Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog: Interviews

Edited by Eric Ames
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Werner Herzog
    Book Description:

    Over the course of his career, legendary director Werner Herzog (b. 1942) has made almost sixty films and given more than eight hundred interviews. This collection features the best of these, focusing on all the major films, fromSigns of LifeandAguirre, the Wrath of God to Grizzly ManandCave of Forgotten Dreams.When did Herzog decide to become a filmmaker? Who are his key influences? Where does he find his peculiar themes and characters? What role does music play in his films? How does he see himself in relation to the German past and in relation to film history? And how did he ever survive the wrath of Klaus Kinski? Herzog answers these and many other questions in twenty-five interviews ranging from the 1960s to the present.

    Critics and fans recognized Herzog's importance as a young German filmmaker early on, but his films have attained international significance over the decades. Most of the interviews collected in this volume--some of them from Herzog's production archive and previously unpublished--appear in English for the very first time. Together, they offer an unprecedented look at Herzog's work, his career, and his public persona as it has developed and changed over time.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-015-0
    Subjects: Performing Arts, History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    “Far from the hazards of a South American jungle or the wilderness of Alaska, I met up with Werner Herzog in the suburban wilds of L.A., which he currently calls home. We wanted to get a quick exterior shot of Herzog in his native habitat, when things took an unexpected turn.” The television camera shows Herzog talking with British journalist Mark Kermode. Suddenly, we hear what sounds like the hiss of a bullet; we see the director wince, his body slightly bending at the middle. Somebody shot Werner Herzog.

    After moving to a safe location, they resume the interview. The...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  5. Filmography
    (pp. xxiii-2)
  6. Platform for the Young German Film: Werner Herzog
    (pp. 3-9)
    Frieda Grafe, Enno Patalas, Florian Fricke and Werner Herzog

    Question: When you were makingSigns of Life, did you have a certain audience in mind?

    Werner Herzog: I can’t actually say who my audience is, though I can say with some certainty who it is not: I did not make the film for tree frogs, because so far I haven’t seen any tree frogs at the box-office, nor have I ever seen a squirrel behind a camera. That much seems clear, but hardly anything does beyond it. I don’t have a precise sense of my audience. At most, I could say that I’ve sent out signals and I hope...

  7. Hope for Berlin
    (pp. 10-11)
    Werner Herzog

    Director Werner Herzog (Signs of Life) showed festival films in the Berlin suburb of Neukölln with free admission. Public interest surpassed all expectations.

    Question: Mr. Herzog, you have organized an event in Neukölln, using films from the Berlin festival—in order to give thefestivala wider audience or in order to give itsfilmsa wider audience?

    Werner Herzog: Yes, I did it because I fear the Berlinale has lost contact with the people. At the Zoo-Palast and the Festspielhaus [two of the largest, most prestigious festival theaters], a counterfeit public holds sway. Journalists, delegates, and film people are...

  8. South American Experiences: A Conversation with Werner Herzog on Aguirre, the Wrath of God
    (pp. 12-17)
    Peter Schumann and Werner Herzog

    Werner Herzog is one of our most important young filmmakers. SinceSigns of Life, his films belong among the most controversial experiments of German cinema—not because they are fruitless formal experiments, but rather because Herzog’s magical, archaic gesture, with which he describes the world and people, tends toward mythological thinking. At the same time, his peculiar films (among them,Even Dwarfs Started Small), most of which, unfortunately, have appeared [in West Germany] only on television, are among the better films of our current cinema. Herzog’s latest film,Aguirre, the Wrath of God, takes place in the age of Spanish...

  9. Werner Herzog: “Like a Powerful Dream . . .”
    (pp. 18-23)
    Noureddine Ghali and Werner Herzog

    In preparation for the upcoming release ofAguirre—the strange and somber chronicle of a sixteenth-century conquistador, filmed in the Amazon jungle—here are some comments by the film’s author regarding his oeuvre.

    Werner Herzog: When I madeEven Dwarfs Started Smallpeople would ask me all the time, “What did you want to say with this film?” And I would reply, “I didn’t want to say anything.” I made the film to free myself from a nightmare, from a bad dream. The film took shape all of a sudden and I saw it in its entirety. I kept it...

  10. Every Man for Himself and God against All: A Conversation with Werner Herzog on The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
    (pp. 24-28)
    Hans Günther Pflaum and Werner Herzog

    Werner Herzog’s new film tells the story of Kaspar Hauser, the foundling discovered 1829 in Nuremberg. Around eighteen years old when he was discovered, he became a pedagogical case study for society, and in 1833 fell victim to an unexplained murder.

