This week, I’ll be looking at a personal hero of mine: filmmaker Werner Herzog. Known to most for Grizzly Man, the chronicle of a man who made bear friends and was then murdered by them, Herzog has been ridiculously prolific over the past few decades, amassing a body of work that is at once brutally real and nightmarish, often buoyed by his own sardonic touch. He’s also developed a cult following over time for his bizarre Teutonic accent, dryly cutting narration work and, most importantly, for being something of a crazy person.
This is what I bring to you today: Herzog’s shining moments as a heroically off-kilter icon. For instance, recently, Herzog had to weather what I imagine is one of the most ego-murdering things a filmmaker can do: an open-to-the-public Q&A session, in this case on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Since this was a public, open-air screening, the dumb questions came a-bounding, and to his credit, Herzog was unflappable. In response to a nervous, likely drunken line of attempted film analysis, he said:
“Whether I can follow or not doesn’t really matter, and whether you agree or not doesn’t matter. There’s apparently something that sinks in very deep, into you. And no matter what sort of name you have for it doesn’t really matter. I really appreciate that you love this film, and something really — it’s as if an entire universe opens up to you, is that correct?”
“Fine then. We have done our job right, and John Huston has done his job well.”
He’s not always been this understanding, however. Famously, the documentary Burden of Dreams was shot about Herzog’s efforts to make Fitzcarraldo, and how he (among many things) commissioned Amazonian natives to pull a decommissioned oil tanker up a mountain, nearly pushed Klaus Kinski to murder and spent most of his time in the Amazon ranting about nature:
Now for the real shit. In 2006, during an interview with the BBC, Herzog was shot with an air rifle by a sniper. And, like a true boss, he simply stated that “Oh, somebody is shooting at us. We must go.” Now, there are tough guys, and then there are guys that can get shot and simply declare:
It was not a significant bullet. I am not afraid.
If after hearing these or any of the other great stories about Herzog’s unflappability in the face of the absurd and possibly life-threatening, you want to learn from the man himself, then I am here to tell you that it can be done. You’ll need around $1,500 and the spirit of an adventurer, but you too can enroll in Herzog’s Rogue Film School.
First off, this is not a film school. However, you’ll definitely learn…something. I’ll just quote here:
Related, but more practical subjects, will be the art of lockpicking. Traveling on foot. The exhilaration of being shot at unsuccessfully. The athletic side of filmmaking. The creation of your own shooting permits. The neutralization of bureaucracy. Guerrilla tactics. Self reliance.
Though I’m not quite sure what this has to do with movies, if more people appear who’re anything like Werner Herzog, this should be a required gap year for all filmmakers.
(Recent bonus: Herzog reading the meme-turned-bedtime-story “Go The Fuck To Sleep” at a library. Enjoy.)