousin,
"Charlie Milward, the sailor,
found it."
HERZOG:In the footsteps of Bruce
we ended up at this shipwreck
in Punta Arenas, at the southern
tip of South America.
This very wreck Chatwin
had photographed more than four
decades ago and published
it in his first book,
In Patagonia.
A few times in his life
and in my life our paths
had intersected,
and there were points,
landscapes, that we had
explored independently,
unbeknownst to each other,
sometimes with many
years in between.
This ship that never
reached its destination, was one
of these points.
Charlie Milward was captain
of a merchant ship that sank
at the entrance to
the Strait of Magellan.
He survived the wreck and settled
nearby at Punta Arenas,
where he ran a ship repairing yard.
The Charlie Milward
of my imagination was a god
among men - tall, silent and strong,
with black mutton-chop whiskers
and fierce blue eyes.
The brontosaurus went rotten
on its voyage through the Tropics
and arrived in London a putrefied
mess, which was why you saw
brontosaurus bones
in the museum, but no skin.
Fortunately, cousin Charlie
had posted a scrap
to my grandmother.
Chatwin was a writer like no other.
He would craft mythical tales
into voyages of the mind.
In this respect, we found out
we were kindred spirits,
he as a writer, I as a film-maker.
In this film here, I will follow
a similar erratic quest for
wild characters, strange dreamers,
and big ideas about the nature
of human existence.
These were the themes
Chatwin was obsessed with.
We never had the intention
to make a biographical film on Bruce
In Patagonia brims over with dozens
of wild stories, and we followed
a few of them.
Since the piece of skin
was so important for Chatwin,
we travelled with our camera
to the very cave where
it was discovered in 1895.
Chatwin came here as a pilgrim.
His book has made the cave famous.
Today, busloads of tourists seek
out the extinct denizen of the crag.
We were lucky to meet Karin
Eberhard, the great-granddaughter
of Hermann Eberhard,
who had found the remains
of the mysterious
prehistoric creature.
"Please can I have the piece
of brontosaurus?"
Never in my life have I wanted
anything as I wanted
that piece of skin.
My grandmother said
I should have it one day,
perhaps, and when she died, I said,
"Now, I can have the piece
of brontosaurus."
But my mother said, "Ha, that thing?
I'm afraid we threw that away."
It took some years
to sort the story out.
Charlie Milward's animal was not
a brontosaurus but the Mylodon,
or giant sloth.
He never found a whole specimen
or even a whole skeleton,
but some skin and bones
preserved by the cold,
dryness and salt in a cave on Last
Hope Sound in Chilean Patagonia.
Like Bruce Chatwin, we went to the
cemetery in Punta Arenas
in search of the grave
of Charlie Milward the sailor.
Later in his life,
Charles Millard became British
consul in Punta Arenas.
He built this phenomenally
ugly house for himself.
Chatwin made a pilgrimage
to the museum in La Plata in
Argentina, some 3,000 kilometres
further to the north.
Here, the big remaining
piece of the Mylodon skin
that Hermann Eberhard had kept
hanging on his tree, is on display.
Scientists established
that this specimen had died
around 10,000 years ago.
Around that time, the giant sloth
became extinct altogether.
Amazingly, some of its faeces,
the size of footballs,
were preserved almost fresh.
Chatwin himself had found some
small pieces of excrement and a few
strands of hair of the creature
back in the cave.
This is how the animal looked.
It stood almost ten-feet tall.
Bruce Chatwin had a deep
fascination for prehistory,
obviously for dinosaurs,
but more so for early branches
of human evolution, which came some
60 million years later.
He visited one of the most
famous palaeontologists,
Richard Leakey, who in Kenya
had excavated the skull of a hominid
dating 1.5 million
years back in time.
And, by sheer coincidence,
Chatwin was present in South Africa
at the very moment when the earliest
evidence of human use of fire,
about a million years
ago, was discovered.
Chatwin loved this museum.
He fell in love with this particular
extinct species of armadillos,
and to me he once made a cryptic
remark about a flying octopus
that I did not understand
until I saw it.
The little cabinet of curiosities,
of Bruce's childhood home,
does not exist any longer.
And so, you could see,
when you looked at these objects in
the cabinet,
each one of them would
have been a story for Bruce,
a kind of emblem of a place
he might want to visit,
and so you had a compass point
with all the compasses of the places
he then did visit,
a Victorian compass.
You had the fish head,
the arrow hooks from Patagonia,
from his cousin, Charlie Milward.
You had this object,
which is the only object left
in his collection in the Bodleian,
it's the one object that is
here with the notebooks,
and it has... inscription on the bottom,
which... possibly a motto for Bruce's...
Just one second here.
It has an inscription on the
"I am starting for a long journey."
This slightly potbellied
Victorian traveller.
And that could be Bruce's motto.