    Hans Günther Pflaum: Mr. Herzog, two years ago you told me that you would like to make a film about Kaspar Hauser. You also mentioned [François] Truffaut’sWild Childand said it was unfortunate that this film had already been made. Now,The Enigma of Kaspar Hauseris no doubt a very personal film, which is unmistakably yours, but...

  11. Interview with Werner Herzog
    (pp. 29-41)
    Kraft Wetzel and Werner Herzog

    Kraft Wetzel: Your previous interviews give only a partial sense of your autobiography. Were there certain experiences you had that were important to the development of your films?

    Werner Herzog: I was often away and alone. I was in Africa, for example, although I never really wanted to go there. I had always been scared of it, of Black Africa. There are people who have such an appalling Hemingway-like desire for Africa, with Kilimanjaro, big game hunting, and manliness—I’m certainly not one of them. I’ve always seen the dreadful in it, the unpredictable. . . .

    KW: In what...

  12. Hypnosis as Means of Stylization: An Interview with Werner Herzog
    (pp. 42-46)
    Horst Wiedemann and Werner Herzog

    Horst Wiedemann: Do you think, withHeart of Glass, you will find success this time in German first-run movie theaters?

    Werner Herzog: Yes, in Munich, the film should play at the “Eldorado.” In other countries, though, I’ve been making it into first-run theaters for two or three years. In Paris, even before the German premiere,Heart of Glassis starting in ten theaters at once, including a very large cinema on the Champs-Élysées, two or three cinemas in the Latin Quarter, and so on.

    HW: You once described yourself, from an economic standpoint, as being “on artificial respiration.” Is that...

  13. Interview with Werner Herzog
    (pp. 47-51)
    Eric de Saint-Angel and Werner Herzog

    With his searing gaze and vibrant voice, Werner Herzog looks like a character right out of one of his films. Something about him is reminiscent of Aguirre, the superhuman adventurer, or Kaspar Hauser, a stranger to this world. The thirty-three-year-old Bavarian belongs to a breed of grand dreamers. He does not belong to any school or any current trend. All alone, with the “obstinacy of an ox,” he pursues a powerfully original body of work punctuated by disconcerting parables. He says again and again that his own life is of no importance—only his work is important and he must...

  14. Interview with Werner Herzog on Nosferatu
    (pp. 52-55)
    Simon Mizrahi and Werner Herzog

    Simon Mizrahi: You have said that, for you, Murnau’sNosferatuis the most important film in the history of German cinema.

    Werner Herzog: Yes.

    SM: So why remakeNosferatu?

    WH: I did not want to remakeNosferatu. My film stands entirely on its own. It is a completely new version that we’re dealing with here. The context and the characters are different, and the story is somewhat different. But you’re right, I feel very close to Murnau. He is my favorite German director. In fact, I rank him well above Fritz Lang. He sees things much too geometrically.


  15. Interview with Werner Herzog on the American Reception of His Films
    (pp. 56-58)
    Jörg Bundschuh, Christian Bauer and Werner Herzog

    Question: In America, German filmmakers are subsumed under the notion of “New German Cinema.” Do you like the fact that you all fall under one category?

    Werner Herzog: I think being pulled into the vicinity of other filmmakers isn’t such a bad thing in itself. Here in America it’s called “New German Cinema,” but at the same time people here know that it’s not a single stylistic or thematic trend, but rather a strong movement by young people working with very different themes and styles. That’s why people speak less of a “school,” as they do with the Italian neo-realists,...

  16. Fitzcarraldo: A Conversation with Werner Herzog
    (pp. 59-81)
    Bion Steinborn, Rüdiger von Naso and Werner Herzog

    Question: In the brief preliminary conversation we had just a minute ago, you said: “I just want to take a break and not make any more films for a few years. I want to do something else.” There was something in your tone that sounded like exhaustion. Was that perhaps a sign of resignation or have the years of shootingFitzcarraldotaken an inner toll?

    Werner Herzog: No, no, not at all. I definitely want to continue making films. I can’t do anything else, apart from writing. But, of course, you have to be careful. It’s just like with top...

  17. Interview with Werner Herzog on Where the Green Ants Dream
    (pp. 82-91)
    Simon Mizrahi and Werner Herzog

    Simon Mizrahi: This is a project that dates back quite a long time: Does the film have the same shape today or has it evolved over time into its present form?

