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  And, indeed, I will ask on my own account here, an idle question: which is better—cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Well, which is better?---Fyodor Dostoevsky ---Notes from Underground There are certain people of whom it is difficult to say anything which will at once throw them into relief—in other words, describe them graphically in their typical characteristics. These are they who are generally known as “commonplace people,” and this class comprises, of course, the immense majority of mankind. Authors, as a rule, attempt to select and portray types rarely met with in their entirety, but these types are nevertheless more real than real life itself. For instance, when the whole essence of an ordinary person’s nature lies in his perpetual and unchangeable commonplaceness; and when in spite of all his endeavours to do something out of the common, this person ends, eventually, by remaining in his unbroken line of routine—. I think such an individual really does become a type of hi


Born in 1942, Herzog grew up amid post-World War II destruction in the small Bavarian village of Sachrang. He saw his first movies at age 11 and quickly discovered film technique by taking heed of continuity errors and generic conventions in cheap B-movies
At age 14, he began a short period of intense Catholic devotion, around the same time that he discovered the virtues of traveling on foot and became determined to make films . As a teenager, Herzog learned about film making from an encyclopaedia entry on the subject, but because of his youth and lack of formal training, he was unable to find producers for his early screenplays. 
Consequently, he founded Werner Herzog Filmproduktion and began producing his own films . He has written, produced, directed and often narrated virtually all of his own films since then, becoming an auteur in the proper sense.


According to IMDb, Werner Herzog has 71 directorial credits to his name with an additional three films currently in the pipeline

After travelling Europe and North America for several years, Herzog returned to Munich in 1968, where he met Volker Schlöndorff and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, two other young directors who would emerge as guiding lights of the New German Cinema. Set on Crete during the Nazi occupation of Greece, his first fictional feature, Lebenszeichen (Signs of Life, 1968), follows the same theme as The Unprecedented Defense, telling the story of a young German soldier named Stroszek who goes mad while defending a useless ammunition dump from nonexistent enemies. 

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre, the Wrath of God, 1972)
was  his first international success and the first of five collaborations with actor Klaus Kinski. Very loosely based upon Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre’s doomed expedition to find El Dorado, the film (perhaps Herzog’s best) details one man’s descent into madness as he rebels against the Spanish crown and nature alike. Aguirre is a quintessentially Herzogian (anti-)hero, encompassing both the “over-reacher and prophet or underachiever and holy fool”, put in bizarre locations and situations “often in order to let a strange and touching humanity emerge from impossible odds”

Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1973) is one of the great haunting visions of the cinema. It tells the story of the doomed expedition of the conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro, who in 1560 and 1561 led a body of men into the Peruvian rain forest, lured by stories of the lost city. The opening shot is a striking image: A long line of men snakes its way down a steep path to a valley far below, while clouds of mist obscure the peaks. These men wear steel helmets and breastplates, and carry their women in enclosed sedan-chairs. They are dressed for a court pageant, not for the jungle.


His next feature,
Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser)
, 1974 – its German title means, appropriately enough, “Every Man For Himself and God Against All”) would bring Herzog’s interest in language to the fore again, this time based on the true story of a young man who was imprisoned for his first 16 years and then turned loose into an early 19th century German city without any conception of civilisation. Unable to speak more than a few pre-rehearsed sentences, Kaspar is able to see the world with completely fresh eyes (much like the aliens in the original concept for Fata Morgana) and must quickly learn to communicate with his surroundings.

"The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser" is a lyrical film about the least lyrical of men. Bruno S. has the solidity of the horses and cows he is often among, and as he confronts the world I was reminded of W. G. Sebold's remark that men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension. The film's landscapes, its details from nature, its music, all embody the dream world Kaspar entered when he escaped the unchanging reality of his cellar. He never dreamed in the cellar, he explains. I think it was because he knew of nothing else than the cellar to dream about.


After the critical success of Kaspar Hauser, Herzog followed with another period film, Herz Aus Glas (Heart of Glass, 1976), about the fragility of civilisation in a pre-industrial Bavarian village. The village is renowned for making a special red glass, but when the master glass blower dies with the secret to make it, a collective madness begins to take over as the town turns upon itself. Meanwhile, a prophet on the outside of society makes ominous predictions about the future of the town and the wider world.  

Werner Herzog's "Heart of Glass" (1976) is a vision of man's future as desolation. In a film set entirely in a Bavarian village around 1800, it foresees the wars and calamities of the next two centuries and extends on into the 21st with humanity's nightfall. In the story of the failure of a small glassblowing factory, it sees the rise and collapse of the industrial revolution, the despair of communities depending on manufacture, the aimlessness of men and women without a sense of purpose.
This is one of the least seen and most famous of Herzog's films, known as the one where most of the actors were hypnotized in most of the scenes. It hasn't been much seen, perhaps because it isn't to the taste of most people, seeming too slow, dark and despairing. There's no proper story, no conclusion, and the final scene is a parable seemingly not connected to anything that has gone before. I think it should be approached like a piece of music, in which we comprehend everything in terms of mood and aura, and know how it makes us feel even if we can't say what it makes us think.

