Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog (German: [ˈvɛɐ̯nɐ ˈhɛɐ̯tsoːk]; born 5 September 1942) is a German film director, screenwriter, actor, and opera director. Herzog is considered a figure of the New German Cinema. His films often feature ambitious protagonists with impossible dreams,[2] people with unique talents in obscure fields, or individuals who are in conflict with nature.[3]

Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog Venice Film Festival 2009.jpg
Herzog at the 2009 Venice Film Festival
Werner Herzog Stipetić

(1942-09-05) 5 September 1942 (age 78)
Alma materUniversity of Pittsburgh[1]
  • Film director
  • producer
  • screenwriter
  • actor
Years active1961–present
  • Martje Grohmann
    (m. 1967; div. 1985)
  • Christine Maria Ebenberger
    (m. 1987; div. 1997)
  • (m. 1999)
Werner Herzog Signature.png

Herzog made his first film in 1961 at the age of 19. Since then he has produced, written, and directed more than sixty feature films and documentaries, such as Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Heart of Glass (1976), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1978), Fitzcarraldo (1982), Lessons of Darkness (1992), Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997), My Best Fiend (1999), Invincible (2000), Grizzly Man (2005), Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009), and Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010). He has published more than a dozen books of prose, and directed as many operas.

French filmmaker François Truffaut once called Herzog "the most important film director alive."[4] American film critic Roger Ebert said that Herzog "has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons, or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular."[5] He was named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2009.[6]


Early lifeEdit

Herzog was born Werner Stipetić in Munich, to Elizabeth Stipetić, an Austrian of Croatian descent, and Dietrich Herzog, who was German. When Herzog was two weeks old, his mother took refuge in the remote Bavarian village of Sachrang (in the Chiemgau Alps), after the house next to theirs was destroyed during an Allied bombing raid in World War II.[7] In Sachrang, Herzog grew up without running water, a flushing toilet, or a telephone. He never saw films, and did not even know of the existence of cinema until a traveling projectionist came by the one-room schoolhouse in Sachrang.[8] When Herzog was 12, he and his family moved back to Munich. His father had abandoned the family early in his youth. He later adopted his father's surname Herzog (German for "duke"), which he thought sounded more impressive for a filmmaker.[9]

The same year, Herzog was told to sing in front of his class at school, and he adamantly refused, and was almost expelled. Until he was age eighteen, Herzog listened to no music, sang no songs, and studied no instruments. He later said that he would easily give ten years from his life to be able to play the cello. At an early age, he experienced a dramatic phase in which he converted to Catholicism, which only lasted a few years. He started to embark on long journeys, some of them on foot. Around this time, he knew he would be a filmmaker, and learned the basics from a few pages in an encyclopedia which provided him with "everything I needed to get myself started" as a filmmaker—that, and the 35 mm camera he stole from the Munich Film School.[10] In the commentary for Aguirre, the Wrath of God, he says, "I don't consider it theft. It was just a necessity. I had some sort of natural right for a camera, a tool to work with".

During Herzog's last years of high school, no production company was willing to take on his projects, so he worked night shifts as a welder in a steel factory to earn the funds for his first featurettes. After graduating from high school, he was intrigued by the post-independence Congo, but in attempting to travel there, reached only the south of Sudan before falling seriously ill.[citation needed] While already making films, he had a brief stint at Munich University, where he studied history and literature.[11]

Before leaving school, he bought a house in the UK, in what was likely the Moss Side area of Manchester, England. There, he learned to speak English.[12] Herzog subsequently moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in order to study at Duquesne University.[13]

He made his first short film, Herakles, in 1962. In school there was an emphasis on Latin and Greek, languages that he continues to read to this day.[citation needed]

In 1971, while Herzog was location scouting for Aguirre, the Wrath of God in Peru, he narrowly avoided taking LANSA Flight 508. Herzog's reservation was cancelled due to a last-minute change in itinerary. The plane was later struck by lightning and disintegrated, but one survivor, Juliane Koepcke, lived after a free fall. Long haunted by the event, nearly 30 years later he made a documentary film, Wings of Hope (1998), which explored the story of the sole survivor.