His life, in a sense,
is a search for the countries
from which these objects originated.
Including the piece of skin,
as you describe it.
And so, in a parody
of Jason and the Fleece,
Bruce set off for his first book
to try and find the origin
of this fur, the kind of
Golden Fleece, if you like.
It's a kind of comic version of it
on which this would be the
clothes line on which he would hang
all his stories of how he got there.
And so this Victorian cabinet
full of these objects,
and if you want to see Bruce's
journey first of all mapped out,
it's mapped out in childhood,
when he's looking up to see
the sloth skin and the compass
and the fish-hooks from Patagonia,
so each of these objects had a drama
which attracted Bruce
and which made him want to go
to the source of it.
I think one of the things...
Ended up in great books.
And ended up in great books.
I mean, one of the things,
as I was working through
in the Bodleian Library,
the notebooks - he used
to do cloud formations.
These are plants, telephone numbers,
scraps of conversation.
There's a mountain scene.
This is him going to Captain
Eberhard at he cave where the
Mylodon, the giant sloth skin
he found.
This is the end of In Patagonia.
Of course... a way,
describing certain things,
he encountered facts.
In the pedantic part
of the reviewers who blamed him
for making things up,
they were wrong.
In my opinion, they were
wrong because Bruce,
sure, he would take facts,
but he would modify them,
but he would modify them in such
a way that they would resemble
more truth than reality.
Bruce didn't tell a half-truth,
he told a truth and a half.
He embellished what was there,
to make it even truer.
There was also an attraction
from early on in Chatwin's life
for mysterious landscapes,
landscapes of his soul.
This stone, for some, radiating
paranormal energies,
forms part of a vast Neolithic
complex at Avebury in Wiltshire.
From his nearby boarding
school in Marlborough,
the young Bruce would ride his
bike here all the time.
Part of this complex
is Silbury Hill, the largest
Neolithic structure in the world.
This is where he was
somehow centred.
This was his pivot,
his mythical place of origin.
Everything is an echo of this.
So, it's crossing, because I think
the force is going that way.
Can you show us again here,
do you feel the force,
is it like electric?
No, it just crosses.
So if I went this way now,
in theory, it will cross again.
Show us again how it crosses.
It just - it's that easy,
it just settles down,
it just...
And you can see 'em wavering.Yeah.
So there, I'm fine,
nothing's happening,
but as soon as I start to walk,
they cross.
And now it's trying to go the other
way because it knows,
I think, the force
is going that way.
And what forces are they?
They're just possibly magnetic
forces that run round the world.
There's lots of them
and Wiltshire is quite prevalent.
They've got quite a lot of ley lines
running through Wiltshire,
possibly why they settled here.
Perhaps our ancestors could feel
it and that's why they moved here.
Who knows?
I can sort of visualise
him completely, here.
You know, we used to come here.
I can see him walking around.
This is Elizabeth Chatwin,
Bruce's widow.
She took us to Llanthony Priory
in Wales, a hideaway
during their early courtship.
The landscape around here became one
of the essential locations
where he would find
his inner balance.
Bruce was a nomad,
but he was always drawn back
to this place, the Black hills in
But this is a dreaming place.
I mean, these hills.
His inner landscape.
His inner landscape, yeah.
The landscape of his soul.
I think so.
Landscape of his soul, yes.
But apart from the idyllic
landscapes that gave a feeling
of home, of belonging,
Bruce Chatwin was searching
for strangeness.
He always liked my first
feature film, for this.
In it, a protagonist,
a German World War II soldier
on a reconnaissance mission,
suddenly becomes insane
when he stumbles across this valley
of 10,000 windmills.
Bruce, in our conversations,
mentioned this scene often.
He coined the term "deranged
landscape" for it.
The quest for strangeness
was recognised by others who knew
In Australia,
Petronella Vaarzon-Morel,
whom he adored, wrote in a letter to
him a quote from the poet Rilke
that sums it up.
My letter ended, "I'm reminded of
the words of Rainer Maria Rilke,
"..That at bottom the only courage
that is demanded of us,
"to have courage for the most
strange, the most singular
"and the most inexplicable
that we may encounter.
"I'm glad to have met you."
It was you who wrote that to him.
Yes. To him, yes.Uh-huh.
As Bruce was after the brontosaurus
skin, this was the skin
of MY fascination.
My quest was rather for weird
creatures of pure science fiction
that looked as if they had landed
in what today are the remains
of a Hollywood
intergalactic spacecraft.
This wreck from Star Wars
is collecting dust in Coober Pedy
in the Australian Outback.
Australia was where our paths
crossed for the first
time, in 1983.
I was preparing my film,
Where The Green Ants Dream,
and Bruce Chatwin was researching
Aboriginal songs for his book,
The Songlines.
We were both fascinated
by Aboriginal mythology.
As Bruce never recorded his
book The Songlines,
I will read the passage for him.
