Werner Herzog

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Werner Herzog

Post  eddie on Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:44 pm

Werner Herzog on death, danger and the end of the world

He's risked his life to make films, been shot at, and his latest film investigates a triple homicide. So is Werner Herzog fascinated by death? No, he tells Steve Rose, he's just not afraid of it

Steve Rose

The Guardian, Saturday 14 April 2012

Werner Herzog: 'If we perish I want to see what's coming at me, and if we survive, I want to see it as well.' Photograph: Thomas Rabsch

Some years ago, Werner Herzog was on an internal flight somewhere in Colorado and the plane's landing gear wouldn't come down. They would have to make an emergency landing. The runway was covered in foam and flanked by scores of fire engines. "We were ordered to crouch down with our faces on our knees and hold our legs," says Herzog, "and I refused to do it." The stewardess was very upset, the co-pilot came out from the cabin and ordered him to do as he was told. "I said, 'If we perish I want to see what's coming at me, and if we survive, I want to see it as well. I'm not posing a danger to anyone by not being in this shitty, undignified position.'" In the end, the plane landed normally. Herzog was banned from the airline for life but, he laughs, it went bust two years later anyway.Herzog tells this story to illustrate how he'll face anything that's thrown at him, as if that was ever in any doubt. Now approaching his 70th birthday, the German film-maker has assumed legendary status for facing things others wouldn't. He's lived a life packed with intrepid movie shoots, far-flung locations and general high-stakes film-making. He has a biography too dense to summarise. But his tale also confirms the suspicion that he's helplessly drawn to danger and death. Or vice versa.

Herzog's fictional features often entertain notions of civilisation fallen apart – from the mini-revolution in Even Dwarfs Started Small to the semi-abstract deserts of Fata Morgana to the psychotic barbarism of Aguirre, Wrath Of God. His documentaries, too, frequently focus on characters who've come close enough to the final curtain to almost peep behind it. There was Dieter Dengler, the shot-down pilot who nearly starved to death in Laos in Little Dieter Needs To Fly. There was Juliane Koepcke in Wings Of Hope, sole survivor of a plane that crashed into the Peruvian jungle – a plane that Herzog himself was supposed to be on. In Grizzly Man, Herzog even listens on headphones as the movie's subject is mauled to death by the wild bears he so foolishly venerated. Even when he's off duty, danger seems to seek out Herzog – as when he was randomly shot with an air rifle halfway through a television interview, or the time he rescued Joaquin Phoenix from a car crash outside his house. The grim reaper seems to follow him like a groupie.

In his latest documentary, Herzog faces death more squarely than ever. The full title of the film is Into The Abyss: A Tale Of Death, A Tale Of Life, and its subject matter is a grisly triple homicide that's rendered even more tragic by its pointlessness. Herzog covers all bases, talking to the perpetrators (one of whom was subsequently executed), their families, the victims' family, the authorities, and so on. He dispenses with his trademark Bavarian-accented voiceover here, though his gently forthright questioning and nose for everyday surrealism prove remarkably effective. When he asks the prison chaplain, "Please describe an encounter with a squirrel," for example, he gets an emotional outpouring on the beauty of life and the horror of watching another human being die.

Into The Abyss is not overtly about capital punishment. Herzog describes it more as "an American Gothic" – a survey of a Texan landscape of poverty, intoxication, incarceration and death. But he's explicit about his opposition to the death penalty: "I was born when Nazi Germany was still around, and simply because of all the atrocities and the genocide and euthanasia, I just can't be an advocate of capital punishment. There's something fundamentally wrong in my opinion, but I would be the last one to tell the American people how to handle criminal justice."

As well as the documentary, he made another four 50-minute documentaries interviewing other death row inmates. "Not interviewing," he corrects me. "I'm not a journalist; I'm a poet. I had a discourse, an encounter with these people but I never had a list of questions."

What was it that drew him to these "discourses" then? "We do not know how we are going to die and when we are going to die," he replies, "but they know it exactly. They know that in eight days, at 6pm, they will be strapped down, and at 6.01 they'll have 30 seconds for a last statement, then a lethal injection. They know every single protocol. I was fascinated, not so much how do they see death but how they see life. So when you ask me about death, yes, I accept the question, but it always bounces back to how do I see life?"

He points to the fact that one of the convicts in Into The Abyss somehow impregnated a sympathetic helper who fell in love with him, despite being behind bars. "A few months after filming, a baby boy was born and I do believe that this child will be outside this vicious circle of violence and drugs and crime and imprisonment. So it's not just about death, it's also about the intensity of life."

