In Werner Herzog’s 1976 German film Heart of Glass, set in 18th century Bavaria, the director hypnotized his cast. He had them learn their lines and act under the influence to achieve the trance-like state of the townspeople they were to portray.
Alan Greenberg, a Coral Gables Senior High School grad and aspiring writer, filmmaker and Herzog fan landed an uncredited role in the movie as a glass transporter. The decidedly unusual experience on that set stayed with the young man.
Three decades later, Greenberg, who died at 64 on Jan. 27 in Portland, Oregon, collaborated with Herzog on a book about the making of the film. Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass (Chicago Review Press) was revised in 2013 and celebrated with a book signing at Books & Books’ Miami Beach branch.
“He had his high school reunion that same night,” screenwriter and friend Tamé Connolly said. “He was, as usual, gracious with his time and answering questions, then dashed off to his senior high school reunion. It was the last time I saw him.”
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Greenberg, who was born on Oct. 14, 1950, in Manhattan and grew up in Coconut Grove, went on from that surreal experience with Herzog to helm his own film, a documentary on iconic reggae star Bob Marley. He forged a friendship with the singer-songwriter while living in Miami.
Land of Look Behind was released in 1982, a year after Marley’s death from cancer. When it played the Miami International Film Festival that year, late Miami Herald film critic Bill Cosford opined: “What is remarkable about the film, however, is not its look but the deceptive, languid ease with which it tells the story of a people. ... In the filming of Jamaicans speaking of themselves, of their gentle, dreamlike faith, and in the recording of the physical aspects of their lives, Greenberg shows a culture unlike any other. The result is a Jamaica on film that few of us have ever seen before, a movie of unexpected virtue.”
Years later, Greenberg wrote screenplays and biographies on the late rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, Pablo Picasso, and Tutankhamun. His 2012 biography, Love in Vain, A Vision of Robert Johnson (University of Minnessota Press), about the iconic blue man, featured forwards by Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and film director David Lynch, who called it “a great, great screenplay.” Connolly, who met Greenberg in Miami 30 years ago when she was an actress on the set of Miami Vice, hopes to see the property produced as a film.
“Alan was a very kind, giving mentor to so many people,” she said. “He was brilliant, and I don’t use that word often.”
Greenberg is survived by his daughters Ona and Ry and his sisters Phyllis and Barbara. A celebration of life in Miami is in the planning stages.
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