Early careerEdit

Herzog, along with Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff, led the beginning of the West German cinema movement. The West German cinema movement consisted of documentarians who filmed on low budgets and were influenced by the French New Wave of cinema. Besides using professional actors—German, American and otherwise—Herzog is known for using people from the locality in which he is shooting. Especially in his documentaries, he uses locals to benefit what he calls "ecstatic truth" (as opposed to the literal or factual truth). He uses footage of the non-actors both playing roles and being themselves.[citation needed]

Herzog and his films have been nominated for and won many awards. His first major award was the Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Jury for his first feature film Signs of Life[14] (Nosferatu the Vampyre was also nominated for Golden Bear in 1979). Herzog won the Best Director award for Fitzcarraldo at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. In 1975, his movie The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury (also known as the 'Silver Palm') and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Festival. Other films directed by Herzog nominated for Golden Palm are: Woyzeck (1979) and Where the Green Ants Dream (1984). His films have been nominated at many other festivals around the world: César Awards (Aguirre, the Wrath of God), Emmy Awards (Little Dieter Needs to Fly), European Film Awards (My Best Fiend) and Venice Film Festival (Scream of Stone and The Wild Blue Yonder). In 1987, Herzog and his half-brother Lucki Stipetić won the Bavarian Film Award for Best Producing for the film Cobra Verde.[15] In 2002 he won the Dragon of Dragons Honorary Award during Kraków Film Festival in Kraków, Poland.

Herzog once promised to eat his shoe if Errol Morris completed the film project on pet cemeteries that he had been working on, in order to challenge and motivate Morris, whom Herzog perceived as incapable of following up on the projects he conceived. In 1978, when the film Gates of Heaven premiered, Herzog cooked and publicly ate his shoe, an event later incorporated into a short documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe by Les Blank. At the event, Herzog suggested that he hoped the act would serve to encourage anyone having difficulty bringing a project to fruition.[citation needed]

In 1999, before a public dialogue with critic Roger Ebert at the Walker Art Center, Herzog read a new manifesto, which he dubbed Minnesota Declaration: Truth and Fact in Documentary Cinema.[16] Subtitled "Lessons of Darkness," the 12-point declaration began: "Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants." Ebert later wrote of its significance: "For the first time, it fully explained his theory of 'ecstatic truth.'"[17] In 2017, Herzog wrote a six-point addendum to the manifesto,[18] prompted by a question about "truth in an age of alt-facts."[19]

Later careerEdit

Herzog was honored at the 49th San Francisco International Film Festival, receiving the 2006 Film Society Directing Award.[20] Four of his films have been shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Wodaabe – Herdsmen of the Sun in 1990, Bells from the Deep in 1993, Lessons of Darkness in 1993, and The Wild Blue Yonder in 2006. Herzog's April 2007 appearance at the Ebertfest in Champaign, Illinois earned him the Golden Thumb Award, and an engraved glockenspiel given to him by a young film maker inspired by his films. Grizzly Man, directed by Herzog, won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. When the BBC interviewed him on the street as part of the film's promotion, he was shot in the abdomen by a man with an air-rifle.[21][22] Encounters at the End of the World won the award for Best Documentary at the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Herzog's first nomination.[citation needed]

In 2006, Herzog was shot in the abdomen while on Skyline Drive in Los Angeles. He had been giving an interview on Grizzly Man to Mark Kermode of the BBC. Herzog continued the interview without seeking medical treatment. The shooter later turned out to be a crazed fan with an air-rifle. Regarding the incident, Herzog later said, "I seem to attract the clinically insane." Two days later, Herzog helped actor Joaquin Phoenix exit his car after a car-crash.[23]

Herzog at a press conference in Brussels, 2007

In 2009, Herzog became the only filmmaker in recent history to enter two films in competition in the same year at the Venice Film Festival. Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was entered into the festival's official competition schedule, and his My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? entered the competition as a "surprise film".[24] Herzog also provided the narration for the short film Plastic Bag directed by Ramin Bahrani which was the opening night film in the Corto Cortissimo section of the festival.[25]

Dissatisfied with the way film schools are run, Herzog founded his own Rogue Film School in 2009.[26] For the students, Herzog has said, "I prefer people who have worked as bouncers in a sex club, or have been wardens in the lunatic asylum. You must live life in its very elementary forms. The Costa Ricans have a very nice word for it: pura vida. It doesn't mean just purity of life, but the raw, stark-naked quality of life. And that's what makes young people more into a filmmaker than academia."[27]

Herzog was the president of the jury at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival in 2010.[28][29][30]

Herzog completed a documentary called Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 2010, which shows his journey into the Chauvet Cave in France. Although generally skeptical of 3D film as a format,[31] Herzog premiered the film at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival in 3-D and had its European premiere at the 2011 Berlinale. Also in 2010, Herzog co-directed with Dimitry Vasuykov Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, which portrays the life of fur trappers from the Siberian part of the Taiga, and had its premiere at the 2010 Telluride Film Festival.[32]

Herzog's star on the Boulevard der Stars [de] in Berlin

Herzog has narrated many of his documentary films, and he lent his voice to an animated television program for the first time in 2010, appearing in The Boondocks in its third-season premiere episode It's a Black President, Huey Freeman. In the episode, he played a fictionalized version of himself filming a documentary about the series' cast of characters and their actions during the 2008 election of Barack Obama.[citation needed]

Continuing with voice work, Herzog played Walter Hotenhoffer (formerly known as Augustus Gloop) in The Simpsons episode "The Scorpion's Tale" which aired in March 2011. The next year, he also appeared in the 8th-season episode of American Dad! called "Ricky Spanish", and lent his voice to a recurring character during the 4th season of the Adult Swim animated series Metalocalypse. In 2015 he voiced a character for Adult Swim's Rick and Morty. He also appeared opposite Tom Cruise as the villain Zec Chelovek in the 2012 action film Jack Reacher.