But did proximity to their own death change these people? As an example, he cites one of the inmates who was granted a reprieve 23 minutes before his execution was due. The 40-mile drive to the execution chamber was the first time he'd been outside in 17 years. "He describes his last trip. He sees trees, cows in the field, an abandoned gas station, and he says: 'It was like Israel. It was like the holy land.' And that alerted me. After our discourse I instantly grabbed my camera and I drove the same route. I was looking out, where's the holy land? And it's a godforsaken rural area of Texas, yet all of a sudden everything looks like the holy land."

When I suggest that Herzog himself has come closer to death than most people, he denies it. "There is always this kind of distant echo as If I were endangering everyone and always dragging them into near-death experiences. That's all baloney," he says. "My proof is that in more than 60 films not a single actor ever got hurt. Not one."

Not even you? "Sometimes, yes, but that doesn't count."

Michael Perry in Into The Abyss. Photograph: Allstar

The myth of Herzog is something he can't control, he says. Any more than he can stop people imitating his accent on YouTube or pretending to be him on Facebook. Those tales about getting shot or rescuing Joaquin Phoenix take on a life of their own. "Completely insignificant incidents about me appear everywhere. Nothing you ever try to do will ever take them away."

Herzog wouldn't even classify himself as adventurous: "I'm a very professional man. I'm not out for the experience of adventure. The last thing that would be on my agenda is to have experience of myself and my boundaries." He puts a disdainful emphasis on the final word. "I'm really not into that business. It's abominable. There's a simple attitude: when there is a clear vision and there is a great story I would do it and I would accept certain risks."

Can he think of the time he was closest to death?

"There were … quite a few," he says, and pauses for a long time, raising his hooded eyes to the ceiling.

Is he thinking about the inflight near-miss he described earlier? "No, that was just an arabesque," he laughs. Is he thinking of the bomb that nearly destroyed his home in Munich when he was just a baby? Or the time he almost got frostbite in his toes from sleeping in his car in New York while his leg was in plaster? Or the visit to a volcano that was about to explode to make a documentary? Who knows?

"It's of no significance," he decides. "Everyone has come close, sometimes very close. It has no significance on how I conduct my life. I'm simply not afraid. It's not in my dictionary of behaviour."

As for what happens after death, Herzog went through what he describes as "an intensive religious phase" in his teens, but he's no longer a believer. "Frankly speaking, I couldn't care less," he says. "And it doesn't make me nervous." Having said that, his prognosis for the future of humanity is not optimistic. "By the way," he continues, "when you look at human life on this planet, we are not sustainable. Trilobites died out, dinosaurs died out. Life on our planet has been a constant series of cataclysmic events, and we are more suitable for extinction than a trilobite or a reptile. So we will vanish. There's no doubt in my heart."

Doesn't he feel a need to help save the world?

"Saving the world is a very suspicious concept," he replies. "I'm as responsible as it gets in my situation. I drive my car less than 10% of what I used to drive 20 years ago. I'm not into consumerism. But when it comes to the end of the human race, there are certain suspects. Microbes can come and wipe us out. It can happen fast. Avian virus or mad cow disease, you name it. Microbes are really after us. Or a cataclysmic volcanic eruption which would darken the skies for 10 years – that's gonna be real trouble. Or a meteorite hitting us, or something man-made. I don't believe we'll see a nuclear holocaust but there are quite a few scenarios out there."

What about a good-old fashioned breakdown of society? "You mean anarchy and cannibalism? Yes but there would be survivors. Maybe 10% would survive, enough to replenish the species. I'm talking about total extinction. We are not sustainable."

Isn't that a bit nihilistic?

"Martin Luther was asked, what would you do if tomorrow the world would come to an end, and he said, 'I would plant an apple tree today.' This is a real good answer. I would start shooting a movie."
The Gap Minder

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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Fri Apr 20, 2012 8:46 am

user wrote:

if anyone wants to see the full movie go to the short movies thread


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Sat Apr 28, 2012 9:01 pm

youtube user labels this as the "Aguirre, wrath of God" trailer


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Sat Apr 28, 2012 9:59 pm

eddie wrote:The myth of Herzog is something he can't control, he says. Any more than he can stop people imitating his accent on YouTube

on the comments people complains that it's not like Herzog's voice and that the german accent it's too fake

I liked it Laughing

Last edited by jade spinetta on Sat Apr 28, 2012 10:54 pm; edited 1 time in total


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Sat Apr 28, 2012 10:41 pm

Werner Herzog on Klaus Kinski
and a recording made during the shooting of Aguirre


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Sat Apr 28, 2012 11:54 pm

"I am not an artist and never have been. Rather I am like a craftsman and feel very close to the mediaeval artisans who produced their work anonymously and who, along with their apprentices, had a true feeling for the physical materials they were working with." - Werner Herzog


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Sun Apr 29, 2012 4:07 am

Have you seen that 40% of the movie?


