Hands down, Werner Herzog has to be one of my favorite directors out there today. Known for his versatility, creativity, incessant curiosity, and willingness to take risks, Herzog has created a formidable body of work with films that prove as epic and probing in documentary form as they do in the monumental fictions for which he’s most known. His films focus on a variety of subjects: the strange language of cattle auctioneers, a ski jumper who starts jumping too far to stay safe, an island abandoned in the face of imminent destruction by volcano (abandoned, of course, except for a handful of stragglers and Herzog himself). His method involves a certain amount of shaping and arranging behind the camera, but Herzog’s stories tend to rise above questions of their provenance, encompassing an array of trademarks I find most appealing – long extended landscape shots paired with grand scores of silence and violin music, themes centered around the natural world, and driven protagonists on the brink of madness who often find themself against the greater forces of nature.
His films always have a particular way of finding beauty and poetry among the most darkest of subject matters. He’s an interesting figure with an intriguing view on nature. Plus, he deserves all kudos for doing the impossible… dragging a steamship on top of a mountain, throwing himself into a bed of cactus, eating his own shoe, having made films on the seven continents, getting shot during an interview and insisting on finishing, and once threatening to shoot Klaus Kinski – his leading actor.
Filmmaker. Eccentric. Superhero. Here are some of my favorite quotes from Herzog that I compiled during my brief stint in time, I hope you will find some humor and truth in them as much as I did:
– Perhaps I seek certain Utopian things, space for human honour and respect, landscapes not yet offended, planets that do not exist yet, dreamed landscapes. Very few people seek these images today.
– .. So, you have to be daring to do things like this, because the world is not easily accepting of film making. There will always be some sort of an obstacle, and the worst of all obstacles is the spirit of bureaucracy. You have to find your way to battle bureaucracy. You have to outsmart it, to out gut it, to outnumber it, to outfilm them — that’s what you have to do.
– I love nature but against my better judgment.
– If I had to climb into hell and wrestle the devil himself for one of my films, I would do it.
– Film should be looked at straight on, it is not the art of scholars but of illiterates.
– Through invention, through imagination, through fabrication, I become more truthful than the little bureaucrats.
– At my utopian film academy I would have students do athletic things with real physical contact, like boxing, something that would teach them to be unafraid. I would have a loft with a lot of space where in one corner there would be a boxing ring. Students would train every evening from eight to ten with a boxing instructor: sparring, somersaulting (backwards and forwards), juggling, magic card tricks. Whether or not you would be filmmaker by the end I do not know, but at least you would come out as an athlete.
– I despise formal restaurants. I find all of that formality to be very base and vile. I would much rather eat potato chips on the sidewalk.
– I have the impression that the images that surround us today are worn out, they are abused and useless and exhausted. They are limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution. When I look at the postcards in tourist shops and the images and advertisements that surround us in magazines, or I turn on the television, or if I walk into a travel agency and see those huge posters with that same tedious and rickety image of the Grand Canyon on them, I truly feel there is something dangerous emerging here. The biggest danger, in my opinion, is television because to a certain degree it ruins our vision and makes us very sad and lonesome. Our grandchildren will blame us for not having tossing hand-grenades into TV stations because of commercials. Television kills our imagination and what we end up with are worn out images because of the inability of too many people to seek out fresh ones.
– Actually, for some time now I have given some thought to opening a film school. But if I did start one up you would only be allowed to fill out an application form after you have walked alone on foot, let’s say from Madrid to Kiev, a distance of about five thousand kilometres. While walking, write. Write about your experiences and give me your notebooks. I would be able to tell who had really walked the distance and who had not. While you are walking you would learn much more about film making and what it truly involves than you ever would sitting in a classroom. During your voyage you will learn more about what your future holds than in five years at film school. Your experiences would be the very opposite of academic knowledge, for academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion.
– Civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness.
– Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs.
– Film is not analysis, it is the agitation of mind; cinema comes from the country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism.
– Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good Kung Fu film.
– Coincidences always happen if you keep your mind open, while storyboards remain the instruments of cowards who do not trust in their own imagination and who are slaves of a matrix… If you get used to planning your shots based solely on aesthetics, you are never that far from kitsch.
– I invite any sort of myths [about myself] because I like the stooges and doppelgangers and doubles out there. I feel protected behind all these things. Let them blossom! I do not plant them, I do not throw out the seeds. I advise you to read Herzog on Herzog because there you see a few clarifications.
– It is my firm belief, and I say this as a dictum, that all these tools now at our disposal, these things part of of this explosive evolution of means of communication, mean we are now heading for an era of solitude. Along with this rapid growth of forms of communication at our disposal – be it fax, phone, email, Internet or whatever – human solitude will increase in direct proportion.
– To me, adventure is a concept that applies only to those men and women of earlier historical times, like the medieval knights who traveled into the unknown. The concept has degenerated constantly since then… I absolutely loathe adventurers, and I particularly hate this old pseudo-adventurism where the mountain climb becomes about confronting the extremes of humanity.
– If you truly love film, I think the healthiest thing to do is not read books on the subject. I prefer the glossy film magazines with their big colour photos and gossip columns, or the National Enquirer. Such vulgarity is healthy and safe.
– Your film is like your children. You might want a child with certain qualities, but you are never going to get the exact specification right. The film has a privilege to live its own life and develop its own character. To suppress this is dangerous. It is an approach that works the other way too: sometimes the footage has amazing qualities that you did not expect.
– It is not only my dreams, my belief is that all these dreams are your’s as well. The only distinction between me and you is that I can articulate them. And that is what poetry or painting or literature or film making is all about… it’s as simple as that. I make films because I have not learned anything else and I know I can do it to a certain degree. And it is my duty because this might be the inner chronicle of what we are. We have to articulate ourselves, otherwise we would be cows in the field.
– I’m not out to win prizes – that’s for dogs and horses.
– I have always postulated that we have to find a new way to deal with reality. It’s not so much facts that interest me, but a deeper truth in them—an ecstasy of truth, an ecstatic truth that illuminates us. That’s what I’ve been after. And in order to find it, you have to be imaginative. You have to invent. You have to stylize. There’s absolutely no danger in that. The danger is to stupidly believe that depicting facts gives us much insight. If facts were the only thing that counted, the telephone directory would be the book of books.