Herzog, Werner

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Herzog, Werner

Werner Herzog, 1942–, German director, screenwriter, and producer; originally named Werner Stipetic. One of the leading filmmakers in contemporary German cinema, the prolific Herzog is known for his vivid and poetic films. He made short films during the 1960s, made his first feature, Signs of Life, in 1968, and came to wide public attention with Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), a spectacular portrayal of the tropical rain forest and the character of a mad conquistador. Breathtaking landscape, acutely observed detail, mysterious heroes, and tales of danger and escape fill his work, which enthusiasts have called visionary and some critics have branded self-indulgent. His other feature films include The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), Heart of Glass (1976), Stroszek (1977), Nosferatu (1978), Woyzeck (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982; the subject of Les Blank's revealing 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams), Hard to Be a God (1989), and the Hollywood-made Invincible (2002).

Herzog has also made a group of varied and original documentaries. They include Lessons of Darkness (1992), which pictures a devastated Kuwait in the wake of the First Persian Gulf War; My Best Fiend: Klaus Kinski (1999), a portrait of the brilliant but unpredictable actor who starred in five Herzog films; Wheel of Time (2003), exploring Tibetan Buddhism; Grizzly Man (2005), the story of a man devoted to wild bears who was ultimately killed by one; Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011), a 3D film on the cave art of Chauvet, France; Into the Abyss (2011), the account of a Texas double murder and the murderer; and Happy People (2013), chronicling the life of trappers in Siberia's subarctic forest. The plot of his documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)—a Vietnam War pilot is shot down, imprisoned, and escapes—was recounted in his Hollywood feature Rescue Dawn (2007). Herzog has also directed television features and operas.

See his Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo (2004, tr. 2009); Herzog on Herzog (2002), ed. by P. Cronin; study by T. Corrigan, ed. (1986); B. Presser, ed., Werner Herzog (2003).

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