• Germany's news in English

Werner Herzog: 'I am not an eccentric'

Vera von Kreutzbruck · 13 Feb 2010, 16:55

Published: 13 Feb 2010 16:55 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

A rebel against the conservative filmmaking of the fifties, Herzog was part of the New German Cinema movement, and first gained widespread acclaim for his epic film “Fitzcarraldo” (1982).

Whether consciously or not, the director has constructed a myth around himself thanks to a raft of unusual cinematographic endeavours. Among many tales originating from his sets, the most legendary occurred while shooting “Fitzcarraldo,” when fights between him and the notoriously temperamental star Klaus Kinski became so unbearable that one of the indigenous men working as an extra offered to kill the actor.

Now with more than 50 films to his name, from popular features to documentaries, Herzog spoke with The Local ahead of recognising a new generation of talented filmmakers at the Berlinale awards next week.

You have a reputation of being a lone wolf, yet you are the jury president of the 60th Berlinale. How did that happen?

The lone wolf is a bit of stylization by the media. I had to be kind of persuaded to do it. I thought it was right to return to this festival with a real duty, as a working member of the festival. I was told that last year the films were extremely good. A young woman from Peru (Claudia Llosa’s “The Milk of Sorrow”) won the Golden Bear. I was in Peru not long ago and it has translated into a certain pride for the entire nation. In this case, I believe it does make sense to give awards to films. However, the other side of the coin is that I’ve always said films do not really need awards. Awards are much more for the agricultural fair where the prize goes for the cow with the best milk.

Why did you decide to set up the Rogue Film School?

During the last 25 years there have been an increasing number of people who see me as a point of orientation. I felt I had to give an organized response. I have something I can pass on. Its not technical things that you can learn at a local film school, its a different spirit - a rogue, guerilla style spirit.

Why are people so attracted to your movies?

I have managed against all odds to always make films I really wanted to make. And all this happened outside of the established film industry. Yet my films are all hidden mainstream movies. For example, my film “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” which was made forty years ago, has become a mainstream movie. I am not an eccentric, I occupy the centre and all the rest is bizarre. I’m clinically sane, so to speak.

You have repeatedly said that your work seeks an ‘ecstatic truth.’ Could you define this?

I have always had a conflict with the so-called cinéma verité. We have to look beyond realism. We have to dig into a deeper stratum of truth, which is somehow deeply inherent in cinema but very hard to ever find. I’m looking for moments that are all of a sudden illuminating.

Do you seek for this kind of truth when you make documentaries?

I think that through imagination, stylization, invention we become much more truthful. I have done unusual things to do so. For example, in my film “Lessons of Darkness” I show Kuwait when the Iraqi army set the entire country on fire. It looked not just like a political crime, but a crime against creation itself. In the entire film there is not one single moment where you can recognize our planet. I declared this to be a science fiction movie, which brought much controversy. In Berlin, people howled at me in disgust and spat at me, but I wouldn’t like to miss such beautiful moments of controversy.

You often portray the struggle between man and nature. What attracts you to this relationship?

It’s not always a struggle. In a way it’s a distant echo of how I grew up in the mountains without the presence of technical civilization. I did not see movies until I was 11. I made my first phone call when I was 17. And I still do not have a phone. I function better in the Amazonian jungle, in Antarctica or the Sahara desert. I could work in a studio but I would never really feel at home.

What do you cherish most about your relationship with the late Klaus Kinski?

It’s a difficult question because it was such a complex relationship. But I would say discipline. His discipline combined with my discipline. Otherwise, it was just the struggle to domesticate the wild beast, which was a certain joy. It also created good results.

Story continues below…

You said recently that your book “The Conquest of the Useless,” a journal of the two years you spent making “Fitzcarraldo” would survive your films. Why?

In my opinion there is more substance in my prose than in all my movies together. It is a more direct way to express oneself. In cinema you always have other aspects in between like finance, organization, actors or technical apparatus.

Does it matter if people are still reading it in 100 years?

I couldn’t care less about posterity because I won’t be around anyway. I could say it more drastically but I won’t. Maybe after a few beers in a bar I would tell you what I mean.

This interview was conducted with a group of journalists.

Vera von Kreutzbruck (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd