Some filmmakers become legends in their own lifetime. Werner Herzog is more like a myth – some Arthurian figure who pulled a movie camera instead of a sword out of a stone. Like Kaspar, he is enigmatic, like Aguirre, he is wrathful, and like so many artists he started small, stealing a camera from the Munich Film School to experiment with while still in high school and working nights to fund his projects. He got his money’s worth out of that camera too, still using it years later to shoot Aguirre, The Wrath of God.
Since that enterprising start, he has been both prolific and provocative, making 20 fiction features, 32 documentary features, 15 short subjects, and two seasons of television. He’s made movies in every continent, including twice in Australia. His sheer passion for cinema is both intimidating and infectious.
A key figure in the New German Cinema, Herzog quickly developed a reputation as an uncompromising filmmaker with a singular vision. His films are characterised by a number of recurring themes: an affection for and fascination with outsiders, an awe of the natural world that is untempered by romanticism or anthropomorphism, a disgust of colonialism and imperialism, and a dark but robust sense of humour.
Herzog is the filmmaker’s filmmaker, an artist driven to tell his stories and forge his works no matter what. Stories abound of him going to impossible lengths to make movies, and during one memorable interview with critic Mark Kermode in 2006, an obsessed fan shot him in the stomach with an air rifle. Unperturbed, the director completed the interview in what might be described as “typical Herzogian fashion”.