Cinema and Media Studies Werner Herzog
by
Brad Prager
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0141

Introduction

Werner Herzog was born in Munich in 1942. Before the end of World War II Herzog’s family moved to Sachrang, a small town in Bavaria not far from the Austrian border. Herzog started making films in his late teens with a camera he claims to have stolen from the Munich Film School. After making several short films and his first feature film, Signs of Life (1968), his work connected with that of filmmakers such as Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who were of the same generation and who also began making films at a young age. He has expressed respectful words for these other auteurs, but he has rejected most direct association with them and with the New German Cinema movement, underscoring his independence, his reluctance to lend his name to political causes, and his identification not as German but more regionally as a Bavarian. Herzog received international recognition for Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and won the Jury Grand Prize at Cannes for The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974). He encountered intense criticism for Fitzcarraldo (1982), for which he was rumored to have harmed the native Amazonians who participated in his project. Herzog countered these accusations, but the air of controversy lingered. A documentary made about the making of Fitzcarraldo, Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982), showcased Herzog as a charismatic performer and mesmerizing speaker. Throughout the following years Herzog worked less and less in Germany, ultimately resettling in California in the 1990s, first in the San Francisco Bay Area and then in Los Angeles. During his time in the United States he continued to make both documentaries and feature films, including Rescue Dawn (2006) and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call—New Orleans (2009). He received widespread acclaim for his documentary work, particularly for Grizzly Man (2005) and Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), the last of which was a much praised foray into 3D filmmaking. Herzog was nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary feature Encounters at the End of the World (2007). Although he remains well known for the bold exploits connected with his early works, his tumultuous relationship with the actor Klaus Kinski, and his willingness to push cinematic boundaries, he is best known for his capacity to express himself philosophically on a wide range of topics and for his sage Germanic voice, which he has lent to diverse projects.

Monographs

Until recently very few monographs about Herzog were available in English. Ames 2012a and Prager 2007 are the only two English-language studies devoted entirely to Herzog’s films. Distinguished studies in Italian (Sirianni 1980), in French (Carrère 1982), and in Portuguese (Nagib 1991) demonstrate the extent of Herzog’s international appeal, especially during the early decades of his career. Sirianni, Carrère, and Nagib explore the feature films, which had international theatrical distribution (as opposed to the documentaries, which frequently had their premieres on German television) through Nosferatu (1979) and Woyzeck (1979). They place emphasis on the collaborations with Klaus Kinski and Bruno Schleinstein (the actor known simply as “Bruno S.”) and explore the work, film by film, elaborating on the director’s recurring philosophical and literary motifs. Carré 2007 looks at the same body of work, examining it for its anthropological themes, and Gabrea 1986 looks at motifs derived from German mysticism. Recent writings on Herzog have had to contend with the large number of statements made by Herzog about his own practices, and they typically construct a dialogue between the works and the intentions of the auteur responsible for them. The dearth of biographies, apart from Holfelder 2012, may stem from the extensive material about his own background that Herzog supplies in interviews, which makes biographies appear superfluous. Although some studies of individual works are available in German, no German-language monograph has yet been devoted entirely to Herzog.

  • Ames, Eric. Ferocious Reality: Documentary according to Werner Herzog. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012a.

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    An insightful study of Herzog’s unique approach to documentary filmmaking. Ames couples his overall interpretation of Herzog’s documentaries, seen through the paradigm of performance studies, with close readings of individual films.

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  • Carré, Valérie. La quête anthropologique de Werner Herzog: Documentaires et fictions en regard. Strasbourg, France: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2007.

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    A thorough, well-researched book that examines Herzog’s work through an anthropological lens. It explores, in particular, Herzog’s technique of relying on those who are “other” to the West as a means of observing and critiquing Western ideas.

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  • Carrère, Emmanuel. Werner Herzog. Paris: Edilig, 1982.

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    A thoughtful assessment of Herzog’s early films by a prominent French intellectual and fiction writer. This well-illustrated book takes an auteurist approach to the body of work.

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  • Gabrea, Radu. Werner Herzog et la mystique rhénane. Lausanne, Switzerland: L’Age d’Homme, 1986.

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    Examination of Herzog’s early films up through Heart of Glass (1976) in light of Rhineland mysticism and the ecstasies associated with it. Gabrea places special emphasis on the ideas of figures such as Meister Eckhart and Hildegard von Bingen.

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  • Holfelder, Moritz. Werner Herzog: Die Biografie. Munich: Langen Müller, 2012.

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    A readable and illustrated biography with many previously unpublished photographs. The book examines Herzog’s family background and provides a helpful vita as an appendix.

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  • Nagib, Lucia. Werner Herzog: O cinema como realidade. São Paulo: Estação Liberdade, 1991.

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    A study of the feature films, from Signs of Life (1968) to Fitzcarraldo (1982). Contains a twenty-three-page interview with Herzog as well as five of Herzog’s poems in facing-page German and Portuguese translation.

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  • Prager, Brad. The Cinema of Werner Herzog: Aesthetic Ecstasy and Truth. London: Wallflower, 2007.

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    The first English-language monograph devoted to Herzog. This study analyzes the features and documentaries, dividing the director’s body of work into six categories, including Herzog’s perspectives on war, romanticism, and religion.

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  • Sirianni, Paolo. Il cinema di Werner Herzog. Florence: Libero Scambio Editrice, 1980.

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    Straightforward early study in Italian. Sirianni’s book is comparable to Carrère 1982 and draws connections between Herzog’s work and ideas from Marx, Nietzsche, and others.

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Edited Collections

In the first decade of his long career Herzog had already established himself as an auteur, and several German anthologies highlight this fact. The independent film production company Filmverlag der Autoren released Werner Herzog: Eine Dokumentation seines filmischen Gesamtwerks (Filmverlag der Autoren 1977), a compilation of interviews and reviews of his films, and Jansen and Schütte 1976 connects Herzog with Alexander Kluge and Jean-Marie Straub, leading figures of the New German Cinema. This work was followed by Jansen and Schütte 1979, a collection with contributions by major film critics such as Hans Günther Pflaum. Presser 2002 contains a series of personal recollections by German celebrities who worked with Herzog. The collection in Wahl 2011 carefully documents the various phases of the international reception. A major benchmark in the English language scholarly reception of Herzog is Corrigan 2014, a reprint of a 1986 edition, which appraises Herzog’s body of work up to Where the Green Ants Dream (1984). Prager 2012, twenty-six years later, follows that earlier work’s pattern in featuring a range of scholarship on Herzog’s more than four decades of filmmaking.

