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Werner Herzog

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This page is dedicated to the life and work of filmmaker Werner Herzog. It is one of a series of online tributes, known as The Director Spotlight. To learn more, please click on the affiliation link in the about section.

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Born on this day in Munich, Germany in 1942.


"By way of example, Herzog told of how he came across the 400 monkeys he had bought for his 1972 epic Aguirre the Wrath of God on their way out of Lima. He had paid a deposit for the monkeys but chanced upon them being loaded onto a plane, en route to another buyer. “I immediately shouted at the transport people, I said ‘I’m here, the veterinarian, where are the documents for the vaccinations?’” The ruse apparently worked and Herzog made off with the monkeys, eventually paying the balance to the trader who’d tried to swindle him. “The skunk would have disappeared with half of my money and I wouldn’t have a single monkey,” he said."nn“I’m quite aware that the average working life of a filmmaker, statistically, is fairly short,” he tells TIME. “You can play the cello at age 90 and still be dignified and still create great music. Cinema is much more treacherous.” Even Orson Welles was swallowed by Hollywood after spending lavishly and going broke, Herzog says, adding that he, by contrast, he has been attentive, vigilant, and avoided the fatal mistakes.nnBut in the popular imagination, Herzog is hardly known for his restraint. The Internet abounds with listicles detailing his macho feats of cinema. Besides the Peruvian monkeys, there’s the story of how he leapt into a cactus after making a bet in Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970); how he was caught in the middle of a South American border war (“it is exhilarating to be shot at without success” he told TIME in 2009, paraphrasing Winston Churchill); and how at one stage in Aguirre: the wrath of God he directed his lead, Klaus Kinski, at gunpoint.


"I'm directing landscapes as much as I'm directing characters."


“I don’t believe that independent cinema exists. It’s a myth,” Herzog said. “Cinema is always dependent on distribution systems, money, and technology. I try to be self-reliant, and there’s a big difference.”nnOn being a self-reliant filmmaker:n“Self-reliance means, among other things, that as a filmmaker I work on my own budgets … I have a clause in my contracts which allows me to look into the cashflow. Every single day I spend [time] with an accountant and the line producer just looking at the cash flow, because that’s where you’ll notice that something is going wrong.”nnOn survival in the movie business:n“Statistically, in the film industry, you have normally a life for 14, 15 or maybe 16 years, and then the strongest of the strong are brought to their knees, including for example, Orson Welles … I really admire the man because he was such an unbelievable force of nature, strong like a bison, and the industry brought him to his knees after 12 or 15 years … I know many of you are film students. You have to look beyond the first films that you’re making. You should look into long-term survival. What do you have to do? How do you articulate a clear vision and how do you stay on course? How do you articulate your own identity? How do you find your own voice? That’s something you should always do long-term.”nnOn whether he considers himself a “weird” filmmaker:n“No. The rest of the world is weird.”nnOn getting his films financed:n“Every single film I have made was always an uphill battle for finances. Normally it’s a motley sort of arrangement of pre-sales, or TV participation, or an advance guarantee by a distribution company. Sometimes there is hardly any money at all, and I would start it anyway, because when you really have a strong project of great, intense substance, ultimately money will follow you.”nnOn bad reviews:n“’Aguirre, the Wrath of God’ got really bad reviews in Germany. It was something like the worst film of the year…I knew I would survive the reviews and I would physically survive all of the reviewers, which I actually did. None of them are alive. It doesn’t give me pleasure to say that, but there is something satisfying about it. There’s a vision that cannot be deleted by a really bad review. Quite often the climate is very inclement … And reviews of [“Queen of the Desert”] have been quite bad, so I will survive. It happens and you have to have enough substance, enough stamina to outlive this and to move and plow on anyway.”nnOn Donald Trump:n“America is still a democracy and no matter whether you like or dislike the current government or president, America has an amazing ability to rejuvenate itself and to learn and move on. It’s a young country and I don’t see what you call fascism. I think it’s too far fetched … I have been in countries with real police states in Africa and some dictatorships in South America …When you are a filmmaker — if you are a filmmaker — you stand your ground and make the appropriate films … You are young. You can change it. You just better dig in your heels, but don’t get carried away as if the ship was sinking already. America is not the Titanic.”


The fury of nature exposes us all... Werner Herzog's latest documentary "Into the Inferno" is now available for streaming on Netflix.


From Lessons of Darkness (1992)


On location while shooting 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God', ca. 1972


Director Les Blank and Herzog show off their ink during the filming of Fitzcarraldo and Burden of Dreams, ca. 1981-82.


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