Who is he?
A German filmmaker considered a crucial member of the New German Cinema who has made numerous documentaries and fictional features over the last four decades. A zealous globetrotter and explorer, Herzog is perhaps the only major director to have made films in all the seven continents of the world. He is also one filmmaker whose personal adventures – walking from Munich to Paris, eating his shoe, getting shot during an interview - are far more dramatic than his films.
What are his films about?
One of the least political filmmakers, Herzog’s themes and concerns have always been metaphysical: the limits to which Man can push himself, the strength with which he finds survival in the worst of conditions, the darkest recesses of his soul, the madness that lurks just under the surface of civilization, the chaos and violence inherent in nature and the inexplicability of Faith. He believes in the power of cinema to reveal “ecstatic truths” about humanity that surpass mere surface truths.
Herzog’s documentaries are rife with direct interview segments bridged by the director’s hypnotic, accented voiceover that is sometimes mystical and reverent, sometimes cynical and snarky. In these interviews, he lets the camera stay with the participants long after they have finished speaking, which has both an interrogative and a moving effect. Herzog is famous for his anti-academic stance towards film and film aesthetics and seldom hesitates in employing an off-kilter device or a method that is usually considered inappropriate or in bad taste.
Why is he of interest?
Perhaps the only major filmmaker who has established a strong presence in both documentary and fictional filmmaking, Herzog, by his own admission, does not see a strong demarcation between the worlds. He heavily (and often controversially) fictionalizes his documentaries and goes to extreme length to impart authenticity to his fictional features. One could say that this unconventional, controversial tendency has carved him a special niche in film culture.
Where to discover him?
Fitzcarraldo (1980), one of Herzog’s most iconic fictional, narrative films, revolves around a megalomaniac (played by Klaus Kinski) who wants to build an opera house in Amazon’s jungles. In order to achieve this, he discovers that he has to pull a ship over a hillock. The autobiographical Fitzcarraldo exemplifies the director’s penchant for the physicality of film and filmmaking. For the movie, Herzog really had a real ship pulled over a hill!