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Sun Apr 29, 2012 10:30 am

Oh I'll watched that once I've seen the movie...


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Sun Apr 29, 2012 9:59 pm

Terry Gilliam was trying to make "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" but he found so many troubles that he had to abort the filming. Instead the documentary about Terry Gillian trying to make that movie, Lost in La Mancha, saw light.
(I think Terry Gilliam is going to try to make the movie again)


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Mon Apr 30, 2012 11:27 am

pinhedz wrote:
user wrote:
Fun fact--this photo was taken by Timothy Treadwell (which means it was not photoshopped).
I'm gonna need sometime to digest this movie

Edit: I mean that I need some time to know what I've seen


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Mon Apr 30, 2012 9:30 pm

I am thinking now that I have a friend who saw this movie and I said "ah my brother talked to me about that movie" and she said something like "bua it's shit... all the time watching that and they don't even let you hear the screams recorded". Next time I see her she is not going to scape from my rebuking...


Timothy's relation with the foxes is also amazing

Fox on his tent Smile

Here's the video

Last edited by jade spinetta on Mon Apr 30, 2012 9:43 pm; edited 1 time in total


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Mon Apr 30, 2012 9:41 pm

oh be careful if you "google image" Timothy Treadwell No


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Fri May 04, 2012 11:40 pm

From Encounters at the end of the world

And when we are gone, what will happen
thousands of years from now in the future?

Will there be alien archeologists
from another planet

trying to find out what we were doing
at the South Pole?

They will descend into the tunnels
that we had dug deep under the pole.

It is still minus 70 degrees here,
and that's why this place has outlived

all the large cities in the world.

They walk on and on.

And then this.

As if we had wanted to leave one remnant
of our presence on this planet,

they would find a frozen sturgeon,
mysteriously hidden away

beneath the mathematically precise
true South Pole.

They stash it back away
into its frozen shrine for another eternity.

And then they find more,
memories of a world once green.

As if the human race wanted to preserve
at least some lost beauty of this Earth,

they left this*,
framed in a garland of frozen popcorn.

*flower images


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Guest on Fri May 04, 2012 11:45 pm

I tried to keep the conversation going.

Dr. Ainley, I read somewhere
that there are gay penguins.

What are your observations?

I've never...

Or strange sexual behavior.
Can you talk about...

Yeah, there has been... I've seen
triangular relationships where there's

one female and two males,
and the female lays the egg,

or eggs, and the males and the female
trade off over the season.

There are mis-identities, initially,
of the sex of penguins.

Somebody recently described
what they call prostitution where

a female, who is out
collecting rocks for her nest,

and, of course, some penguins are...

The only way they collect rocks
is to steal them from others.

So, in order to do that,
they have to be very submissive

in order to get close to a male,
who's maybe advertising for a mate,

and so she'll come in, sit in his nest,
and sometimes they'll copulate.

But, really, her idea is to get a rock,

and so, as soon as she can,
she escapes with a rock.

Dr. Ainley, is there such thing
as insanity among penguins?

I try to avoid the definition of insanity
or derangement.

I don't mean that a penguin
might believe he or she is Lenin

or Napoleon Bonaparte,
but could they just go crazy

because they've had enough of
their colony?

Well, I've never seen a penguin
bashing its head against a rock.

They do get disoriented.

They end up in places they shouldn't be,
a long way from the ocean.

These penguins are all heading
to the open water to the right.

But one of them caught our eye,
the one in the center.

He would neither go towards the feeding
grounds at the edge of the ice,

nor return to the colony.

Shortly afterwards, we saw him heading
straight towards the mountains,

some 70 kilometers away.

Dr. Ainley explained
that even if he caught him

and brought him back to the colony,

he would immediately head right back
for the mountains.

But why?

One of these disoriented,
or deranged, penguins

showed up at the New Harbor diving camp,

already some 80 kilometers away
from where it should be.

The rules for the humans
are do not disturb or hold up the penguin.

Stand still and let him go on his way.

And here, he's heading off into the interior
of the vast continent.

With 5, 000 kilometers ahead of him,
he's heading towards certain death.


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Re: Werner Herzog

Post  Lee Van Queef on Mon May 07, 2012 6:17 am

User loves Herzog.
Lee Van Queef

Posts : 511
Join date : 2011-04-15

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