Controversial, crazy, cult: Werner Herzog wants to be “a good soldier of the cinema”.

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Controversial, crazy, cult
Werner Herzog wants to be “a good soldier of cinema”.

Born in Bavaria, Werner Herzog rose to fame as a world traveler with his camera, taking on Klaus Kinski in the South American jungle and grizzly bears in Alaska. His life story could fill volumes. He finds gripping stories in remote corners – even at the age of 80.

For decades he has followed people, stories and landscapes of extremes – and even at the age of 80, Werner Herzog does not stop. “I try to remain a good soldier. A good soldier of the cinema,” says the director in the artist portrait “Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer” by director Thomas von Steinaecker, which hits cinemas on October 27.

“My life has meaning when I tell a story that I know lies deep within us,” summarizes the filmmaker in the documentary. And he proudly refers to his tireless work. He made three films in one year and the year before, when Covid wasn’t traveling much, he shot a feature film and wrote two books.

Herzog, who turns 80 on Monday, will travel to two film festivals around his birthday, according to his spokesperson. First in Telluride (US state of Colorado), then at the film festival in Toronto, Canada. There he presents his new documentary “Theatre of Thought” about modern brain research.

Memoirs and Exhibition


Werner Herzog in Antarctica – his documentary “Encounters at the End of the World” was nominated for an Oscar.

(Photo: image images/Everett Collection)

His memoir “Each for himself and God against all”, which appeared at the end of August, is 352 pages long. His life story could fill volumes. It also provides a lot of material for the current exhibition at Berlin’s Kinemathek with some 250 exhibitions, including many archival images, as well as video material and personal letters. According to the museum’s website, Werner Herzog has a cult following and is also controversial.

In 2009, Time magazine named Herzog one of the 100 most influential people in the world. That same year, his Antarctic documentary Encounters at the End of the World was nominated for an Oscar. From Antarctica via a cave in southern France (“The Cave of Forgotten Dreams”), Herzog went to the death row of American prisons for the film documentary “Death in Texas” and the TV production “On Death Row”, where inmates wait for their performance. “This is material with an intensity that I’ve never seen in a movie before,” Herzog said in 2012.


For the film “Gorbachev – An Encounter” Herzog several times interviewed the former head of state of the Soviet Union.

(Photo: image images/Everett Collection)

The documentary “Grizzly Man” led him to a bear researcher in Alaska, “In the Depths of the Inferno” took him to the edge of volcanoes, in “Fireball: Visit from Far Away Worlds” he treated meteorites, in “Gorbachev – An Encounter with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. But he also changes places – in front of the camera. Several times he had a voice guest role in the cult animated series “The Simpsons”. In the “Star Wars” series “The Mandalorian” he played a villain in 2020. As a villain in the action movie “Jack Reacher”, he previously made life difficult for Tom Cruise.

Born in bad circumstances

Born Werner Stipetic in Munich in 1942 to a Croatian mother and a German father, the artist grew up in a mountain village on the Austrian border. The family had sought shelter there after the bombing of Munich. The father disappeared shortly after his birth, says Herzog in the documentary “Radical Dreamer” – and when visiting the small village he remembers the poor conditions, the constant hunger of the children, but also the exuberant games with the brothers, the nature and the freedom to live by “your own rules”.

He studied history and literature, he taught himself the film trade. In 1961, when he was almost 20, he made his first short film. In “Herakles” he saw bodybuilders posing for the camera. Four years later – at the Berlinale in 1968 – he won the Silver Bear for Best First Feature Film with “Lebenszeichen”.

Several films with Kinski

With colleagues such as Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff, Herzog gave shape to the New German Film. He was looking for strong personalities and extreme stories. In the 1970s and 1980s, he collaborated with Klaus Kinski, the eccentric star of such collaborative films as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo”, under the most difficult and dangerous conditions in the South American jungle. He also got the enthusiastic acting genius in front of the camera for “Nosferatu – Phantom of the Night” and “Woyzeck”. In the documentary “My Dearest Enemy” he talked about their love-hate relationship. “You can feel this wildness that few directors can produce,” actor Robert Pattinson tells the filmmaker in the documentary “Radical Dreamer.”

Nicole Kidman says she was very excited to enter this “Werner world” and dare to do things. In Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert,” the Oscar winner embodies British explorer Gertrude Bell, who explored remote desert regions of the Middle East in the early 20th century. “Twilight” star Pattinson shines next to her.

crazy and sweet

Christian Bale, who co-created the war film “Rescue Dawn” (2006), says some would consider Werner Herzog “crazy”. But for him, he’s one of the nicest people he’s ever met, the star emphasizes.


Werner Herzog and his wife Lena in November 2019 at the premiere of “The Mandalorian” – in which he plays a villain.

(Photo: photo alliance / newscom)

The California native has lived in Los Angeles since the 1990s with his third wife, photographer Lena Herzog. He likes to be in a place where you feel like something is happening, Herzog says. “Here you don’t just talk, you just do it.”

The eternal globetrotter still has a very special travel destination in mind. “I would love to go into space,” the father of three says in the documentary interview. “I am in favor of exploring space cinematically”. After all, he is very familiar with extreme worlds.

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