  • Corrigan, Timothy, ed. The Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History. London: Routledge, 2014

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    Originally published in 1986. An invaluable collection of scholarly essays, one that recognizes what makes Herzog’s work both interesting and controversial. Features contributions by Eric Rentschler (on Heart of Glass [1976]), Thomas Elsaesser (on Where the Green Ants Dream [1984]), Gertrud Koch (on Land of Silence and Darkness [1971]), and others.

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  • Filmverlag der Autoren. Werner Herzog: Eine Dokumentation seines filmischen Gesamtwerks. Munich: Filmverlag der Autoren and Urania-Filmkunsttheater, 1977.

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    An invaluable collection of German reviews and interviews covering the first decade of Herzog’s career to the release of Stroszek (1977). Includes profiles in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Der Spiegel as well as the German Playboy interview. Also contains an introduction by Wolfgang Ruf.

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  • Jansen, Peter W., and Wolfram Schütte, eds. Herzog, Kluge, Straub. Reihe Film 9. Munich: Carl Hanser, 1976.

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    Features essays on the uses of music and on the landscape in films by Herzog, Jean-Marie Straub, and Alexander Kluge. The book contains a commented filmography by Kraft Wetzel, which includes the early documentaries and goes up to The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), and also a lengthy interview with Herzog conducted by Wetzel.

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  • Jansen, Peter W., and Wolfram Schütte, eds. Werner Herzog. Reihe Film 22. Munich: Carl Hanser, 1979.

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    Contains an updated annotated filmography, as well as a lengthy essay by Jürgen Theobaldy and an interview conducted by Hans Günther Pflaum. The invaluable bibliography includes a list of profiles and interviews to 1979, as well as copious citations of reviews of his films.

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  • Prager, Brad, ed. A Companion to Werner Herzog. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118274491Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of twenty-five scholarly essays on Herzog’s films, his background and his works’ relationship with other arts. Contains new contributions by Brigitte Peucker, Timothy Corrigan, Alan Singer, and others. Introduction by Brad Prager and filmography compiled by Chris Wahl.

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  • Presser, Beat, ed. Werner Herzog. Berlin: Jovis, 2002.

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    A retrospective look at the filmmaker’s work accompanied by photographs taken by Presser. Includes reflections on Herzog by Herbert Achternbusch, Claudia Cardinale, Volker Schlöndorff, and others in facing-page French, German, and English translation.

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  • Wahl, Chris, ed. Lektionen in Herzog: Neues über Deutschlands verlorenen Filmautor Werner Herzog und sein Werk. Munich: Edition text + kritik, 2011.

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    Excellent collection of German-language essays on Herzog. The collection is in two parts: one with essays on Herzog’s reception in Germany, France, Italy, and the United States and another section featuring essays on specific themes by Eric Ames, Brad Prager, Valérie Carré, and others. Contains a filmography and bibliography.

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Published Screenplays

Herzog’s screenplays are a unique genre. They are more similar to novellas than they are to screenplays, and they are often called Filmerzählungen (“film stories”). They read as prose and contain little reference to camera movements and other similar details. Herzog claims to film by improvisation and has stated that storyboards are the instruments of cowards. His reluctance to publish detailed, shot-by-shot screenplays can be seen as a function of that same rejection. As he sees it, if the plans are too detailed, cinema becomes an object of calculation and loses its most enchanting quality. The screenplays can also be understood in connection with German literary culture, exploring themes similar to those examined by Peter Handke, Peter Schneider, and other German authors from the period, themes that include colonialism, language philosophy, and the literary inheritance from Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Büchner, and Franz Kafka. Herzog 1977, Herzog 1979, and Herzog 1980 contain the screenplays of his earliest films. Herzog 1982, Herzog 1984, and Herzog 1987 contain the screenplays for some of his major feature films from the 1980s, and Herzog 2009 features full color photographs from the set of Bad Lieutenant (2009) taken by Lena Herzog, his wife.

Diaries and Memoirs

Over time Herzog has developed his distinctive authorial voice, and the memoirs are indispensable for those looking for insight into his self-stylization. Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo (Herzog 2009) was written during the period in which he was on location filming the controversial Fitzcarraldo, and Of Walking in Ice: Munich-Paris, 11/23 to 12/14, 1974 (Herzog 1980) stems from his trek across parts of western Europe from Munich to Paris.

  • Herzog, Werner. Of Walking in Ice: Munich-Paris, 11/23 to 12/14, 1974. Translated by Martje Herzog and Alan Greenberg. New York: Tanam, 1980.

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    Diary of a pilgrimage Herzog undertook when he heard the film scholar Lotte Eisner was ill in Paris. He walked from Munich to Paris with the belief that the gesture would save her life. The diary he kept on that walk documents his troubles sleeping, his impressionistic views of the landscape, and the faces of the many, mostly rural, strangers he encountered along the way. Published in German as Vom Gehen im Eis: München-Paris 23.11 bis 14.12.1974 (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1978).

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  • Herzog, Werner. Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo. Translated by Krishna Winston. New York: Ecco, 2009.

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    Herzog’s diary, written as he was filming Fitzcarraldo (1982), from June 1979 to November 1981. Chronicles the obstacles he faced as well as his dreams and visions. He explains in a prefatory note that the entries are neither reports on the filming nor journals in the traditional sense; rather, they constitute “inner landscapes.” Many of the entries are impressionistic. Published in German as Eroberung des Nutzlosen (Munich: Carl Hanser, 2004).

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Shorter Writings

Several of Herzog’s shorter writings provide insight into how he has engaged in cultural debates. Herzog 1968 expresses the director’s opinions about the political atmosphere in 1968, and Herzog 1964 concerns the state of avant-garde American film, which had caught his eye. Herzog 1988, “Tribute to Lotte Eisner,” is a reflection on the state of contemporaneous German film. Herzog later expressed himself philosophically about his feelings concerning the relationship between documentary cinema and truth, specifically the demands one should place on documentary cinema to rise above the banalities of cinéma vérité in the “Minnesota Declaration” (Herzog 1999). Throughout, Herzog has expressed himself in an impressive number of forms, writing philosophy, as in Herzog 2010, poetry, as in Herzog 1978, and a mixture of the two, as in Herzog 1976 and Herzog 1984. Herzog 1983 demonstrates his capacity to speak to a range of audiences, including readers of the daily newspaper.