His next two features (both starring Kinski), filmed back-to-back in 1979, saw Herzog looking to earlier, “legitimate” German culture: Nosferatu the Vampyre (from Murnau’s 1922 film) and Woyzeck (from Georg Büchner’s dramatic fragment, posthumously published in 1879). Although many scenes and images (e.g. the vampire’s physical appearance) are obvious adaptations from Murnau’s film, Herzog’s retelling of the well-known Dracula story feels overall closer to the revived Gothicism of Bram Stoker’s 1897 source novel than Murnau’s Expressionism. The vampire is another of Herzog’s existential heroes, an outsider who transcends the limits of human possibility through his undead-ness, evoking the terrors of nature (i.e. the plague) in his wake. 

There is a quality to the color photography in Werner Herzog's "Nosferatu the Vampyre" that seeps into your bones. It would be inadequate to call it "saturated." It is rich, heavy, deep. The earth looks cold and dirty. There isn't a lot of green, and it looks wet. Mountains look craggy, gray, sharp-edged. Interiors are filmed in bold reds and browns and whites -- whites, especially, for the faces, and above all for Count Dracula's. It is a film of remarkable beauty, but makes no effort to attract or visually coddle us. The spectacular journey by foot and coach to Dracula's remote Transylvanian castle is deliberately not made to seem scenic.

Herzog’s films often focus upon faith, whether a faith in one’s own ambitions, a Romantic faith in the shadow of all-powerful nature, or a faith in religious or superstitious idea(l)s seemingly at odds with society or conventional reason.


These forms of faith would converge in Fitzcarraldo (1982), one of Herzog’s finest and most well known films., as much the product of his faith in filmmaking as in the power of the cinematic image. Described by Herzog as his best “documentary”, it is a fictional feature that details a wealthy industrialist’s obsessive quest to bring European opera to the Amazon. To finance his dream of building a new opera house, this “Conquistador of the Useless” travels upriver and, with the help of local indigenous peoples, literally pulls a huge steamboat over a mountainside to access a fertile tributary. After the boat reaches the other side of the mountain, the natives cut it loose, sending it into violent rapids to appease the spirits residing there. Fitzcarraldo ultimately fails in his mission, but limps back to port with a compromised version of his dream – a dream that money alone cannot buy – still intact. A chaotic four years in the making, the film’s completion was as much a Sisyphean task as Fitzcarraldo’s own quest to elevate his dreams over reality – especially because Herzog used no miniatures or special effects in order to pull the full-sized steamboat up and over the mountain, determined to give the film a wholly natural sense of wonder and physical magic . Despite many wild controversies surrounding the film’s making, it earned Herzog a Best Director award at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.

"Fitzcarraldo" is one of the great visions of the cinema, and one of the great follies. One would not have been possible without the other. This is a movie about an opera-loving madman who is determined to drag a boat overland from one river system to another. In making the film, Herzog was determined to actually do that, which is more than can be said for Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, the Irishman whose story inspired him.
"Fitzcarraldo" (1982) is one of those brave and epic films, like "Apocalypse Now" or "2001," where we are always aware both of the film, and of the making of the film. Herzog could have used special effects for his scenes of the 360-ton boat being hauled up a muddy 40-degree slope in the jungle, but he believed we could tell the difference: "This is not a plastic boat." Watching the film, watching Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) raving in the jungle in his white suit and floppy panama hat, watching Indians operating a block-and-tackle system to drag the boat out of the muck, we're struck by the fact that this is actually happening, that this huge boat is inching its way onto land -- as Fitzcarraldo (who got his name because the locals could not pronounce "Fitzgerald") serenades the jungle with his scratchy old Caruso recordings.

Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982): Waking Dreams and Casting Spells in the Jungle >>>

Werner Herzog Documentaries

"Men are often haunted,'' Werner Herzog tells us at the beginning of "Little Dieter Needs to Fly.'' "They seem to be normal, but they are not.'' His documentary tells the story of such a haunted man, whose memories include being hung upside down with an ant nest over his head, and fighting a snake for a dead rat they both wanted to eat.
The man's name is Dieter Dengler. He was born in the Black Forest of Germany. As a child, he watched his village destroyed by American warplanes, and one flew so close to his attic window that for a split-second he made eye contact with the pilot flashing past. At that moment, Dieter Dengler knew that he needed to fly.