"On the surface of the Earth the
only features were certain hollows,
"which would one day be water holes.
"There were no animals and no
"yet clustered round the
water holes
"there were pulpy masses of matter,
lumps of primordial soup,
"soundless, sightless, un-breathing,
unawake and unsleeping,
"each containing the essence
of life or the possibility
"of becoming human.
"Beneath the Earth's crust, however,
the constellations glimmered,
"the sun shone, the moon waxed
and waned, and all the forms of life
"lay sleeping, the scarlet
of a desert pea, the iridescence
"on a butterfly's wing,
the twitching, white whiskers
"of old men kangaroo,
dormant as seeds in the desert
"that must wait for
a wandering shower."
CHATWIN: In central Australia,
I'm concerned with something
which are called the songlines,
or the dreaming tracks.
The Australian Aboriginals
have this idea that the whole
of the land is covered with song
and this is something which I find
absolutely, totally incredible,
because I think it gives one
insights as to how language, song,
thought, poetry,
came into being originally.
I have a white fella's understanding
of songline gained from literature
and conversations
with Aboriginal people.
Yes, I'm a musician,
and Bruce Chatwin, of course,
coined the term "songlines".
He didn't like the term
"dreaming tracks",
and wanted to find something,
I guess, more poetic.
Aboriginal people were,
especially in Central Australia,
were travelling across a very dry
landscape and needed a way
to navigate from A to B.
They didn't use GPS and what have
So they used mnemonics, a poetry,
a storytelling that got them
from A to B.
These look like...It's coming
apart, some notebooks
of the songlines. Is this his
attempt to draw a songline?Yes.
Can you take the next page, next to
And here...
..very, very strange...
"System of bringing knowledge", he
has here.
And delineating lines that were
formed by dreams and by song.
And for the Aborigines, of course,
it's not just song,
it's orientation in space and
The whole identity, the link
they have with the land.
A very graphic image he has.
He goes with some Aborigines
in a car and they're singing
the songlines themselves
but as the car gets faster,
they quicken the speed of the song.
They have to hurry
through the tracks.
I think Bruce never quite understood
and didn't pretend to understand
what a songline was.
When I asked him to describe it in
sounds, he tried, "Oh, it's a low,
"rather beautiful ahhh."
He said this sound which didn't
sound like anything I ever heard
again, when the Aborigines
were singing songlines to me.
Nah. I don't think that the song
created the landscape.
I think
that the landscape was created... the Al Tierra.
And the Al Tierra was born
from the those words of songs...
Mikey Liddle uses here the terming
around the language for dreamtime.
..that carried the existence
of the animal travelling
through, to create the landscape.
The animals, the trees,
growing in that landscape.
So, that's a hard one.
The egg or the chicken?
The song or the landscape?
It's a wonderful mystery
and I get great pleasure
about thinking about it.
They're magnificent songs.
They're magnificent...
..magnificent, erm...
..procedures of communication that
are performed by...
skin names...
..different categories
of the songlines.
And then they're passed over,
because that's as far as I can go.
Them people take it on now.
I know that,
and they know that.
They have to take it on from there.
I know the rest of that song,
but it's them people's
responsibility to do that.
And does a plane leave
a songline in the sky?
Our songlines are
our way of contributing to
the health of the planet.
In which way?
When our old people sing,
they reinvigorate sites.
Erm, and it invigorates
them at the same time.
Our old people had a really,
really close connection,
and still do, with the country.
And erm, look, something in me sort
of believes that...
..when the last song man or song
..passes, whether it
be in Aboriginal Australia,
whether it be in the Amazon forests,
whether it be in Africa,
Asia, wherever, something
profound's going to happen.
I don't know what that is,
but I think that our songlines
I guess kind of hold the Earth
together in a mysterious way.
We are here in the Strehlow Centre,
named after the eminent scholar
Theodor Strehlow,
who spent decades collecting
knowledge and songs of Aborigines.
This brought Bruce
Chatwin to Australia.
His monumental book, however,
contains elements of secret
knowledge meant only
for the initiated.
Even the painting on the cover
should not be seen by everyone,
and we were asked to show only part
of it and out of focus.
Now, as this book is
available for everyone,
I can read it and I can look into
knowledge that shouldn't be for me?
It was not meant for me.
Is that a problem for you?
Yes, I think it is a problem.
And it's becoming more of
an increasing problem.
Look, I guess...
..this material,
I think TGH Strehlow had some
perceptions that the
knowledge would die out.
Erm, now there's no doubt that some
elements of Aboriginal
culture have eroded.
But we are still here.
We are still singing
many of these songs.
We are still performing
ceremonies every year.
We still have a really deep
connection to country.
But they're not meant for me,
for example, not meant
for my camera?
Yeah, well, a lot of the material
in this is restricted
men's material.
It's restricted knowledge.