  • Herzog, Werner. “Rebellen in Amerika: Zu Filmen des New American Cinema.” Filmstudio 43 (10 May 1964): 55–60.

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    Herzog’s largely positive assessment of a retrospective of New American Film he had seen in Munich. It includes appraisals of work by John Cassavetes, Stan Brakhage, and Jonas Mekas. Herzog here refers to Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963) as a “masterpiece” (Meisterwerk).

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  • Herzog, Werner. “Mit den Wölfen heulen.” Filmkritik 7 (July 1968): 460–461.

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    Herzog’s strongly worded statement about why he did not agree with the strong statements of his politically motivated cohort, why he saw their approach as simplistic, and why he hoped that his film Signs of Life (1968) would be treated apolitically.

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  • Herzog, Werner. “Why Is There ‘Being’ at All, Rather Than Nothing?” Framework 11.1 (1976): 24–27. Translated by Stephen Lamb.

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    A series of short prose reflections inspired by photographs of Pierre-Auguste Renoir and his family. The epigrammatic prose pieces are written from the perspective of the son, the filmmaker Jean Renoir, and are accompanied by photos. In German as “Warum ist überhaupt Seiendes und nicht vielmehr Nichts?” Kino 12 (March–April 1974): 21–28.

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  • Herzog, Werner. “Werner Herzog: Zehn Gedichte.” Akzente: Zeitschrift für Literatur 3 (June 1978): 193–197.

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    Poems in German. Five of these also appear in Nagib 1991 (cited under Monographs), with facing-page Portuguese translations.

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  • Herzog, Werner. “Schwanger gehen mit ganzen Provinzen: Über den Landschaftsmaler Hercules Segers.” Süddeutsche Zeitung 126, 4–5 June 1983: 101.

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    Herzog’s eloquent appreciation of the Dutch Golden Age landscape painter Hercules Segers. The images reproduced with the article underscore the proximity between imagery in Herzog’s Fata Morgana (1969) and Segers’s work.

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  • Herzog, Werner. “Werner Herzog”. In Reden über das eigene Land: Deutschland 2. Edited by Rudolf Augstein, 72–97. Verlagsgruppe Bertelsman. Munich: Bertelsmann, 1984.

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    Herzog attempts to answer the question of what holds Germany together and whether anything should. Written before unification, Herzog here presents a compelling introduction to what ultimately becomes a frame for several of his own diary entries.

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  • Herzog, Werner. “Tribute to Lotte Eisner.” In West German Filmmakers on Film: Visions and Voices. Edited by Eric Rentschler, 115–118. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1988.

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    He praises the critic’s accomplishments and her book The Haunted Screen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969) (also published in French, L’écran démoniaque [Paris: A. Bonne, 1952]). This essay also contains Herzog’s proclamation that there is “legitimate film culture” in Germany again. Published in German as “Die Eisnerin, wer ist das?” In Der alte Film war tot, edited by Hans Helmut Prinzler and Eric Rentschler (Frankfurt: Verlag der Autoren, 1982), pp. 263–267.

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  • Herzog, Werner. “Minnesota Declaration: Truth and Fact in Documentary Cinema.” Vienna: Werner Herzog Film, 1999.

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    A twelve-point manifesto, written and read aloud at the Walker Arts Center. It is directed against what he characterizes as cinéma vérité and in favor of the pursuit of a higher, “ecstatic” truth. On the background to this piece, see Ames 2012a (cited under Monographs) and Ames 2012b (cited under Herzog as a Documentarian). It is reproduced in Ames 2012a and in Cronin 2002 (cited under Book-Length Interviews).

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  • Herzog, Werner. “On the Absolute, the Sublime, and Ecstatic Truth.” Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics 17.3 (2010): 1–12.

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    A statement by Herzog about sublimity, particularly how he arrives at it in his own films (with reference to The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner [1973]) and where he finds it in the other arts. He refers to classical ideas, primarily to those of Longinus, author of “On the Sublime.”

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Book-Length Interviews

Herzog takes every opportunity to talk about his work, and this was true from his very beginnings as a filmmaker. Images at the Horizon (Walsh 1979) is a transcription of a prolonged discussion with Roger Ebert, which was a watershed and served as an inspiration for Rost 1986, the author of which conducted a seminar with Herzog that lasted two days. The desire to ask questions and allow Herzog to expound on the answers only seems to have increased since the early encounters. Herzog later provided commentaries on DVDs in English and German, and some of the information in those, particularly regarding the production histories of specific films, overlaps with the bounty of information in his conversations in Cronin 2002. Conversations in Paganelli 2008 and in Aubron and Burdeau 2008 build on the comprehensive background established by Cronin. Herzog repeats stories frequently, which is why it is worthwhile to look at early conversations as well as the later ones, paying particular attention to his tendency to shape and reshape his personal stories and anecdotes about his productions. Ames 2014 provides a broad perspective on Herzog’s long history of giving interviews, and it includes translations of key published conversations from 1968 to 2011.

  • Ames, Eric, ed. Werner Herzog: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

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    A compendium of interviews, at least one devoted to each of the major films from 1968 to 2011. The volume contains a number of original translations from French and German as well as an editor’s introduction.

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  • Aubron, Hervé, and Emmanuel Burdeau, eds. Werner Herzog: Manuel de survie. Nantes, France: Capricci Éditions, 2008.

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    An extended interview with Herzog. Includes a helpful introduction by Burdeau and an afterword by Aubron. The conversation was published in October 2008 prior to the premiere of Herzog’s production of Wagner’s Parsifal.

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  • Cronin, Paul, ed. Herzog on Herzog. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.

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    A comprehensive dialogue with Herzog about his body of work, broken down into sections to reflect the content of his films (“Athletics and Aesthetics,” “Defying Gravity,” “The Song of Life”). It covers a fair amount of personal terrain as well as much detail about the various productions and the challenges he faced.

