Werner Herzog was the star guest at Finale this week: the 80-year-old German director, to whom the history of cinema owes to works such as “Fitzcaraldo”, “Aguirre, the God of Rage” or “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, presented his new documentaries in Vienna “The Inner Glut” and “Theater of Thought” – he is also convinced of the high quality of his work in personal conversations. He has directed more than 70 films and also brought a new book.
Vienna newspaper: Mr. Herzog, Vienna presents Thomas von Steinaker’s documentary The Radical Dreamer about you. What do you dream of?
Werner Herzog: In fact, I never dreamed. This is strange, but that’s how it is. When he comes, I dream once or twice a year. But there is an equivalent of dreams in my life and this is my films. I always feel empty when I wake up in the morning and haven’t dreamed. So I make movies to fill that void.
How radical are your dreams, as the title suggests? They were never afraid to offend their art.
This is correct. It has always been like this. But to shorten this term “radical” only doesn’t work for me myself, so Thomas von Steinacker has to take the blame.
You said recently that films at festivals like Berlin and it was 90% nonsense. Quite a radical statement.
Let’s put it this way: I like to get myself into trouble, but expressing it as a percentage of the number of junk movies was of course nonsense. But we know from experience that there are actually no more than four or maybe five really great movies every year, all over the world. When I started there were five or six festivals. Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Locarno and one or two others. Today it’s 4,500 films, but we don’t have 4,500 great films per year, and we still have quite a few. This is why there are a lot of films shown at these festivals that are not great, average, or even junk. If you search for the movies shown online, you will find that the quality is always very poor. To say 90 percent is bad is an exaggeration, but many are mediocre at best.
Does this mid-level arise primarily because of today’s streaming service providers that produce content instead of movies?
Yes, this is one of the reasons. But the problem is multifaceted. Look at Hollywood: So many great things, special effects made the most incredible possible. The stars bring crowds to the cinema. But the storytelling was forgotten. There are no more films today like “Casablanca” that fit the storytelling. Hollywood has partly moved away from storytelling, which is why the film industry keeps reaching out to me because I’m actually really good at telling stories. Big movie events fill movie theaters, and that’s a good thing. Because many industries live from it. There are toys and coffee mugs with Darth Vader on it. I don’t have a problem with that, but more good stories are needed in cinema again. But I don’t think you should underestimate Hollywood. The dominance remains: if you go to the cinema in the Philippines, Kazakhstan or Uruguay today, you will definitely see a Hollywood movie there.
Her new documentary, The Theater of Thought, explores the capabilities of the human brain. What interests you?
My point was to show how we live within cultural norms, from the Aztecs to the Mayans to today – we all live in a group that respects the norms. The brain is responsible for shaping norms, and has the ability to make people live together. But there are also brain researchers who deal with mind-reading or who actually study telepathic abilities, whereby objects can be “guided” to people over long distances. I think every intelligence agency in the world is interested in such technologies, unfortunately. In addition to the right to freedom of expression, we will soon have to fight for the human right to freedom of our thoughts. This is in danger, the development is rapid, and the public and politicians are unprepared for it.
Do you distinguish between feature films and documentaries when shooting?
No, because my documentaries are compelling feature films. I do things with my documentaries that you really only do with feature films: I act out the actors, I repeat scenes, I make things up or change the facts. in a way that brings them closer to the truth than reality. I’m not doing this to fool the audience, I’m doing this to make my topic shine.
Anyone who studies your film work quickly realizes that every film has at least one kind of Herzog moment.
I think you quickly realize you’re sitting in the Herzog movie. Within ten seconds you’ll know you’re sitting in an Ingmar Bergman movie, within 30 seconds you’ll know you’re sitting in a Bunuel movie. I don’t want to compare myself to either of them now, but you’ll notice relatively quickly that you’re in one of my films. Since I’ve been making more documentaries lately, everyone thinks I’m no longer making feature films. But that’s not true: In the past ten years, I’ve shot five feature films as well as fifteen documentaries. He wrote two books.
Talking about the book: In your new book “Everyone for himself, God against all” you gather memories.
Be careful, don’t look too closely at the content, there is a lot of poetry in the book, such as stories about the little soldier or visions of the world. That’s why it’s not a biography, it’s something else.
There is also a Herzog moment in it, which is that the book stops in the middle of a sentence.
I explained this in the introduction because otherwise half of the buyers would angrily return the book to the publisher, thinking it was incomplete. I stopped writing mid-sentence when I saw a hummingbird outside my window. Then I thought the book was over exactly now, at this point. It wasn’t planned that way, but read it for yourself, I don’t want to give away much, but it’s good to read I guess.
Klaus Kinski was one of your strongest friction trees, with whom you made five films, including the classics “Aguirre, God of Fury” and “Fitzcarraldo.” What is left of this electrifying cooperation?
Time has a huge advantage that it can change our memory. Eight years after Kinsky’s death, I made My Dearest Enemy and there are very few of our arguments left, but it’s suddenly so warm and funny. That has changed again to this day. Not decisive, but I see a lot of things today with a sense of humor. We did a good job together, we both know that.
Can you feel on the set when you’re a hit?
Yes, you know the team knows that right away and that’s why the team and the cast do difficult things. This means: In “Aguirre” we lived on boats. We had no electricity, we would feed ourselves whenever we found little yucca and some dried fish in an Indian village. And we drank boiling river water. Everyone did it because every day it became clear that we were creating something completely unusual.
Herzog, Thank you for the interview.
I would like to say something about your newspaper. I am amazed that your newspaper has been uninterrupted since 1703. How wonderful! This is almost unbelievable, the longest running daily newspaper in the world! I wish you a long time alive, although there is a fight. I know I’ve been following your situation. I fully support you in your efforts to save this newspaper.