Erm, this document, songs in
detail, it provides you with
translations of songs.
And...Should the book be locked
Should it be hidden away?
Should it be burned?
Look, I don't think so.
Theodor Strehlow looks
here like an outdoorist man,
but growing up in Hermannsburg
in Central Australia,
as the son of a German
Protestant missionary,
he was fluent in German, English,
Aranda, Latin and ancient Greek.
With Songs Of Central Australia,
he left one Earth-shattering thought
of the most singular
books ever written.
Chatwin describes it
as "great and lonely".
It is based on his field diaries,
but connects philosophy,
ancient literature, mythologies
of seemingly unrelated cultures.
This was also Chatwin's way
of connecting the most improbable
varieties of ideas and encounters.
This became Chatwin's unique
style of storytelling.
What I remember about the person,
I don't know if this is the same
for you, he was like a kind of fiery
ball of light shedding flickering
illuminations on obscure
pieces of knowledge,
on connecting countries,
people, books, text.
I've often wondered if he was a kind
of precursor of the internet.
He offered connections.
No, he was the internet. He was the
internet.He was the internet at a
time when, technically,
it did not exist.
He was the internet.
In Alice Springs, not
far from the Strehlow Centre,
we met Peter Bartlett,
a very well-read man,
who has lived with Aborigines
since he was a young man.
He's a speaker of Warlpiri
and a fully initiated member
of this tribe.
He has read and reread
The Songlines and could, as he says,
write a thousand pages
of commentary about it.
He told us about his experience
with Aboriginal songs.
Some of these performances
that I heard when I was young,
were just so powerful.
So it was a real mystery to me
Was it more powerful than Wagner
and Verdi?
Oh, yeah, you know, men would be
screaming those songs out.
And it would be like a competition
ten football teams, you know?
And you'd have voices
that would, really supreme singers
that could put their voice
right over hundreds
of men singing intensely.
And stomp, you know,
all the percussion sounds
that they'd be making.
And you'd have these top singers
that could take their voices right
over the top.
You know, so, yeah, no,
and it would all be done
in darkness, with stars.
Peter Bartlett introduced us
to his Warlpiri mentor,
Robin Granites.
The words, I know the tune,
the tune is all right,
but it's the wording that...
There are a lot of songs, right?
But there are these words that...
Are the lyrics of the songlines
eroding, or should we rather suspect
that he does not want to reveal
everything to our camera?
What about that one I used to sing?
Maybe it's the wrong one for you?
That Ngaanyatjarra one.
This here is the mission
station in Hermannsburg.
Bruce was searching here
for something profound.
A whole world embedded
in ancient Aboriginal songs.
It does not feel right to me
how the missionaries transformed
the culture of song
into Lutheran piety.
The furnishings date back
to Theodor's father,
Carl Strehlow, the Lutheran pastor.
Everything here seems to be
frozen in time.
I was always in search
of this elusive manuscript,
which he had said he'd written,
he'd spent, himself, seven years
writing, called
The Nomadic Alternative.
Which was the key of his
theory about nomadism,
about walking, about
how walking cures you,
which you must have
talked with him about.
The library allowed us to touch it,
to read from it, look into it.
I can show it, it's for real.
It is... This is called...
You have searched for it.
I'd searched for
this for seven years.
I found it literally in
the last summer I was here.
It's called The Nomadic Alternative,
and it was the manuscript that Bruce
was commissioned to write
when he was a young...
After he'd left studying
archaeology at Edinburgh,
he was commissioned to do
this book on his theory
about walking and nomadism.
Of course, I had a similar
worldview that with nomadic
existence, with the demise
of nomadic life, city life,
sedentary life, would come in place,
meaning huge amount of human
beings, technology,
all of which is now probably working
at the destruction
of the human race.
And he was quite sure
that humanity was fragile,
that we had maybe 100,000,
a little more than 100,000
years as Homo sapiens,
but we may not have that much left,
that we might disappear like other
species have disappeared.
So, what did you think
of his theory of nomadism,
as you understood it?
I had an immediate rapport,
because in my thinking
and in my experiences on foot,
I had made exactly the same
ideas, impressions, experiences.
These here are the last nomadic
people of Tierra del Fuego,
photographed a mere 100 years ago.
Bruce Chatwin had seen these photos
while he was in Patagonia.
For him, it was clear
that we could not revert
to the times of nomadism,
but he was fascinated by the fact
that humans in East Africa,
where we originated as Homo sapiens
around 150,000 years ago,
travelled the longest distance
humans could possibly go.
From East Africa, to the Near East,
spreading to Asia and Siberia,
crossing the Bering Strait
into Alaska and, from there,
all the way down through
the Americas to the southernmost tip
of South America.
10,000 years ago,
they left their imprint in a cave
under an overhang.
Bruce Chatwin and they
had the same vista.
Is there still an echo
of their voices?