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  • Paganelli, Grazia, ed. Segni di vita: Werner Herzog e il cinema. Milan: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Fondazione Maria Adriana Prolo, 2008.

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    The book features a lengthy conversation with Herzog conducted after the shooting of Encounters at the End of the World (2007). It touches on travel, landscape, the concept of realism, and the use of music. The book contains 150 images, a filmography, and an Italian translation of Herzog’s essay on the sublime.

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  • Rost, Andreas, ed. Werner Herzog in Bamberg: Protokoll einer Diskussion 14./15. Dez. 1985. Bamberg, Germany: Lehrstuhl für Kunstgeschichte und Aufbaustudium Denkmalpflege an der Universität Bamberg, 1986.

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    This work stems from a seminar that took place in Bamberg, Germany. The discussion is modeled on the Chicago workshop with Ebert. It contains extensive discussions of the controversy surrounding Fitzcarraldo (a.k.a. “Der Fall Herzog,” or “The Herzog Case”), The Dark Glow of the Mountains, and Burden of Dreams.

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  • Walsh, Gene, ed. Images at the Horizon: A Workshop with Werner Herzog conducted by Roger Ebert. Transcribed, annotated, and edited by Gene Walsh. Chicago: Facets Multimedia, 1979.

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    A lengthy conversation with Herzog about his work as a director up to that point. Ebert conducts the first half of the interview, and the remainder of the queries come from workshop participants, whose questions evoke unexpected answers. Contains detailed notes and a filmography.

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Shorter Interviews

One of the most gregarious directors in history, Herzog has given many interviews over the course of his career. One could hardly hope to cite them all. Some interviews that were published as article-length publications or as stand-alone pieces are especially notable for having appeared at key moments in his career prior to, or during, the Fitzcarraldo affair, as is the case with Herzog 1977 and O’Toole 1979, or for having touched on unusually evocative areas. In Herzog 2008, Herzog 2010, and Slought Publications 2007, the respective interlocutors—Errol Morris, Pico Iyer, and Karen Beckman—deftly steer the dialogue away from the standard courses. Herzog 2005 and Herzog 2009, the interviews by “JF” and Paul Holdengräber, are particularly interesting because Herzog’s self-presentation seems less guarded.

  • Herzog, Werner. “Playboy Interview: Werner Herzog.” Playboy (German edition) 1 (January 1977): 29–37.

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    Interview with Raimund le Viseur and Werner Schmidmaier. A wide-ranging conversation about Aguirre, the actor Bruno S., and Herzog’s childhood in Bavaria. Herzog’s use of handicapped actors and the question of his intended audience are also discussed.

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  • Herzog, Werner. “The Lion-Tamer of the Unexpected: An Interview with Werner Herzog.” Moon City Review 7.1 (Fall 2005): 96–139.

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    Interview by “JF.” A lengthy conversation that touches on hypnosis, a film about Dr. Fu Manchu that Herzog says was influential, as well as a number of other topics. The interview is presented, unusually, in an unedited format, one that includes many detours and reproduces conversational speech patterns.

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  • Herzog, Werner. “Werner Herzog (Filmmaker) in Conversation with Errol Morris (Documentarian).” The Believer 6.3 (2008): 65–72.

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    An interesting discussion of the filmmakers’ shared interests, including their thoughts about cinéma vérité, their joint perception of Timothy Treadwell’s self-staging, the problems associated with filming in Wisconsin, and Errol Morris’s filmmaking invention, the “interrotron.”

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  • Herzog, Werner. “Was the Twentieth Century a Mistake?” Brick 82 (December 2009): 21–39.

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    Interview with Paul Holdengräber. The conversation was held at the New York Public Library on 16 February 2009. It dealt with a variety of topics including German poetry, his relationship with Bruce Chatwin, and his thoughts about Mick Jagger.

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  • Herzog, Werner. “An Evening with Werner Herzog.” Interview with Pico Iyer. University of California Television, 2010.

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    An interview conducted by Iyer, a renowned essayist and novelist. Herzog speaks about his past, his politics, and some future projects.

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  • O’Toole, Lawrence. “The Great Ecstasy of Filmmaker Herzog.” Film Comment 15.6 (November–December 1979): 33–48.

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    This interview was conducted shortly before the production of Fitzcarraldo. They discuss the ongoing controversy as well as Michelangelo, Copernicus, and Fassbinder. The interview is preceded by a brief appraisal of his work and an annotated list of his films up to that point.

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  • Slought Publications, dir. On the Ecstasy of Ski-Flying: Werner Herzog in Conversation with Karen Beckman. DVD. Philadelphia: Slought Publications, 2007.

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    Interview with Karen Beckman. An extended conversation with Beckman, an art historian at the University of Pennsylvania. Herzog claims that films force him to work, and he praises his own gifts as an articulator of stories and images from the collective unconscious. The conversation is interesting for its discussion of physicality and especially at those points when Beckman asks questions that have otherwise remained unasked, including a question about the marginal role of women in his films.

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General Interest Profiles of Herzog

Herzog stylizes himself with great care, and his extensive history of public self-presentation is central to that history. Herzog’s profilers often examine whether and how he sees himself linked to other cinematic traditions, as in Benson and Karman 1976, his self-stylization as a risk-taker while filming La Soufrière, as discussed in Bachmann 1977, how he was viewed subsequent to the Fitzcarraldo controversy, as in Grenier 1982 and Elsaesser 1988, and how he restylized himself vis-à-vis Hollywood in later phases of his career while, for example, filming Rescue Dawn, as is explored in Zalewski 2006 and in Bissell 2006. The interaction with his reception and his public perception, as well as his varied modes of controlled self-stylization, are all central to understanding Herzog’s history and his continuing transformations as a director and performer.

  • Bachmann, Gideon. “The Man on the Volcano: A Portrait of Werner Herzog.” Film Quarterly 31.1 (Autumn 1977): 2–10.

    DOI: 10.1525/fq.1977.31.1.04a00030Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bachmann provides an early portrait of Herzog as an intrepid and fearless filmmaker. He writes quite a bit about Herzog’s background, his Bavarian childhood, and his early feature films.

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  • Benson, Sheila, and Mal Karman. “Herzog.” Mother Jones Magazine (November 1976): 41–45.

