18. Werner Herzog
AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD, FITZCARRALDO, GRIZZLY MAN
Munich-born Werner Herzog is a vagabond director. Beginning in 1962, Herzog’s career has taken a number of different forms but has always focused on his fascination and belief in the idea that all life is suffering. Herzog’s films are quirky without being silly and often feature a charismatic yet deeply psychologically disturbed protagonist, a bit like Herzog himself. Famously, Herzog does not watch and has not watched many films, making his cinema all the more remarkable as it generally comes from nowhere but books and his own mind. In 2009, he made Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, a remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1990 film. Herzog’s claim at Ferrara’s derision of the film is that not only had he never seen the original, he had never heard of it, a claim that would seem laughable if made by anyone else. Herzog is perhaps best known for his volatile working relationship with the actor Klaus Kinski, with whom he made five films between 1972 and 1987, the most famous of these being Aguirre: the Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), and Fitzcarraldo (1982). They would often get into huge rows on the set and even threatened to (or tried to depending on which reports you believe) kill each other. Their relationship is the subject of a 1999 documentary by Herzog called My Best Fiend. Despite the turmoil onset, the Herzog/Kinski collaboration brought out the best in each party. Kinski’s manic charisma is harnessed perfectly under Herzog’s less showy but equally disturbed tutelage. Herzog is also a very accomplished documentarian, making a number of acclaimed docs such as Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) (which later became the narrative film Rescue Dawn in 2006), Grizzly Man (2005), and Encounters at the End of the World (2009). His life is as strange and varied as anything in his films, having been shot by a sniper during an interview (“It was not a significant bullet.”) and saving Joaquin Phoenix after happening to witness the actor get into a nasty car accident. As long as there are stories of strange or interesting people to tell, Werner Herzog will be around to make movies about them.
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