A never-ending wind
is still the same,
and so are the animals
they hunted, mostly guanacos.
The depictions of animals are lively
and fairly realistic.
But how the prehistoric nomads
looked, remains a mystery.
This here could be a dancer,
a hybrid between man and frog.
Frogs appear to have been important
totemic creatures.
The hands of these long-gone people
are the direct imprint
of their presence,
almost forensic evidence.
But the longer you look,
the more unreal,
the more mysterious, they become.
The photos, 10,000 years later,
have already become inexplicable.
This one has been interpreted
as showing a shaman who,
with his hands outstretched,
tells his people of a lunar eclipse.
This one is one of my favourites.
The painted man in the foreground
is supposed to be a spirit
among the living.
No-one today has any idea
about what is going on here.
It seems to be a ceremony
performed by naked men.
In this one, the only thing we know
is that these men are not dead.
This may be a ritual
performance of death.
What the paintings
of faces and bodies mean,
we do not know either,
but they point to a complex system
of beliefs and ceremonies.
Nomads, their bodies
and faces painted,
always fascinated Bruce Chatwin.
Even when he was only days away
from death, he wanted
to see my just-finished film
on Woodaabe tribesmen
in the southern Sahara.
Each year, they meet
in the middle of nowhere,
and the young men elaborately
adorn their faces.
They compete for beauty
in front of the women,
and showing the whites of their eyes
and their teeth is considered
the highest mark of their beauty.
These images were the last Bruce
ever saw before he lapsed
into his final coma.
All these tribal cultures
are in their last days.
Bruce wrote about
their abrupt encounters
with Western civilisation.
I'm reading now an excerpt
of Chatwin's In Patagonia
that he did not read
in his recording.
"Bernalladias relates how, on seeing
the jewelled cities of Mexico,
"the conquistadors wondered
if they had not stepped
"into the Book of Amadis,
or the fabric of a dream.
"His lines are sometimes quoted
to support the assertion
"that history aspires
to the symmetry of myth.
"A similar case
concerns Magellan's landfall
"at San Julian in 1520.
"From the ship they saw a giant
dancing naked on the shore,
"dancing and leaping and singing.
"And while singing,
throwing sand and dust on his head.
"As the white men approached,
he raised one finger to the sky,
"questioning whether
they had come from heaven.
"When led before the captain
general, he covered his nakedness
"with a cape of guanaco hide."
The faces of these tribal people
seem to betray a similar shock
of encounter with a mythical vessel.
An exact replica of Magellan's ship
sits on dry land in Punta Arenas.
But the myth lives on.
Is the ship not tossed
by raging waves?
Does a storm whip it along?
Do the ropes in the rigging
sing a siren's song in the wind?
Are these ice floes a mortal hazard
for the ship rounding the rocks
of Cape Horn?
Have the conquistadors failed
in their mission to convert
the natives to Christianity?
Or has it remained a hollow promise?
Retracing Chatwin's journey, we
cross the Beagle Channel into Chile.
This here is the Chilean customs
and immigration building
on the Isla Navarino,
the last large island
before the end of the continent.
Chatwin was in search of traces
of the nomadic people of Patagonia.
We came across a group
of archaeologists who were
digging up an ancient campsite.
This area was sporadically inhabited
by wandering tribes.
Over hundreds, maybe
thousands of years,
they left layer upon layer
of seashells,
vaguely visible here
as distinct strata.
Modern-day Navarino Island is
trying to preserve the history
of ancient nomads.
These Chilean students
are the future now.
They're marching in celebration
of the founding day
of Puerto Williams,
the only settlement on the island.
As recently as the late
19th century, people from here
were exhibited in a zoo in Paris.
They all died out through epidemics
or were killed by white settlers.
The murderers gave this photo
the title In The Field Of Honour.
Scores of Yagans, Selknams, Kaweskar
and other indigenous groups
were buried in this tribal cemetery.
This end of a civilisation
frightened Bruce Chatwin.
He wanted conversation.
He was into speech,
as if by manic compulsion.
To me, it was as if he was speaking
to push his untimely death away.
He was talking, talking, talking
at the top of the table.
And everybody laughed a lot.
No. It was nice.
It was just so sad
that he didn't live,
you know, because I can imagine
what he would still be...
I mean, he had so many books
already still in his head
that he wanted to write.
Do you hear his voice, still?
Oh, I can, yes, I can,
if you say that,
I can hear it in my head.
Yeah.His laughter.
Mmm?His laughter?
Oh, yeah. Laughter. Yeah.
His shrieks?Shrieks, yeah!
I was going to say shrieks.
Exactly. Yeah.
He loved telling jokes and he loved
telling adventures and so on.
His storytelling.
He would go to a party and walk in,
with me trailing behind,
and he would walk straight,
and then immediately
he was surrounded,
you know, like this,
with people who
wanted to talk to him.