Herzog gained attention in 2013 when he released a 35-minute Public Service Announcement-style documentary, From One Second to the Next, demonstrating the danger of texting while driving and financed by AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile as part of their It Can Wait driver safety campaign. The film, which documents four stories in which texting and driving led to tragedy or death, initially received over 1.7 million YouTube views and was subsequently distributed to over 40,000 high schools.[33] In July 2013, Herzog contributed to an art installation entitled "Hearsay of the Soul", for the Whitney Biennial, which was later acquired as a permanent exhibit by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. In late 2013 he also lent his voice to the English-language dub of Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises.[34]

In 2011, Herzog competed with Ridley Scott for making a film based around the life of explorer Gertrude Bell.[35] In 2012, it was confirmed that Herzog would start production on his long-in-development project in March 2013 in Morocco with Naomi Watts to play Gertrude Bell along with Robert Pattinson to play T. E. Lawrence and Jude Law to play Henry Cadogan.[36] The film was completed in 2014 with a different cast: Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, James Franco as Henry Cadogan, Damian Lewis as Charles Doughty-Wylie, and Robert Pattinson as a 22-year-old archaeologist T. E. Lawrence. Queen of the Desert had its world premiere at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival.[citation needed]

Herzog in 2015

In 2015, Herzog shot a feature film, Salt and Fire, in Bolivia, starring Veronica Ferres, Michael Shannon and Gael García Bernal. It is described as a "highly explosive drama inspired by a short story by Tom Bissell".[37]

In 2019, Herzog joined the cast of the Disney+ live action Star Wars television series The Mandalorian, portraying "The Client", a character with nebulous connections to the Empire.[38] Herzog accepted the role after being impressed with the screenplay,[39] despite admitting that he had never seen a Star Wars film.[40]

Film theoryEdit

Herzog's films have received considerable critical acclaim and achieved popularity on the art house circuit. They have also been the subject of controversy in regard to their themes and messages, especially the circumstances surrounding their creation. A notable example is Fitzcarraldo, in which the obsessiveness of the central character was reflected by the director during the making of the film. Burden of Dreams, a documentary filmed during the making of Fitzcarraldo, explored Herzog's efforts to make the film in harsh conditions. Herzog's diaries during the making of Fitzcarraldo were published as Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo. Mark Harris of The New York Times wrote in his review: "The movie and its making are both fables of daft aspiration, investigations of the blurry border between having a dream and losing one's mind."[41]

His treatment of subjects has been characterized as Wagnerian in its scope. The plot of Fitzcarraldo is based on the building of an opera house and his later film Invincible (2001) touches on the character of Siegfried.[42] He is proud of never using storyboards and often improvising large parts of the script. He explains this technique in the commentary track to Aguirre, the Wrath of God.


Being critical of film schools,[43] Herzog has taught 3 cinema workshops. From 2009 to 2016, Herzog organized the Rogue Film School.[44] Young directors were invited to spend a few days with the master in evocative locations. Lessons ranged from "How does music function in film?" to "The creation of your own shooting permits". In 2018, Filming in Peru with Werner Herzog was a 12 days filmmaking workshop during which young filmmakers from around the world met with Herzog in the Amazonian rainforest. Each of them made a short film, under the supervision of Herzog.[45] Filming locations were close from those of Fitzcarraldo (1982). Herzog was enthusiastic and declared about the films that "the best 10 of them are better than the selections for best short film at the Academy Awards".[46] Participants of the workshop included directors Rupert Clague and Quentin Lazzarotto. Herzog is also on the website MasterClass, where he presents a course on filmmaking, entitled Werner Herzog teaches filmmaking.[47][48][49]

Personal lifeEdit

Herzog has been married three times and has three children. In 1967,[50] he married Martje Grohmann with whom he had a son, Rudolph Amos Achmed, born in 1973. They were divorced in 1985.[51] In 1980, Herzog's daughter Hanna Mattes (a photographer and artist) was born to his then-companion Eva Mattes.[52] In 1987, he married Christine Maria Ebenberger[53] and their son, Simon Herzog, was born in 1989.[54] They divorced in 1997.[55] Herzog moved to the United States in 1996 and married photographer Lena Herzog, formerly Elena Pisetski, in 1999.[56]

Herzog is an atheist.[57] In addition to his native German, he speaks English, Spanish, French, and Greek.[58]


Between 1962 and 2019 Herzog directed twenty fiction feature films, seven fiction short films and thirty one documentary feature films, as well as eight documentary short films and episodes of two television series. He has also been the screenwriter or co-writer for all his films and for four others, and has appeared as an actor in twenty six film or television productions. He was also the producer of the film A Gray State (2017).

