Crazy, Controversial, Cult: Werner Herzog Wants to Be a “Good Movie Soldier”.

Crazy, controversial, cult
Werner Herzog wants to be a “good cinematic soldier”.

Born in Bavaria, Werner Herzog became famous for being a world traveler with his camera: he encountered director Klaus Kinski in the South American jungle and the grizzly bears of Alaska. His life story could fill volumes. He finds touching stories in remote corners – even at the age of 80.

He’s been following people, stories, and extreme landscapes for decades – and even at the age of 80, Werner Herzog didn’t stop. “I try to remain a good soldier. A good soldier in the cinema,” said director in the portrait of the artist “Werner Herzog – a Radical Dreamer,” directed by Thomas von Steinaker, which opens in cinemas on October 27.

“My life has meaning when I tell a story that I know lies deep within,” the director sums up in the documentary. He proudly notes his hard work. He has made three films in just one year and in the previous year, when there was not much travel due to Covid, he had made a feature film and written two books.

Herzog’s spokesman, who will turn 80 on Monday, said he was traveling to two film festivals on his birthday. First in Telluride (US state of Colorado), then at the Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. There he presents his new documentary, The Theater of Thought, about modern brain research.

Memoirs and exhibition

Werner Herzog in Antarctica – His documentary “Encounters of the End of the World” was nominated for an Academy Award.

(Photo: Imago Images/Everett Group)

His memoirs “Everyone for himself and God against all”, published at the end of August, are 352 pages long. His life story could fill volumes. It also provides plenty of material for the current exhibition in Berlin Kinematics with about 250 exhibits, including many archival photos, as well as video materials and personal messages. According to the museum’s website, Werner Herzog has a cult following and is also controversial.

In 2009, Time magazine named Herzog one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In the same year, his documentary “Encounters of the End of the World” about Antarctica was nominated for an Academy Award. From Antarctica through a cave in southern France (“Cave of Forgotten Dreams”), Herzog went to death row in American prisons to attend the film documentary “Death in Texas” and the television production “On Death Row”, where inmates await execution. “This is material with such intensity that I have never seen anything in a movie before,” Herzog said in 2012.


For the film “Gorbachev – Encounter” Herzog interviewed the former head of state of the Soviet Union several times.

(Photo: Imago Images/The Everett Group)

The documentary “Grizzly Man” led him to a bear hunter in Alaska, came “in the depths of Hell” to the edge of volcanoes, in “Fireball: Visit from Far Away Worlds” he dealt with meteorites, in “Gorbachev – a meeting” with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev . But he also changes places – in front of the camera. Several times he had a voice guest role in the animated series “The Simpsons”. In “Star Wars” series The Mandalorian, he played the villain of 2020. As a villain in the action movie “Jack Reacher”, he made life difficult for former Tom Cruise.

He was born in poor conditions

Born in Munich in 1942 to a Croatian mother and German father, the artist grew up in a mountain village on the Austrian border. The family had taken refuge there after the bombing raids on Munich. The father disappeared shortly after his birth, says Herzog in the documentary Radical Dreamer – and when he visits the small village, he remembers the poor conditions and the constant hunger of children, but also the spirited games with brothers, nature and animals. The freedom to live by your ‘own rules’.

He studied history and literature, taught himself the film business. In 1961, when he was about 20 years old, he made his first short film. In “Heracles” notice bodybuilders standing in front of the camera. Four years later – at the Berlinale in 1968 – he won the Silver Bear for Best First Film for Lebenszeichen.

Several films with Kinski

With colleagues such as Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff, Herzog shaped the new German film. He was looking for strong characters and extreme stories. In the 1970s and 1980s, he worked with Klaus Kinski, the eccentric star of joint films such as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo,” under the most difficult and dangerous conditions in the South American jungle. He also got a babbling genius in front of the camera for the films “Nosferatu – Phantom of the Night” and “Woyzeck”. In the documentary “My Best Enemy,” he talks about their love and hate relationship. Actor Robert Pattinson testifies to the director in the Radical Dreamer documentary: “You can feel this brutality that very few directors can produce.”

Nicole Kidman says she was very excited to enter this “Werner world” and dare to do things. The Academy Award winner in Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert” embodies British explorer Gertrude Bell, who explored the desert hinterland of the Middle East at the beginning of the 20th century. “Twilight” star Pattinson plays alongside her.

crazy and lovable

Christian Bale, with whom he directed the war film Rescue Dawn (2006), says that some might see Werner Herzog as “crazy”. But for him he is one of the coolest people he has ever met, as the star confirms.


Werner Herzog and his wife Lena in November 2019 at the premiere of “The Mandalorian” – in which he plays the role of the villain.

(Photo: Photo Alliance/newscom)

The California native has lived in Los Angeles with his third wife, photographer Lena Herzog, since the 1990s. Herzog says he likes to be in a place where you can feel something is going on. “Here you don’t just talk, you just do it.”

The eternal traveler still has a very special travel destination in mind. “I’d like to go into space,” says a father of three in the documentary interview. “I support space exploration cinematically.” After all, he is familiar with the extreme worlds.

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