He'd go into the house
already talking.
Erm, he was a talker.
He was interested in characters,
and in stories
and in mimicry, and in,
as you say, these shrieks were...
one wanted to bottle them, in a way
because they were both
painful and exciting,
and encouraging.
They were...
They were the essence of something.
Yes, I remember his voice
and everything when we met
in Melbourne.
Pretty much from the airport,
we started to tell
stories to each other.
And it was a marathon, literally
a marathon of two days, two nights.
Of course, we slept in between,
five, six hours.
The moment we met at breakfast,
he would continue,
I would continue.
Of course, it was hard
to squeeze in a story,
because he was nonstop.
And his way to imitate voices was...
Still in my... I remember
one story he told about
interior-of-Australian Aborigines,
a very wealthy American couple
arrives in a private plane.
The wife in high heels
takes a photo of an Aborigine
squatting on the ground, an old man.
And he, full of contempt,
spits at her feet.
And she immediately noticed
she should have asked him
for permission, and apologises,
and asks, "Can we give you a gift
"or something, maybe not money,
but something practical
"that you can use?
What can we send you?"
And the Aborigine,
without missing a beat, says...
"Four Toyota pick-up trucks."
That's how Bruce spoke.
And then he would imitate
the voice of the woman
who didn't know what to do now.
Back in Patagonia,
mountains were not Bruce's terrain.
They were mine, as I had grown up
in the mountains of Bavaria.
But his leather rucksack
would play an important role here.
He himself had walked with this
rucksack for thousands of miles.
I always drink here.
I made my feature film
Scream Of Stone
on Cerro Torre, and the protagonist,
as an homage to Bruce Chatwin,
who had died the year before,
carries it throughout the film.
At one point during production it
would acquire significance for me.
Cerro Torre is one of the
ultimate challenges for climbers.
Aside from the prohibitive rock
faces, it is the raging storms
that pose the danger.
In a way, the film, for me,
had to do with the death of Chatwin.
When I saw Bruce, there was only
a skeleton and the eyes,
glowing out of a skeleton.
And Elizabeth left and
the first thing he said,
"Werner, I'm dying."
And I looked at him and I said,
"Bruce, I can see that."
Almost matter-of-fact.
And then he said,
"I want to die now.
Help me, help me, help me.
"Can you kill me off somehow?"
And I said to him,
"Do you mean I...
"..I'm going to bash in your head
"with a baseball bat,
or do I shoot you?"
And he said, "Maybe some sort
of medicine or something?"
I said, "Why don't
you talk to Elizabeth?"
"No, I cannot talk about this.
She's so Catholic."
And, erm... my only present to him
was not a gun to shoot him,
but I showed him the film.
And he would see ten minutes of it
and then lapse into a delirium,
and then see another ten minutes
and he would...
he would all of a sudden come back
and be totally clear,
and he would shout out to me,
"I've got to be on the road again,
"I've got to be on the road again!"
And he looked at his legs,
that were only spindles,
and he says,
"But my rucksack is too heavy."
And I said,
"Bruce, I can carry your rucksack,
"I'm strong enough.
I'll come with you."
And then somehow he apparently,
after two days, when I was there,
he was embarrassed
to die in front of me,
and he said, "Can you please leave?"
And he said, "You must carry..."
Can we show it?
So, that's his rucksack.
Elizabeth, actually
going back to England,
it was in England, sent it to me.
And I have used it.
I've used it a lot.
The film carries
a mood of precariousness.
Everything can end in sudden death.
Bruce always loved my film
Fitzcarraldo, where I actually moved
a big steamboat over a mountain.
He always loved when cinema
was authentic in its purest form.
Here, it is obvious that my actor,
Stefan Glowacz,
the best freeclimber of his time,
uses no safety devices at all.
He refused everything.
No rope, no carabiners, nothing.
It's cloudy, as always.
You know that better than me.
But, you know, for me
it's incredible just to sit here
with you, you know?
It's a real pleasure.
I'm living here since when
you make the movie, in the '90s.
Yes, but I'm not the protagonist.
No, no, no, no. OK.
Protagonist is Bruce Chatwin.
His rucksack.
No, but...That's his rucksack.
The production of the film
was full of hardships
that became part of the story.
It was the storms
that troubled us most.
And after 10, 12 days'
pandemonium of storms,
we had a crystal clear light,
a completely blue sky morning.
And I said, we flew up
with the helicopter,
it would take weeks
to climb up there.
We flew up in the helicopter,
made the mistake that our reserve
rescue team did not fly first.
The helicopter dropped us
and then disappeared.
And then, weather,
an incredible storm hit us.
In a minute, my moustache was ice.
And it was 20 degrees below zero.
And maybe 200-kilometre storm.
Well, we dug a hole into the ice,
just like a barrel of wine,
and crawled in and sat there.