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    An early portrait of the director that pays special attention to The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Aguirre. Benson and Karman report a number of bombastic statements about Herzog’s films made by Francis Ford Coppola and others as well as several similarly exaggerated claims made by Herzog himself.

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  • Bissell, Tom. “The Secret Mainstream: Contemplating the Mirages of Werner Herzog.” Harper’s Magazine (December 2006): 69–78.

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    Bissell writes a lengthy profile of Herzog that tries to separate some of the truths from the falsehoods. The author’s conversations with Herzog took place in Los Angeles while Herzog was completing Rescue Dawn (2006).

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  • Elsaesser, Thomas. “Werner Herzog: Tarzan Meets Parsifal.” Monthly Film Bulletin (London) 55.652 (1 May 1988): 132–134.

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    A brief profile of Herzog that takes as its starting point Pauline Kael’s criticism that Herzog is a “metaphysical Tarzan.” Elsaesser pays particular attention to the expressivity of the bodies in Herzog’s films and Herzog’s creative interlacing of fact and fiction—a style that includes both documentary attention to detail and “exhibitionist spectacle.”

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  • Grenier, Richard. “Why Herzog Differs.” Commentary 74.6 (December 1982): 50–67.

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    This extended review of Fitzcarraldo by a conservative film critic demonstrates an appreciation for Herzog’s ability to tell it like it is where colonialism is concerned. Greiner expresses concern that Herzog will be cowed by his critics. The essay is significant in the history of the reception of Herzog’s work in the United States.

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  • Zalewski, Daniel. “The Ecstatic Truth: Werner Herzog’s Quest.” The New Yorker 82.10 (24 April 2006): 124–139.

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    This profile of Herzog is based on Zalewski’s visit to the set of Rescue Dawn in Thailand. The author provides insight into Herzog’s relationship with actors, specifically with Christian Bale, as well as into his vexed relationship with the Hollywood funding sources backing his feature film.

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Scholarly Profiles of Herzog

A number of attempts have been made to come to terms with Herzog’s self-presentation, both with the persona he adopts in his films and with his patterns of self-stylization off-screen, from a scholarly point of view. With respect to his films, central questions concern his status as an auteur, one who has a shifting national identity and who has worked at the boundaries of forms (specifically between documentary and feature films, often with one foot in each of two worlds). Given those considerations, scholarship has tended to endeavor to come to terms with his evolving signature style, as in Carroll 1985, Horak 1986, Peucker 2012, and Prager 2010. With respect to his self-stylization, Ames 2010 raises questions concerning the extent to which he consciously plays a role for the camera, how he extends that performance into his own documentaries, his active participation in popular culture (lending his voice to television programs such as American Dad! and The Simpsons), and the degree to which such choices have changed public perceptions of him. Peucker 1984 and Horak 1986 also engage with his connection to romanticism, and Sandford 1980 provides a helpful overview up to that point.

  • Ames, Eric. “Spoofing Herzog and Herzog Spoofing.” TRANSIT 6.1 (2010), n.p.

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    A study of how Herzog parodies himself in that he is willing to spoof his own German self-presentation, as well as how popular culture has taken that image up and expanded on it. Appears in German translation in Wahl 2011 (cited under Edited Collections).

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  • Carroll, Noël. “Herzog, Presence, and Paradox.” Persistence of Vision 2 (Fall 1985): 30–40.

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    Carroll examines Herzog’s attitude toward language and the question of its decipherability. He focuses on Herzog’s valorization of vision and visual experience over language as well as his dramatization of ungrasping consciousness. Special attention is paid to Land of Silence and Darkness (1971). Reproduced in Noël Carroll, Interpreting the Moving Image (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), pp. 284–299.

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  • Horak, Jan-Christopher. “W. H. or the Mysteries of Walking in Ice.” In The Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History. Edited by Timothy Corrigan, 23–42. New York: Methuen, 1986.

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    A reflection on Herzog’s self-construction as an auteur and of his positioning vis-à-vis the romantic tradition. Horak looks closely at several interviews with Herzog to that point as well Herzog’s memoir Of Walking in Ice. He critically examines the roots of the affinity Herzog has for the film critic Lotte Eisner, an affinity that led Herzog to take his long walk through the ice and snow.

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  • Peucker, Brigitte. “Werner Herzog: In Quest of the Sublime.” In New German Filmmakers. Edited by Klaus Phillips, 168–194. New York: Ungar, 1984.

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    A scholarly assessment of Herzog’s early works, from Signs of Life (1968) to Nosferatu (1979). The chapter pays special attention to the director’s romantic point of view and his relationship to Germany’s literary tradition.

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  • Peucker, Brigitte. “Herzog and Auteurism: Performing Authenticity.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 35–57. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    Peucker’s investigation of Herzog’s stylization as an auteur. She places special emphasis on his pretense of authenticity, his theatricality, and his willingness to parody himself. Her study looks at Herzog’s presence in Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998) and Grizzly Man (2005) as well as the role he plays (as himself) in Incident at Loch Ness (2004).

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  • Prager, Brad. “On Blank’s Screen: Les Blank’s Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe and the Gravity of the Director’s Subject.” Studies in Documentary Film 4.2 (2010): 119–135.

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    Compares the signature documentary approaches of the documentarian Les Blank, who made two documentaries about Herzog (Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe [1980] and Burden of Dreams [1982]) and that of Herzog, paying attention to what a comparative analysis can elucidate.

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  • Sandford, John. “Werner Herzog.” In The New German Cinema. By John Sandford, 48–63. London: DaCapo, 1980.

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    A thorough analysis of Herzog’s films up through Nosferatu (1979). Sandford’s well-sourced chapter includes analyses of Herzog’s documentaries How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck? (1976) and La Soufrière (1977).

