Arts Feature: The Enigma of Werner Herzog

By Cook, William | The Spectator, August 30, 2014 | Go to article overview

Arts Feature: The Enigma of Werner Herzog


Cook, William, The Spectator


Strange things happen to Werner Herzog -- almost as strange as the things that happen in his haunting, hypnotic films. In 1971, while making a movie in Peru, he was bumped off a flight that subsequently crashed into the jungle. Years later, he made a moving film about that disaster's sole survivor. In 2006, while filming an interview with the BBC in Los Angeles, he was shot in the belly by some nutter with a small calibre rifle. Most film-makers would have been turned to jelly by this terrifying interruption; Herzog simply laughed it off, cheerfully dropping his trousers to reveal a bleeding bullet wound, and a natty pair of Paisley boxer shorts.

'He has become a catalyst for extraordinary events,' says his British producer Andre Singer. He's done some strange things, too. While filming Aguirre, the Wrath of God (a dark, disturbing film about the conquistadors, shot entirely in the Amazon with a camera he stole from the Munich film school), he promised to kill his leading man and lifelong friend, Klaus Kinski, if the actor left for home before Herzog finished filming. Kinski huffed and puffed, but he could tell the director wasn't joking. He stayed until Herzog was through.

Filming Fitzcarraldo , another Amazonian epic, also starring Kinski -- this time as an opera fanatic who hauls a steamship over a mountain -- Herzog insisted on recreating this Herculean feat for real. 'If I abandon this, I would be a man without dreams,' he said. 'It is faith that moves mountains.' No wonder he describes film-making as a battleground. 'I think Werner is wired slightly differently to us,' Singer tells me. 'Once he has got images and a storyline in his mind, he will go and find them and make them work.'

Of course none of this would be of any interest if Herzog made mediocre movies. Film history is paved with the gravestones of obsessive but untalented auteurs. Yet, as anyone who knows his work can confirm, he's an extraordinary film-maker. He says he doesn't dream and wonders if his films might be a bid to make up this deficit. Like a lot of his odd pronouncements, this makes perfect sense. His films are lucid dreams, full of weird, arresting images, yet they have a profound internal logic. Like ancient myths or legends, there's something timeless and elemental about them, as if the tales he tells have always been there -- untold, unheard, unseen.

Werner Herzog was born in Munich in 1942. When he was just a few weeks old, his home was bombed and his mother took him to a remote village in the Bavarian Alps. Here, Werner and his brother saw out the war and the lean years that followed. His father was absent, a conscript in Hitler's Wehrmacht. His parents later separated. He was raised by his mother, whom he adored. He was often cold and hungry, but his childhood was full of adventure and imagination. 'We invented an entire world.' He didn't see his first film until he was 11 and made his first film when he was 19. In the 1960s he made his name alongside other West German film-makers such as Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a 'fatherless generation', all born, like Herzog, at the end of the Third Reich. The Nazis had destroyed German cinema. For these young film-makers, this was both a burden and an opportunity. They had to start again.

The Werner Herzog Collection , a new box set from the BFI, is a lavish survey of the first 20 years of Herzog's career. It features 18 arresting films -- both dramas and documentaries, though the dividing line is blurred. His best films fall between fact and fiction, neither fantasy nor reportage. With his use of untrained actors, his dramas always seem intensely real ('I do not make a distinction between professional and non-professional actors -- I just make a distinction between good and bad'). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Arts Feature: The Enigma of Werner Herzog
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.