    Werner Herzog: I have some vague memories of the very first stage of this project. I spent some time in Australia for the first time in my life around 1973, at the Perth Film Festival, when I read about Len Wright’s battle of some Aborigines against a mining company that did bauxite mining in the Northwest of Australia. And I learned that many such struggles had taken place. It...

  18. Discussion with Werner Herzog on Staging His First Opera
    (pp. 92-99)
    David Knaus, Beat Presser and Werner Herzog

    Question: Why the opera? It seems like that’s unusual.

    Werner Herzog: Yes, it is, because I have no experience with opera.

    When I madeFitzcarraldo, I had never seen an opera in my life. Only a year after the release ofFitzcarraldo, I saw a production at La Scala in Milan, which was the same production we had inFitzcarraldoat the beginning. I’ve seen a second opera here in Bologna, which I just saw to get an idea of what the stage looked like, what kind of technical possibilities they had. So that’s all my qualification.

    Q: I thought...

  19. Cobra Verde
    (pp. 100-105)
    Jean-Pierre Lavoignat

    In some ways, you could say it all began when I read Bruce Chatwin’s novelThe Viceroy of Oudiah, but actually the seeds were sown long before that. I’m someone who walks a lot, and who walks great distances. I thought Chatwin’s first novelIn Patagonia, the story of a long walk, was extraordinary, one of the best books I’d read in years, so whenThe Viceroy of Oudiahwas published I read it straightaway. I immediately thought it would make a magnificent film, even if it doesn’t have the storyline or complexity of a film. It was full of...

  20. The Mirror of Bangui: According to Werner Herzog Echoes from a Sombre Empire Is Not a Documentary on Bokassa but a Portrait of Us All
    (pp. 106-108)
    Danièle Heymann

    A diagonal phalanx of red crabs can be heard rustling as they storm an apocalyptic beach. In a deserted zoo, a chimpanzee smokes a cigarette behind bars and casts his keeper a hopeless glance. Between these two symbolically charged scenes spans Werner Herzog’s latest filmEchoes from a Sombre Empire. Under the guise of a television news magazine (documents, interviews, exposé) the film meanders through the reign of Bokassa I, emperor of the Central African Republic, with visits to the palace now in ruins, the walk-in freezers, and the crocodile pond.

    In interviews with journalist Michael Goldsmith, a sweet and...

  21. Interview with Werner Herzog on Lessons of Darkness
    (pp. 109-114)
    Alexander Schwarz and Werner Herzog

    Alexander Schwarz:Lessons of Darknessis not a pure documentary film. So maybe we should start by talking about the circumstances of its production. The motivation for the film was probably to record a singular event, which is actually a very documentary impulse.

    Werner Herzog: Let me first say something about categorization. Obviously, it’s something that has always interested the media and academics, and people try to determine a specific direction for the film. I always say it’s a great requiem for a planet that is no longer inhabitable, or that it almost becomes a science-fiction film. There’s actually not...

  22. Werner Herzog
    (pp. 115-124)
    Edgar Reitz and Werner Herzog

    Edgar Reitz: Do you remember what the first film in your life was?

    Werner Herzog: I remember it very well, because I grew up in a remote mountain valley in upper Bavaria, where a car was a sensation, where a banana was totally unknown, I didn’t even know the word for it. Nor had I ever seen an orange, so I had to learn all that, and I first had to learn High German. Later in school, when I was eleven, they showed two films, both documentaries: Eskimos building an igloo, followed by pygmies building a liana bridge across a...

  23. Werner Herzog in Conversation with Geoffrey O’Brien
    (pp. 125-135)
    Geoffrey O’Brien and Werner Herzog

    I met Werner Herzog in late October 1996 in Washington, D.C., where he was rehearsing a production of Carlos Gomes’s 1870 operaIl Guarany, starring Placido Domingo and scheduled to open at the Kennedy Center a week later. The opera (which Herzog directed previously in Bonn) is something of a curiosity: Based on a popular Brazilian novel by Jose de Alencar, it was turned by his compatriot Carlos Gomes into an Italian opera which enjoyed tremendous success before dropping completely out of the repertoire in the early twentieth century.

    With its bizarre plot, an impenetrable tangle of conspiracies and abductions...

  24. Revolver Interview: Werner Herzog
    (pp. 136-146)
    Daniel Sponsel, Jan Sebenig and Werner Herzog

    Question: What do images mean to you?

