Werner Herzog, 30 years ago

Werner Herzog, 1980, speaking about TV and advertising and how films function while eating his shoe in public to help Errol Morris get his first major film released. See also The Occasional Diary Entries of German Director Werner Herzog. I wish I could speak as well in a second language as Herzog does, and I like his sense of the impoverishment of our shared language of images, an observation that seems completely undated in 2010.

Click below for some favourite Herzog quotes:


Our children will hate us for not throwing hand grenades into every TV station because of commercials.

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.

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.

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.

Civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness.

… So, you have to be daring to do things like this, because the world is not easily accepting of filmmaking. 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 outgut it, to outnumber it, to outfilm them — that`s what you have to do.

[On the ending of Stroszek (1977):] “When I saw the dancing chicken, I knew I would create a grand metaphor — for what, I don’t know.”

There are certainly laws and elements that make a film more accessible to mainstream audiences. If you’ve got Tom Cruise as a strongman, I’m sure it would have larger audiences, but it wouldn’t have the same substance.

It is not only my dreams, my belief is that all these dreams are yours 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.

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.

Strangely enough, I’ve always believed that my stories were mainstream stories; the films are narrated in a way that you never have a boring moment.

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7 Responses to “Werner Herzog, 30 years ago”

  1. Christina Says:

    Werner Herzog is one of the greatest! He always has interesting things to say. I recently read some quotes on the Ray Carney pages concerning film schools, good stuff. Here one quote:

    “And, vitally, aspiring filmmakers have to be taught that sometimes the only way of overcoming problems involves real physicality. Many great filmmakers have been astonishingly physical, athletic people. A much higher percentage than writers or musicians. 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 filmmaking 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.”

  2. LB Says:

    Great quote! And as usual there’s a seeming contradiction in what he says, because he himself is extremely educated, thoughtful and well-spoken, and when I go see other people’s films I often wish the filmmaker had more education or critical thinking ability. He’s an autodidact and very curious, and no doubt he did get his education on the road, but I think his was an unusually observant school of life. I just hope lots of action-oriented, adventurous filmmakers who never went to school don’t read this quote and use it as an excuse to think they’ve already received their education on the road and end up producing lots of manly, macho films full of physicality! I contrast this with the other quote above: ” 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.” So fantastic. I wish he’d come over for dinner.

  3. bree Says:

    Really enjoyed this lecture he gave:

    http://slought.org/content/11393/

    So funny! And good. And smart.

  4. LB Says:

    Bree, thanks for that. I’ve never heard that lecture before. So smart. If I’m ever stuck in my own work, I just watch Herzog videos on YouTube and I feel better. I have the kind of academic background he’s talking about and he’s completely right.

  5. Christina Says:

    I just had to think of this post after reading a Werner Herzog portrait in a German newspaper today. He is the president of this year´s Berlinale film jury. And it appears, he has already opened a film school by now:
    http://www.roguefilmschool.com/

    Don´t invite him to dinner, start walking to New Jersey ;)

  6. LB Says:

    He likes to walk long distances – maybe he’ll walk this way! Thanks for the link!

  7. LB Says:

    Hari Kunzru on Herzog, including a point about the ending of Cave of Forgotten Dreams which is I think very insightful: http://www.randomhouse.ca/hazlitt/feature/werner-herzog-director-present

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