Within the canon of such awe-inspiring epics as Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: Wrath of God, the wilfully whimsical Wild Blue Yonder may perhaps be seen as not a 'significant' Herzog movie. Made in 2005 (the same year as Grizzly Man) and billed as 'a science fiction fantasy', it is a deceptively slight affair which mischievously hijacks documentary footage of space travel and underwater exploration and reworks it into a fanciful tale of alien invasion. 

Wild-haired, crazy-eyed, snaggle-toothed cult star Brad Dourif is our extraterrestrial host, his lilting lunatic tones (eerily reminiscent of his demonic Patient X in The Exorcist III) reciting a narrative of failed colonisation and doomed exploration. 'You see aliens as these technologically advanced superbeings who can destroy New York City in two minutes flat,' he rants, standing in front of the derelict buildings and trailer parks which his fellow doomed Andromedans intended as the centre of their earthbound civilisation. 'Well, I hate to tell you this, but we aliens all suck!'

The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)

“Werner Herzog’s 1985 television documentary [THE DARK GLOW OF THE MOUNTAINS] could well be an attempt to moderate the overweening mythology implicit in this symbolism of the mountain. Balancing the metaphysical and the humanistic, and eventually tipping in favour of the latter, Herzog’s 45-minute documentary demystifies – or, if you like, de-Aryanises – the German cult of alpinism. At the same time, the death-defying trials of his mountaineering heroes allow Herzog to indulge his characteristic themes: the madness of quixotic obsession, the limitations of man in the face of infinite Nature, and, most of all, the ephemerality of human ambition

In his highly experimental and lesser-known documentary “Bells from the Deep: Faith and Superstition in Russia,” Werner Herzog ventures into the border between Russia’s physical and spiritual realms. The documentary is filmed in a timeless, non-linear format and explores components of Russian mysticism. Herzog shows a range of practices, from Siberian nomadic shamanism, to Russian Orthodox baptisms, and to exorcisms for the desperate. Each ceremony is both highly idiosyncratic and surreal – featuring otherworldly experiences that carry significant weight and meaning for their participants. The characters and scenes are presented without context, and the lack of spatial and temporal parameters seamlessly mirror the subject matter of the film.

Grizzly Man (2005)

If I show weakness, I'm dead. They will take me out, they will decapitate me, they will chop me up into bits and pieces I'm dead. So far, I persevere. I persevere. 
So speaks Timothy Treadwell, balanced somewhere between the grandiose and the manic, in Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man."He is talking about the wild bears he came to know and love during 13 summers spent living among them in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Reserve. In the early autumn of 2003, one of the bears took him out, decapitated him, chopped him up into bits and pieces, and he was dead. The bear also killed his girlfriend.

GRIZZLY MAN (2005) >>>

Into Abyss (2011)

My Best Fiend (1999)

Werner Herzog made five films starring Klaus Kinski. No other director ever worked with him more than once. Midway in their first film, "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1973), Kinski threatened to walk off the set, deep in the Amazon rain forest, and Herzog said he would shoot him dead if he did. Kinski claims in his autobiography that he had the gun, not Herzog.

Herzog says that's a lie. Kinski describes Herzog in the book as a "nasty, sadistic, treacherous, cowardly creep." Herzog says in the film that Kinski knew his autobiography would not sell unless he said shocking things--so Herzog helped him look up vile words he could use in describing the director.

Nomad : In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin  (2019)

“Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin,” is one of the most deeply personal films of his long and brilliant career, I am not just indulging in a bit of critical hyperbole. Even though the film is ostensibly a tribute to a late friend, it almost off-handedly gives us a greater idea of what it is that makes someone like Herzog tick and drives him to the lengths that he has gone time and again throughout his career. Even if he one day set out to make an overt cinematic self-portrait of his life and work, it is hard to believe that it could be as penetrating and insightful as this film.

Chatwin was a British travel writer, journalist, and novelist who had a particular fascination with the theme of human restlessness. He believed that mankind was hardwired to be a migratory species and all of the troubles began when it abandoned that notion in order to begin settling down. He traveled the world, at a time when it was still possible to go to places that hadn’t been overrun with tourists, and wrote vividly about in such acclaimed books as In Patagonia (1977) and The Songlines (1987). It was during his time in the Australian Outback writing the latter title that he first met Herzog in 1983 and realized that they were kindred spirits whose journeys had taken them to a number of the same places, albeit at different times. This began a friendship that would last until Chatwin’s death in 1989 and included Herzog adapting Chawin’s The Viceroy of Ouidah into the hallucinatory 1987 adventure “Cobra Verde.” As a tribute to his friend, "Nomad" finds Herzog journeying to a number of the places that he and Chatwin encountered in the past in order to look at them anew and reflect on how the nomadic spirit that drove Chatwin and continues to drive him has largely become a thing of the past.


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