And we were 55 hours -
two days,
two nights and half a day,
something like that.
And it was storm, storm, white out.
I could not see you
at this distance any more.
And no sleeping bags?
Nothing. No tent, no food.
I had two little chocolate bars
that I distributed at the beginning.
But, again, it's not that...
I'm not the protagonist,
Bruce Chatwin is.No, I know...
Yeah, but you talk something about
your rucksack in that moment,
what happened?I sat on
the rucksack for all this time.
And it sheltered me,
because you lose a lot
of temperature when you sit...
On ice.On ice, yeah.
People say, "It saved your life."
No, that's nonsense, because the two
others were just sitting on ice
as well, and they did not die.
And then they tried
to come towards us.
And... That was not possible.No.
Well, they tried.
But they were taken down
by an avalanche.
And one of them snapped his finger,
and took his gloves off and threw
it in the storm, and asked for the
waiter to pay for his cappuccino.
So they had to take him down.
After 55 hours,
we saw a bit of the sky.
Our helicopter was
able to take us out.
Since then, Bruce's rucksack
is more than just a memory of him.
Both Bruce and I
explored the world on foot.
I myself, believing
in the power of walking,
have travelled on foot from Munich
to Paris as a pilgrimage
to save my mentor,
Lotte Eisner, from dying.
My diaries of this march
were published under the title
of Walking In Ice,
and Bruce often carried my book
in his rucksack.
It has a value that
you cannot describe.
Bruce always liked my dictum
when I said to him,
"The world reveals itself
to those who travel on foot."
During our first encounters
in Australia, I told Bruce
about my interest to make
a feature film based on his book,
The Viceroy of Ouidah.
A Brazilian outlaw steps
on the shores of West Africa
and becomes the biggest
slave trader of his time.
I got a call from Bruce
a year or whatever later.
And he says, "David Bowie
wants to buy the rights."
And I said, "My God,
no, no, no, not David Bowie.
"I have to do it."
And I immediately went into it.
You actually discovered,
I think, for the first time,
you discovered this, my screenplay.
This is your screenplay,
with Bruce's annotations
all over it.
Which he never sent to me!
Never did that, never sent it to me.
Here, you can see there's...
even the names have annotations.
Then, for example, here, and...
It's full of annotations!
Do you think they...
Would they have helped?
I do not know.
I have not read it.
It's the first time
I'm holding this in my life.
First time I have his
annotations to my screenplay.
I'm going to read what Bruce writes
about you, when he goes out
to watch you film it.
He describes you as
"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 one person
with whom I could have a one-to-one
"conversation, on what I would call
"'the sacramental aspect
of walking.'"
It sounds like he's treating you
as a kind of brother.
In a way, he was.
And you see, he was already so ill
that he couldn't travel
when I invited him.
"No, I cannot travel,"
and then he said, "I am doing
"a little bit better,
but I need a wheelchair."
I wrote back to him,
"Bruce, a wheelchair
"in the terrain we are filming in
is of no help.
"It's too rugged.
"But I will give you four
hammockeers and one shadow bearer."
I mean, they had these huge
umbrellas, the kings had them carry
and they would wobble
around above you.
And that was kind of
irresistible for Bruce.
He came and he was
in fairly good shape.
And he witnessed...
He was actually walking,
never used the hammocks.
He witnessed crazy moments
with 800 female warriors.
I mean, we had them for six weeks
in military training,
by an Italian stuntman.
It was complete craze!
There was a moment where
these ferocious young women,
and they're very,
very articulate and very tough,
they were paid a day late.
And there was a near riot.
And there was an incredible outburst
by them, and one of the production
guys kicked one of them.
And then, I mean, it went,
it became dangerous.
Out of the way! Attack!
Bruce mentions the incident
in his book, What Am I Doing Here?
He describes me as
"a monument of sanity, in a cast
"of nervous breakdowns."
After I had calmed
down the mayhem, Bruce writes,
"Werner, exhausted, says to me,
'This was only an arabesque.'"
Bruce describes Klaus Kinski
as a kind of adolescent
with long white hair.
And often, after Bruce died,
we would think that,
what would he be like
had he lived?
And this image of Klaus Kinski
in Cobra Verde came to mind.
That he would be a bit like that.
No! Don't let him get away!
Stop him! Hold him!
Stay back.
His wives will strangle him now.
Stay back.
Well, Kinski was
particularly difficult.
It was our last film,
where Kinski was, pretty much,
out of control
and wouldn't do certain things
and be violent.
I mean, there was physical violence
also, which is impermissible.
Not on my set.
And Bruce witnessed some of it.
Not all, because he stayed
for only two, three weeks or so.
Erm, I think he was in awe.
He was awestruck.
A raw power of emotion and vileness.
A character that only
exists in novels.
And, of course, he was absolutely
delighted that I engaged
a real king,
the king of Ndzain, with his
entire 450 people entourage,
his sedan bearers and his shadow
bearers, and they would drum
and shake in with him and
it's wonderful and Bruce said,
"That's what I had hoped to see,
once in my life."
"You made it,
and it's going to be in the film.
"This is going to be in the film."
There was another king,
a minor king of Elmina.
And he was curious about
reading Bruce's book,
The Viceroy of Ouidah,
so Bruce gave it to him,
and after three days,
the king, the other king,
came back to him and...
..he was...
..somehow moving his head
left, right and sort of looked
at him, and...
..Bruce said, "Well, then?"
And the king looked at him,
and he said, "Mr Chatwin,
"you wrote a roundabout book."
That was all he said.
And Bruce was completely
and utterly delighted.
Bruce was very ill
when he was in Ghana,
but walking and enjoying himself.
And only later, he really lapsed
into the final stage of his illness.
And he was already,
I think when I did Lohengrin,
he was still in very good shape.
With his wife,
he arrived in Bayreuth,
where I had staged Lohengrin.
He was very good looking.
There's no doubt.
And some women in New York,
who describe him as
"alarmingly handsome".
"Alarmingly handsome."
And, of course, for both sexes.
Men and women fell for him.
I, personally, and he says it,
I was close and remote.
I always kept a certain distance.
We were very comfortable with that.
I remember one woman,
who he had brief liaison with,
she said, "He was out
to seduce everything.
"It didn't matter
whether you were a man,
"a woman, an ocelot or a tea cosy.
"He wanted to seduce."
I do not care whether
somebody is bisexual,
or homosexual or whatever.
It is completely of no consequence
for me. Bruce is Bruce.
How complicated was it
for you to know that he had
relationship with men?
Not complicated.
It wasn't a problem.
I mean, you know,
because it didn't actually impinge
on our relationship.
I mean, I really didn't care.
And sometimes he brought them
to, for the weekend or something
like that,
and they were charming and...
So what?
I wouldn't dream of divorcing him.
I mean, there was no
question about that.
It was still in the early days
of Aids when Bruce Chatwin
contracted the virus.
At that time, wider
awareness of the dangers
had just started to spread.
He made a pilgrimage
to the monks of Mount Athos,
and converted to
the Greek Orthodox faith.
His ashes are buried next
to an Orthodox chapel,
on a promontory overlooking
the Aegean Sea.
I remember this place.
We used to sit here
and look out at the garden.
So this was, you know,
a very happy place
to come to.
It's very sad that Bruce isn't here.
This is, apparently,
the very last lines he ever wrote.
"Christ wore a seamless robe."
"Christ wore a seamless robe."
End of story.
End of story.
Never anything ever written again.
I mean, he dictated, to Elizabeth,
but that's the last,
last, last piece of
handwriting we have.
The book is closed.
While researching the Songlines
in Australia, Bruce already knew
he was terminally ill.
The final pages of his book carry
the mood of a journey coming
to an end.
He talks about the idea that,
when close to death,
some Aboriginal people take
a long journey back to the place
of their conception.
And that this...
This, for me, was the central
message from the Songlines.
And I think it was a message
that held a lot of value for Bruce
at that point. I think he was
looking for a way to die.
Which is what I argue
in the book, I guess,
is that, like Sartre was looking
for a right way to live,
Chatwin was looking
for a right way to die.
And I think something
about this scene spoke to him
in that way. Otherwise he wouldn't
have ended the book like that.
It looks a little bit as if
Bruce was describing the death,
the right death,
that he himself would like to die.
Can you read the last passage
of the book for us, please?
Yes, and I agree with you,
I think this is about Bruce
and his death. Yeah.
"As I wrote in my notebooks,
the mystics believe the ideal man
"shall walk himself to
a right death.
"He who has arrived goes back.
"In Aboriginal Australia,
there are specific rules
"for going back, or rather,
for singing your way
"to where you belong.
"To your conception site.
"Only then can you become,
or re-become, the ancestor.
"The concept is quite similar
to Heraclitus' mysterious dictum.
"Mortals and immortals
alive in their death, dead
"in each other's life.
"Limpy hobbled ahead.
"We followed on tiptoe.
"The sky was incandescent and
sharp shadows fell across the path.
"A trickle of water
dribbled down the cliff.
"In a clearing, there
were three hospital bedsteads
"with mesh springs
and no mattresses.
"And on them lay
the three dying men.
"They were almost skeletons.
"Their beards and hair had gone.
"One was strong enough
to lift an arm,
"another to say something.
"When they heard who Limpy was,
all three smiled, spontaneously.
"The same grin.
"Arkady folded his arms,
and watched.
"'Aren't they wonderful?'"
Marion whispered,
"putting her hand in mine
and giving it a squeeze.
"'Yes, they were all right.'"
"They knew where they were going,
smiling at death in the shade
"of a ghost gum."