Stage worksEdit







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  3. ^ Mahmud, Jamil (30 September 2009). "Werner Herzog and his film language". The Daily Star. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  4. ^ Cronin, Paul; Werner Herzog (2002). Herzog on Herzog. London: Faber and Faber. pp. vii–viii. ISBN 978-0-571-20708-4. truffaut.
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  7. ^ "Werner Herzog on the Story Behind 'Rescue Dawn'". Fresh Air. 27 October 1998. Retrieved 21 June 2007.
  8. ^ Cronin, Paul (2014). Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed: Conversations with Paul Cronin. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0571259779.
  9. ^ Laster, Paul (25 July 2011). "Werner Herzog Comes Out of the Cave". New York Observer. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  10. ^ Bissell, Tom. "The Secret Mainstream: Contemplating the mirages of Werner Herzog", Harper's, December 2006
  11. ^ "Does Werner Herzog Have a College Degree? Answer". www.wishmachinery.com. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
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  18. ^ "Werner Herzog Makes Trump-Era Addition to His Minnesota Declaration". Walker Art Center. 19 June 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  19. ^ "What is Truth in an Age of Alternative Facts". Walker Art Center. 19 June 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  20. ^ "Film Society Directing Award". sffs.org. Archived from the original on 27 May 2008. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
  21. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p031lbrw
  22. ^ "How Werner Herzog survived being shot". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
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  25. ^ "66th Venice Film Festival Corto Cortissimo". Archived from the original on 6 October 2014.
  26. ^ "Werner Herzog's Rogue Film School". www.roguefilmschool.com. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  27. ^ Beggs, Scott (12 September 2012). "6 FILMMAKING TIPS FROM WERNER HERZOG". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
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  32. ^ Debruge, Peter; Debruge, Peter (28 September 2010). "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga". Variety. Retrieved 20 October 2020.
  33. ^ Leopold, Todd (16 August 2013). "Film legend Herzog takes on texting and driving". CNN. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  34. ^ Lattanzio, Ryan; Lattanzio, Ryan (18 December 2013). "English-Language Voice Cast for 'The Wind Rises' Includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Werner Herzog". IndieWire. Retrieved 20 October 2020.
  35. ^ Dang, Simon. "Watch Out, Ridley: Werner Herzog's Gertrude Bell Film Starring Naomi Watts Hoping To Shoot In The Fall". IndieWire. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  36. ^ Chitwood, Adam. "Jude Law Joins Robert Pattinson and Naomi Watts in Werner Herzog's QUEEN OF THE DESERT". Collider. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  37. ^ Raup, Jordan. "Gael García Bernal Join Werner Herzog's 'Salt and Fire'". The Film Stage. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  38. ^ Smail, Gretchen (12 November 2019). "Werner Herzog's 'The Mandalorian' Character Is The Next Great 'Star Wars' Villain". Bustle. Archived from the original on 27 January 2020. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
  39. ^ "Werner Herzog praises new 'Star Wars' series 'Mandalorian' - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
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  46. ^ Kohn, Eric (11 September 2018). "Werner Herzog Says He's Acting in 'a Big Franchise Film' and Shot a Secret Movie in Japan — Exclusive". IndieWire. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
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  57. ^ "Herzog is an avowed atheist, but in a certain sense his films, especially in recent years, have become highly spiritual in focus. Thanks to its subject and its characters "Into the Abyss" is suffused with a Christian religiosity that the director treats with great respect." Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com, 11 November 2011. [2]
  58. ^ Werner Herzog on Languages ... on YouTube
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Further readingEdit

Primary literatureEdit

Secondary literatureEdit

  • Emmanuel Carrère. Werner Herzog. Paris: Ediling, 1982. ISBN 2-85601-017-2
  • Brad Prager. The Cinema of Werner Herzog: Aesthetic Ecstasy and Truth. New York: Wallflower Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-905674-18-3.
  • Eric Ames. Ferocious Reality. Documentary according to Werner Herzog. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
  • Moritz Holfelder. Werner Herzog. Die Biografie. Munich: LangenMüller, 2012. ISBN 978-3-7844-3303-5.
  • Brad Prager, ed. A Companion to Werner Herzog. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. ISBN 978-1-405-19440-2.

External linksEdit