One doesn’t need to search Google to discover the truth. The BFI is kind enough to tell us: Michael Goldsmith went to Liberia, where he was kidnapped by child soldiers.
Right after we finished the film Goldsmith went to Liberia and disappeared. It was known that he had been taken prisoner by a faction of insurgent rebels, all of them child soldiers. Eight-year-old children wearing rags and with Kalashnikov rifles and M16s were shooting everyone that moved. Goldsmith later told me that they were often drunk and stoned. One time they raided a bridal store and dressed up as bride and groom. The ‘bride’ was an eight-year-old boy, wearing a veil and a bridal gown with high heels much too big for him and firing his rifle wildly. The ‘groom’ was naked except for a tailcoat that dragged after him. Very strange images. (Herzog on Herzog, edited by Paul Cronin)
My speculative fancy had got the better of me. Although Michael Goldsmith’s robust good health doesn’t gainsay that moment of anguish when he asked Herzog to turn off the camera, and Herzog refused. Facts are less important than the meanings we attach to them; for it is our fictions that reveal the essence of things, which are mute until we make them talk.1
That moment of dictatorial control should have led to Goldsmith’s irretrievable breakdown, it was what the story demanded. Fortunately the contingencies of life intervened after Herzog had found what he was looking for…
He [Bokassa] seemed truly bizarre, and the evil sparkling of this incredible character was utterly fascinating to me. There was such a cornucopia of absolutely unbelievable stories surrounding him and his regime. For me, film allows us to reveal the least understood truths of man….[it] was an attempt to explore these dark landscapes that lie at the heart of man. (BFI Notes. My emphasis)
Herzog, like Michael Goldsmith, is so laconic that he leaves us to do all the work. It is a question for you, my friend, if we have done that work well.
1. Herzog has a different way of putting of what is essentially the same point:
“During the production of the film I spoke to a great many people who had stories to tell about Bokassa, and I realised that when there is so much hearsay about a single man, when you hear the same stories from so many different people, then this speculation really does condense into something factual. We have to believe it.
“The deeper truth of the situation is outside our reach, but not the facts. You want a fact? Bokassa was a cannibal, yes. It is as simple as that. The conclusions of the tribunal and the lies of the remaining witnesses are of little importance. However, though it is a fact, I think it is good that something of a mystery remains and will always remain, even though during the trial there were very precise accounts given by Bokassa’s cook about what the Emperor liked to eat.” (Herzog on Herzog)For Herzog what a fact symbolises is more important than the fact itself. A symbol exists. It is real. It is indeterminate. Its power greater than the facts themselves, who once alone have to beg others to give them meaning.