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Herzog as a Documentarian

Herzog’s greatest challenge to cinema may be his redefinition of the boundary that separates feature films and documentaries. Specifically, Herzog has spoken of all of his films, whether documentaries or features, as being of the same type (“they are all just movies”). He sees the performers in his documentaries as enacting roles, and he restages and reshoots scenes indifferent to those who consider tampering with the reality depicted in documentary films to be taboo. Famously Herzog has asserted that he is searching for a higher truth, not just to provide an account of the matter, but also to attain something ecstatic, and that may involve staging. Scholarship has to contend with whether to treat the dividing line seriously or to follow Herzog down the path wherein documentaries and features merge. Davidson 1980 provides an early overview and Wahl 2011 offers a more up-to-date account. A comprehensive but less theoretically informed account can be found in Werner Herzog: Der Dokumentarist. The content of Herzog’s documentaries is varied, and Davidson 2012 is a work by one of the only scholars to pay specific attention to Herzog’s documentary treatment of America from an ethnographic perspective. The most significant intervention in the discussion is Ames 2012a (cited under Monographs), which argues that Herzog’s documentary cinema is best understood as a mode of performance, deserving of its own category, apart from the features, yet deeply embedded in the director’s other, extra-filmic practices. Ames 2012b looks specifically at the genesis and impact of the Minnesota Declaration.

  • Ames, Eric. “30 April 1999: Werner Herzog’s ‘Minnesota Declaration’ Performs Critique of Documentary Cinema.” In A New History of German Cinema. Edited by Jennifer M. Kapczynski and Michael D. Richardson, 553–558. Rochester, NY: Camden House; 2012b.

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    Ames offers a brief history of the origins and afterlife of the “Minnesota Declaration,” Herzog’s statement about the production of “ecstatic truth” in cinema and about why he rejects what he calls cinéma vérité.

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  • Davidson, David. “Borne Out of Darkness: The Documentaries of Werner Herzog.” Film Criticism 5.1 (Fall 1980): 10–25.

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    An early examination of Herzog’s unconventional approach to documentary filmmaking. Davidson looks at Fata Morgana (1969), La Soufrière (1977) and Herzog’s renunciation of cinéma vérité. Davidson also looks at the “high seriousness” in Land of Silence and Darkness (1971) relative to Herzog’s later inclusion of “absurdist humor.”

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  • Davidson, John. “The Veil Between: Werner Herzog’s American TV Documentaries.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 416–444. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    An analysis of documentaries that Herzog made about America (How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck? [1976], God’s Angry Man [1981], and Huie’s Sermon [1981]), all of which aired on German public television. Davidson looks at Herzog’s take on American practices, with an eye to writers such as Walt Whitman and Herman Melville.

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  • Special Issue: Werner Herzog: Der Dokumentarist. Filmdienst 13 (2010): 6–40.

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    A special issue of the German periodical Filmdienst devoted to Herzog’s work as a documentarian. Includes contributions by German critics Hans Günther Pflaum, Ulrich Kriest, Esther Buss, Franz Everschor, and Ralf Schenk. The issue also contains a film-by-film assessment of the documentaries, commented upon by Pflaum.

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  • Wahl, Chris. “Das Authentische und Ekstatische versus das Stilisierte und Essayistische—Herzogs Doku-Fiktionen.” In Lektionen in Herzog: Neues über Deutschlands verlorenen Filmautor Werner Herzog und sein Werk. Edited by Chris Wahl, 282–327. Munich: Edition text + kritik, 2011.

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    Wahl presents an extremely informed approach to the question of what, if anything, separates the documentaries from features in Herzog’s work, making reference to the category of “docu-fiction.” He begins by examining the category of the ecstatic, which is a key marker of authenticity, and he then turns his attention to the concept of the “essayistic,” which he treats as an expression of Herzog’s inclination toward stylized documentaries.

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Music in Herzog’s Films

Herzog boasts that he has an especially gifted intuition where couplings of music and image are concerned. Dating back to his early reliance on the composer Florian Fricke, who also released music with the group Popol Vuh, Herzog’s soundtracks have lent a uniquely otherworldly feeling to films such as Fata Morgana (1969), The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1973), and Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972). Herzog was fascinated by Richard Wagner, the opera composer who was tarred with the brush of fervent German nationalism, and Wagner’s music is a key part of a number of Herzog’s films, including La Soufrière (1977) and Lessons of Darkness (1992). Herzog began directing operas for the stage in 1985, and he has directed works by Wagner and Verdi in major venues at Bayreuth and Milan. His use of Wagner is explored in Koepnick 2008, Koepnick 2012, Hillman 2005, and Guido 2013. Herzog’s interest in classical music and opera extends beyond only Wagner; for example, it includes Bach and Schubert, whose compositions have been included on his soundtracks, and Italian composers such as Carlo Gesualdo, to whom he devoted the film Gesualdo—Death for Five Voices (1995). Scholarship on the subject of Herzog’s innovative employment of music has dealt with questions of nationalism and national identity, as in Friedberg and Hall 2007, while also being concerned with how Herzog crosses lines between the diegetic and non-diegetic, especially in Rogers 2004, Leppert 2007, and Hillman 2012.

  • Friedberg, Lilian, and Sara Hall. “Drums Along the Amazon: The Rhythm of the Iron System in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo.” In The Cosmopolitan Screen: German Cinema and the Global Imaginary 1945 to the Present. Edited by Stephan K. Schindler and Lutz Koepnick, 117–139. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007.

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    A study of what the authors describe as the audible forms of exploitation in the film’s depiction of colonialist practices. The film’s soundtrack, the article asserts, supports some of its colonialist attitudes.

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  • Guido, Laurent. “Dans les ‘abysses du temps’: Échos wagnériens dans l’oeuvre documentaire de Werner Herzog.” Décadrages: Cinema à travers champs 25 (2013): 37–59.

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    Guido provides a rich reading of Herzog’s references to Wagner. He describes the unique course Herzog navigates between rejecting and rehabilitating the infamous German composer.

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  • Hillman, Roger. “The Great Eclecticism of the Filmmaker Werner Herzog.” In Unsettling Scores: German Film, Music, and Ideology. By Roger Hillman, 136–150. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

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    A close look at Herzog’s soundtracks with particular emphasis on his uses of Wagner. Hillman juxtaposes Herzog’s choices with those of other German filmmakers, and his self-conscious acts of sacralization are contrasted with the practices of Wim Wenders and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.

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  • Hillman, Roger. “Coming to Our Senses: The Viewer and Herzog’s Sonic Worlds.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 168–186. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    Hillman’s study centers on how Herzog’s films attempt to create hermetically sealed worlds of sound, ones that are intended to underscore the completeness and apparent impenetrability of the ecstatic viewpoints represented.

