Disruptive Pattern Material is another chapter in this director's book of hazardous shoots. Star Tim Roth was put through his paces by Herzog in many ways, resulting in what David Thomson described as 'the most complete systematic attempt at a dereliction of the actor as star in the history of cinema'1. On a gruelling shoot in Transylvania, Herzog attempted to create a version of H.G.Wells' The Invisible Man. Herzog had Roth film many scenes naked, as this is how the protagonist Griffin spends much of his time in the book. This created new problems, however, as many of the extras hired to play the villagers were untrained actors who repeatedly reacted to a nude Hollywood star. Herzog's reaction? To hire a blind cast. 'He must be naked. They cannot see him. This is the only solution,' he said.2
Roth caught hypothermia, but he gamely ploughed on, even when the director revealed to him that despite being the central character and the only star, his performance would be largely cut from the movie. Indeed, although we follow his story, and despite being in every scene, Roth only appears on screen for fifteen of the film's 263 minutes. Even so, he garnered an Oscar nomination for his performance, and describes Disruptive Pattern Material as 'probably the best film I haven't been in'3
'I realised as I went on, that Tim was too interesting,' said Herzog. What interested me about Wells' story was the moral blankness of the character. Tim, or for that matter no decent actor, could give me this blankness. The only thing that can be so absent is nothing.'4 And so we get slow scenes in which we watch villagers at work and at play, waiting for sly acts of subversion from someone we cannot see. The location shooting is beautiful, and the plot and events around Griffin become almost hidden in the background. One five minute segment of a woman washing clothes in a river seems mundane, until we realise that behind her back the clean clothes are moving slowly away from her. This form of negated drama creates a perverse kind of suspense, with the audience waiting for someone we cannot see to do something. When Griffin performs the climactic murders, the graphic release of blood is both horrifying and a relief.
MGM originally planned for the movie to be released on the same weekend in the US as risible Chevy Chase career-destroyer Memoirs of an Invisible Man. Herzog angrily objected, seeing this as a gimmicky attempt to stir up interest in two very different films on the same subject. 'It is childish and vain' said Herzog. 'I think it is a big shit on me'.5 He allegedly stole the master tapes of his film, and after being refused entry onto a plane at LA airport, he drove through the night to Mexico with the intention of putting the reels inside a pinata covered with gasoline and setting fire to the lot with a fiery club. (A fictionalised account of this story was filmed in 2005 as Hijack Monologue, a Sam Mendes production starring Bill Murray giving a supposedly spot-on performance as Herzog, but due to complicated legal tangles this uncompleted movie sits in the Warner Brothers' vaults with no release likely soon).
MGM relented on their release date, but instead pushed the movie back two years in the US, despite the film winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1992 and being received in Europe as one of Herzog's most audacious and beautiful works.
Disruptive Pattern Material Directed by Werner Herzog Produced by Lucky Stipetic Starring Tim Roth Werner Herzog Filmproduktion/MGM US Release Date: November 1994 UK Release Date May 1992 Running Time: 263 mins Tagline:'Only The Blind Can't See'
1. David Thomson At The Movies, Penguin, 2005
2,4,5. Herzog on Herzog, Chappell Film Books, 1996
3. Neon magazine, November 1996