Into the Abyss (film)
|Into the Abyss|
|Directed by||Werner Herzog|
|Produced by||Dave Harding
Lucki Stipetic (executives)
|Written by||Werner Herzog|
|Narrated by||Werner Herzog|
|Music by||Mark Degli Antoni|
|Editing by||Joe Bini|
Werner Herzog Filmproduktion
|Distributed by||IFC Films
|Running time||105 minutes|
Into the Abyss, subtitled A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life, is a documentary film written and directed by Werner Herzog about two men convicted of a triple homicide which occurred in Conroe, Texas. Michael Perry received a death sentence for the crime, and Jason Burkett received a life sentence. The film focuses on the two convicts and various people affected by the crime.
The film first showed on September 3, 2011, at the Telluride Film Festival, and had its official world premiere on September 8, 2011, at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. After strong festival showings and a surge of interest in the issue of capital punishment in America, Herzog requested that the film be rushed to a general theatrical release, scheduled for November 11, 2011.
The film profiles Michael Perry, a man on death row convicted of murdering Sandra Stotler, a fifty-year-old nurse of German descent. He was suspected, but never charged, in two other murders which occurred in Conroe, Texas, with his accomplice Jason Burkett. Perry was convicted eight years earlier of the October 2001 murder, apparently committed in order to steal a car for a joyride. Perry denies that he was responsible for the killings, blaming Burkett (also appearing in the film) who was convicted of the other two murders. Burkett, who received a lesser life sentence for his involvement, likewise blames Perry.
Burkett's wife appears in the film, a free woman who met and married Burkett after his conviction. They were only allowed contact by holding hands under guarded supervision, but she claims to be pregnant with his child. In the film, Herzog implies that Burkett's wife was able to smuggle a sperm sample out of the prison.
Herzog had long considered making a film about prison inmates. In fact, Herzog at age 17 had intended to make his first film about the maximum security Straubing prison in Bavaria. This concept was never realized, but the idea remained dormant until Into the Abyss decades later.
The film went through several working titles during its production. For a time it was called simply "Death Row", and this was later elaborated to "Gazing Into The Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale Of Life". The television broadcast of the film and the related series was briefly referred to as "Werner Herzog’s Final Confessions", but eventually aired with the title On Death Row. Certain voices in the production wanted the film's title to be "The Red Camaro", but Herzog disliked the hint of product placement in the title, and called it "not evocative at all". By August 2011, when its premiere at TIFF was announced, the title was changed to "Into the Abyss". Herzog has often commented that "Into the Abyss" could have worked well as the title of many of his films.
Herzog originally planned and shot profiles of five death row inmates in Texas and Florida, including Michael Perry. After production began, Herzog decided to focus on Perry's case. His other interviews were compiled into a series of four 50 minute films which aired as the television miniseries On Death Row.
The film was in production during promotion for Herzog's previous film Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Herzog missed a special screening of Cave at the Berlinale festival because an opportunity to film one of his subjects arose suddenly.
Release and distribution 
The film's premiere was on September 2011 at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was often portrayed as being one among several "hot-button political documentaries" at the festival. Herzog, however, has stated that he has no political intentions with the film. Herzog states at the film's outset that he opposes capital punishment, but he has said that his "focus is elsewhere" in the film. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said, "This is not an issue film; it's not an activist film against capital punishment," and, "Yes, it has an issue, but it's not the main purpose of the film."
Before the film's festival premiere, North American theatrical distribution rights were bought by Sundance Selects. In October 2011, Sundance Selects announced that the film would be rushed to a theatrical release, opening in select cities on November 11, 2011. In recent months there had been controversies over American capital punishment in the case of Troy Davis and the cheers for Rick Perry's execution record in a Republican primary debate. The early release was demanded by Herzog himself, who wanted his film to contribute to this new national discussion of the death penalty. Producer Erik Nelson said, "Everyone in the country is focused on the death penalty debate again thanks to Rick Perry and the bloodthirsty yahoos at the Republican debate, and I think Werner wants the film to be part of that discussion because timing is everything."
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- "Werner Herzog’s Prison Doc Now Titled Gazing Into The Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale Of Life". Blogs.indiewire.com. June 20, 2011. Retrieved August 14, 2011.
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- "You Betcha! What Hot Political Docs Will Cause a Stir in Toronto?". Blogs.indiewire.com. August 3, 2011. Retrieved August 14, 2011.
- "24 Frames". Los Angeles Times.
- [dead link]
- "Into the Abyss" Netflix.com
- "Into the Abyss Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More". Metacritic. 2011-11-11. Retrieved 2012-08-02.
- Chicago Sun-Times http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/9609267-421/roger-eberts-favorite-documentaries-of-2011.html
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- Chicago Sun-Times http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2013/01/a_dozen_good_documentaries.html
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- October 26, 2011 by Adam Benzine (2011-10-26). "Herzog takes top doc honors at London Film Fest". Realscreen. Retrieved 2012-08-02.