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  • Koepnick, Lutz. “The Sound of Ruins.” In German Postwar Films: Life and Love in the Ruins. Edited by Wilfried Wilms and William Rasch, 193–208. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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    Examines the use of Wagner in Herzog’s film about the fires in the Kuwaiti oil fields. Koepnick’s interpretation of the soundscapes of Lessons of Darkness (1992) draws on Eric Santner’s concept of the homeopathic uses of trauma in cinema.

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  • Koepnick, Lutz. “Archetypes of Emotion: Werner Herzog and Opera.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 149–167. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    An examination of Herzog’s fascination with opera as a function of his interest in performance and in how aesthetic absorption—the illusion, specifically, that a viewer can be taken up onto the stage—manifests itself in Herzog’s films. Koepnick looks specifically at Gesualdo—Death for Five Voices (1995) and The Transformation of the World into Music (1994). A German version of this essay appears in Wahl 2011 (cited under Edited Collections).

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  • Leppert, Richard. “Opera, Aesthetic Violence, and the Imposition of Modernity: Fitzcarraldo.” In Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema. Edited by Daniel Goldmark, Lawrence Kramer, Richard Leppert, 99–119. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

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    Explores the diegetic and non-diegetic uses of music in Fitzcarraldo. Leppert also pays special attention to the gendered role that music plays on the soundtrack, noting how the music makes itself heard in the jungle through Kinski’s character, that is, “the gender-colonized agency of a man’s voice.”

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  • Rogers, Holly. “Fitzcarraldo’s Search for Aguirre: Music and Text in the Amazonian Films of Werner Herzog.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 129.1 (2004): 77–99.

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    An examination of the role of music in Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, particularly the circularity of the music composed by Popol Vuh for Aguirre, and the relationship between opera and theatricality in Fitzcarraldo. The two films’ respective uses of music are seen in conjunction with their differing portrayals of the forest.

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Themes of Natural History and Apocalypse

Herzog thinks in long terms about human history, perhaps even in terms of “deep time.” Fitzcarraldo (1982) begins with an evocation of a God who will return to the earth once human history has run its course, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) goes back 30,000 years as part of its exploration of the origin of the cinematic imagination. Although Herzog is not a vocal spokesperson when it comes to the issue of climate change, he is preoccupied with the earth’s history and future, and with myths of human progress. As it is depicted in his films, nature ultimately overwhelms human creation and will eventually repossess the earth. These issues are taken up in Cheesman 1997, Gandy 1996, and Singer 2012. Images of nature retaking the planet go back as early as Fata Morgana (1969)—a film that provides a creation story that narrates the many ages of humankind—and they continue to Encounters at the End of the World (2007), a film in which he interviews scientists who study life beneath the ice. That film is of a piece with The Wild Blue Yonder (2005), which is a science fiction story about an alien who has come to earth long after his species has exhausted his home planet’s resources. Scholarship has contended with the vast dimensions of this philosophical standpoint and the role that human progress plays in both the history of the planet and that of the universe.

  • Cheesman, Tom. “Apocalypse Nein Danke: The Fall of Werner Herzog.” In Green Thought in German Culture: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Edited by Colin Riordan, 285–306. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1997.

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    The author examines Herzog’s ambivalent relation to the catastrophes that define human progress and to our impending extinction. Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) and Lessons of Darkness (1992) play central roles in Cheesman’s analysis.

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  • Gandy, Matthew. “Visions of Darkness: The Representation of Nature in the Films of Werner Herzog.” Ecumene 3.1 (1996): 1–21.

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    Gandy examines the terms sublime and romantic as they come into play in Herzog’s body of work, from his earliest films to Lessons of Darkness (1992). The author draws, in particular, on Immanuel Kant’s ideas and explores the political consequences of the director’s particular ecological outlook.

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  • Singer, Alan. “Herzog and Human Destiny: The Philosophical Purposiveness of the Filmmaker.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 566–586. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    An examination of Herzog’s films in light of Immanuel Kant’s views on human history, specifically his “Conjectures on the Beginnings of Human History.” The essay studies, in particular, Heart of Glass (1976), Fata Morgana (1969), and Lessons of Darkness (1992) with respect to Kant and to Jacques Rancière, using the concept of destiny to dismantle distinctions between that which constitutes vision and that which is visionary.

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Selected Scholarship on Individual Films

Herzog has directed more than fifty films since 1962, some of which have inspired more scholarship than others. The entirety of the body of criticism those films have produced can in no way be represented here. Much of the secondary scholarship embeds his film in the context of philosophical issues (as in, for example, discussions about the acquisition of language in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser [1974]), in contemporary political debates (specifically with respect to Fitzcarraldo [1982], and to his films that take place in Africa), his relationship to art history and to other filmmakers (specifically in the case of Nosferatu [1979], Herzog’s homage to F. W. Murnau), and, most recently, engagement with his “animal politics” in the case of Grizzly Man (2005).

Signs of Life

Signs of Life (1968) was Herzog’s first feature film. Prior to its production Herzog had won the prestigious Carl Mayer Prize for the film’s screenplay, which was inspired by Achim von Arnim’s romantic tale “The Madman of Fort Ratonneau” (“Der Tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau”). Much of the scholarship on Signs of Life centers on the connection to that romantic story, as in Christians 2008 and Peucker 1986.

  • Christians, Heiko. “Lebenszeichen 1818/1968: Werner Herzog verfilmt Achim von Arnims Novelle Der tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau.” Athenäum 18 (2008): 51–79.

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    Christians analyzes Signs of Life as an adaptation of von Arnim’s story, placing emphasis on the comparative historical contexts in which the two works were produced. The author makes connections between the transformative historical years 1818 and 1968, concluding that it is no accident Herzog chose to adapt a work from that earlier time as a basis for his contemporary social commentary.

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  • Peucker, Brigitte. “The Invalidation of Arnim: Herzog’s Signs of Life (1968).” In German Film & Literature: Adaptations and Transformations. Edited by Eric Rentschler, 217–230. New York: Methuen, 1986.

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    This chapter examines how Herzog has, in general, been less interested in narrative than in the visual aspects of his work, bringing out contrasts between the film and its source texts. Peucker also suggests that a greater affinity is found between Herzog’s film and the writings of Heinrich von Kleist than with those of von Arnim.