    Werner Herzog: For me, they are a part of life. Without cinema images I would not be particularly fit for survival. Maybe that has to do with the fact that I don’t dream. I belong to the very few who never dream. When I wake up in the morning, I experience it as a real vacuum, as something that’s missing. Something is wrong with me.

    Q: There seem to be two types of images in the cinema: images from an external reality and images that come from dreams, inner images. Are your images...

  25. The Wrath of Klaus Kinski: An Interview with Werner Herzog
    (pp. 147-154)
    A. G. Basoli and Werner Herzog

    By the time Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski teamed up for the filming ofAguirre, the Wrath of God, Kinski had appeared in scores of films and Herzog, with five features behind him at the age of twenty-eight, was one of the most promising directors of the New German Cinema. The role of Aguirre, the mad sixteenth-century conquistador leading a splinter group of rebels to self-destruction while searching the Amazon for the fabled El Dorado, had appealed to Kinski enough to brave the prospect of two grueling months of filming on location in the Peruvian jungle.

    After weeks of drifting...

  26. A More Athletic Approach: An Interview with Werner Herzog on Grizzly Man
    (pp. 155-159)
    Cynthia Fuchs and Werner Herzog

    Werner Herzog is perched on one of those not-so-comfy hotel settees, half-sofa, half-chair. He rises and smiles, weary and imposing. The sixty-three-year-old filmmaker doesn’t count talking about his work among his favorite activities—as he puts it, “I have a more physical approach than a cerebral approach, a more athletic approach”—but he remains enthused about his new documentary,Grizzly Man. It traces the life and death of animal activist Timothy Treadwell, who spent some thirteen years camping in Alaskan bear sanctuaries and what he called “the grizzly maze.” In October 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed...

  27. “I’ve Never Stood Still”: A Conversation with Werner Herzog
    (pp. 160-163)
    Dietmar Kammerer and Werner Herzog

    Dietmar Kammerer: Mr. Herzog, in 1998 you filmed the documentaryLittle Dieter Needs to Fly, about a young German who joined the U.S. Navy. When did you decide to make the feature film,Rescue Dawn, from this material?

    Werner Herzog: During the production of the documentary—what I like to call “a feature film in disguise”—it was already clear to us that a big film had to be made out of this, with a great actor. At first, there just wasn’t any money.Rescue Dawnonly came about after the logistics, the financing, and the star [Christian Bale] had...

  28. Defiant Werner Herzog to Defamer: “Who Is Abel Ferrara?”
    (pp. 164-165)
    Werner Herzog

    Question: So, yes or no: IsBad Lieutenanta project you’re working on with Nicolas Cage?

    Werner Herzog: Yes, but it’s not a remake. It’s like, for example, you wouldn’t call a new James Bond movie a remake of the previous one—although the name ofThe Bad Lieutenantis a different one, and the story is completely different. It’s very interesting because Nicolas Cage really wants to work with me, and just anticipating working with an actor of his caliber is just wonderful.

    Q: Whythisproject, though? You could have worked on anything.

    WH: There’s an interesting screenplay;...

  29. Q & A: Werner Herzog
    (pp. 166-171)
    Daniel Trilling and Werner Herzog

    Daniel Trilling: Your new film,Encounters at the End of the World, is a documentary about Antarctica. You say you were inspired by some footage that divers had shot of the world beneath the frozen Ross Sea. So what exactly attracted you to the place?

    Werner Herzog: It’s too obvious; it is a place so strange and so unusual it’s as if you were not on this planet any more. It’s pure science fiction without any technical trick. I just was curious and I wanted to go there and dive myself and film myself. Of course I was not allowed...

  30. Out of the Darkness: Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams
    (pp. 172-180)
    Samuel Wigley and Werner Herzog

    With typical perversity on the part of Werner Herzog, his first (and likely only) foray into 3D forsakes the pulsing immensities of ocean and cosmos—the bread and butter of three-dimensional documentary-making—for the restrictive murk of a cave in the South of France. Discovered in 1994, the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave contains the oldest known artworks in the world—pictures of bears, cattle, lions, and bison painted on to the cavern walls by early man some 32,000 years ago. Sealed off by rockfall, this prehistoric gallery survived unseen and untarnished for millennia. Even now, its rarefied atmosphere is too fragile to...

  31. Key Resources
    (pp. 181-182)
  32. Index
    (pp. 183-193)