journalist: could you tell us about the social usage of film? what is the value of films for society?
werner herzog: who is society? i don't know. less i have kept wondering ever since i've been in contact with audiences and i've wondered what the value of films was. and i think, i dont know, it gives us some insight. it doesn't change people, i thought it would, films could cause revolutions or whatever and it does not. but films might change our perspective of things and ultimately in the long term it may be something valuable, but there's a lot of absurdity involved as well. as you see, it makes me into a clown. and that happens to everyone. just look at orson welles, look at people like (unintelligible), they have become clowns.
j: is it the film or is it the publicity involved?
wh: it's because what we do as filmmakers is immaterial. it's only a projection of light, and doing that all your life makes you a clown, and it's an almost inevitable process.
j: i would feel the same way about still photography.
wh: yes, a little bit. it comes close to it, it's illusionist work. and it's just embarrassing to be a filmmaker and just sit here like this. i mean, thank heavens i don't sit here for my own films, i'm sitting here for a film that was made for a friend of mine.
“...that, to repeat what I heard for years and years and suspect you’ve been hearing over and over, yourself, something’s meaning is nothing more or less than its function. Et cetera et cetera et cetera. Has she done the thing with the broom with you? No? What does she use now? No. What she did with me--I must have been eight, or twelve, who remembers--was to sit me down in the kitchen and take a straw broom and start furiously sweeping the floor, and she asked me which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental, in my opinion, the bristles or the handle. The bristles or the handle. And I hemmed and hawed, and she swept more and more violently, and I got nervous, and finally when I said I supposed the bristles, because you could after a fashion sweep without the handle, by just holding on to the bristles, but couldn’t sweep with just the handle, she tackled me, and knocked me out of my chair, and yelled into my ear something like, ’Aha, that’s because you want to sweep with the broom, isn’t it? It’s because of what you want the broom for, isn’t it?’ Et cetera. And that if what we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom, and she illustrated with the kitchen window, and a crowd of the domestics gathered; but that if we wanted the broom to sweep with, see for example the broken glass, sweep sweep, the bristles were the thing’s essence. No? What now, then? With pencils? No matter. Meaning as fundamentalness. Fundamentalness as use. Meaning as use. Meaning as fundamentalness.”
― David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System