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Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana (1969) is a visionary documentary filmed in part in the Sahara Desert and featuring narration in the form of creation myths read by Lotte Eisner. Its surrealism is connected to the cultural avant-garde of 1968, as explored in Kaes 2010. The film’s title means “mirage,” and many of the film’s sequences depict desert mirages. Carter 2012 treats it as an engagement with colonialism, and much of the analysis of the film centers on its depiction of the effects and aftermath of colonial expansion.

  • Carter, Erica. “Werner Herzog’s African Sublime.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 329–355. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    A study of Herzog’s films about Africa, from the perspective of his views on race. She explores whether something akin to an “African Sublime,” or a sense that Africa and its people constitute a radically and unspeakably “other” to the West, can be isolated in Herzog’s films. Carter looks particularly at Fata Morgana (1969), Wodaabe—Herdsmen of the Sun (1989), and Echoes from a Somber Empire (1990).

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  • Kaes, Anton. “Zwischen Parodie und Phantasmagorie: Das ‘Paradies’ in Werner Herzogs Fata Morgana.” In Paradies: Topografien der Sehnsucht. Edited by Claudia Benthien and Manuela Gerlof, 231–248. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2010.

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    Kaes engages in a deep contextualization of Fata Morgana (1969), using Bernhard Grzimek’s popular expedition films of the late 1950s as a starting point. He examines the implicit avant-garde impulses in Fata Morgana well as its connection to German popular culture of the late 1960s.

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Land of Silence and Darkness

The 1971 film concerns the world of deaf and blind persons and takes a metaphysical approach to their isolation and to their means of communicating with the world. Fini Straubinger, an extremely high-functioning deaf and blind woman, is at the center of the film. Some of her comments appear to have been scripted by Herzog, which has led to a discussion about the film’s status as a documentary. It is, in some respects, a documentary analogue to The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) insofar as it addresses similar questions concerning the acquisition of language. Koch 1986 and Halle 2012 examine the film in terms of the cinematic limits on the representation of sound and vision. See also the reading of the film in Ames 2012a (cited under Monographs).

  • Halle, Randall. “Perceiving the Other in the Land of Silence and Darkness.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 487–509. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    Halle is interested in how the film communicates the experience of the deaf and blind, experiences that are taken to be outside most experiences commonly represented in cinema. The essay takes up a critical position vis-à-vis Koch 1986.

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  • Koch, Gertrud. “Blindness as Insight: Visions of the Unseen in Land of Silence and Darkness.” In The Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History. Edited by Timothy Corrigan, 73–86. New York: Methuen, 1986.

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    Koch is critical of Herzog’s film, arguing that it mystifies and even celebrates the standpoint of the deaf and blind as an ultimately unknowable space outside of experience. Using this as a starting point, the film is said to engage in a “poetic reductionism.”

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Aguirre, the Wrath of God

The 1972 film deals with the Spanish explorer Lope de Aguirre, who sought the gold of El Dorado, rebelled against the crown, and declared sovereignty over the land. The film’s approach to the facts is synthetic insofar as Herzog pulled together some disparate historical narratives and concerned himself more with drama than with historical accuracy. Its accuracies and inaccuracies are studied in Deubel 2011, Fritze 1985, and Stiles 1989. Davidson 1993 places it in historical context with other films and filmmakers of the New German Cinema. The film was shot in the jungles of Peru, and its colonial standpoint is discussed in Sharman 2004 and Boyer 2011. The film features Klaus Kinski’s best-known and most explosive performance. It won several prestigious awards, including the German Film Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cinematography, and it was voted best foreign film by the French Syndicate of Film Critics in 1976.

  • Boyer, Patricio. “Fantasy and Imperial Discourse in Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 20.3 (2011): 261–279.

    DOI: 10.1080/13569325.2011.617361Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay closely examines the treatment of Aguirre’s gaze in Aguirre. It understands Herzog’s depiction of his protagonist’s desires as the key manifestation of his colonial ideology.

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  • Davidson, John E. “As Others Put Plays upon the Stage: Aguirre, Neocolonialism, and the New German Cinema.” New German Critique 60 (Fall 1993): 101–130.

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    A critical assessment of Aguirre in light of the prevailing ideologies of New German Cinema. It concerns specifically the film’s perspective on Western neocolonial politics and how those politics have subsequently guided the film’s interpretation.

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  • Deubel, Tim H. “Ausdauernde Zusammenstöße mit der Realität: Zur filmischen Arbeit von Werner Herzog am Beispiel von Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes.” Militär und Gesellschaft in der frühen Neuzeit 15.2 (2011): 379–398.

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    The author explores how Herzog’s Aguirre, with its unmarked exchange of fact and fiction and reality and fantasy, is emblematic for Herzog’s signature provocations, particularly those that shed light on the connections between history and myth.

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  • Fritze, Ronald. “Werner Herzog’s Adaptation of History in Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 15.4 (December 1985): 74–86.

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    Similar to Stiles 1989, Fritze examines Aguirre’s basis in fact. He pays special attention to the historical expedition of Pedro de Ursua and Francisco de Orellana. He also discusses whether the film can be treated as an allegory for Hitler’s Germany, an interpretation that Herzog rejects.

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  • Sharman, Gundula M. “The Jungle Strikes Back: European Defeat at the Hands of the South American Landscape in the Films of Werner Herzog.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 2.1 (2004): 96–109.

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    Sharman examines Aguirre as well as Fitzcarraldo (1982) and takes issue with Herzog’s claim that the jungle “strikes back.” Sharman asserts that, given the continued destruction of the rain forest, this position is an illusion.

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  • Stiles, Victoria M. “Fact and Fiction: Nature’s Endgame in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” Literature/Film Quarterly 17.3 (1989): 161–167.

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    Similar to Fritze 1985, this is an examination of Aguirre’s basis in fact, with special attention to the actual historical person of Lope de Aguirre.

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The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner

Herzog’s documentary about a renowned long-distance ski jumper. It attempts to capture the ecstasy of flight, and the film’s airborne imagery is accentuated by Florian Fricke’s music, which lends the cinematography an otherworldly air. Scholarship, such as Cook 2012, has tended to focus on how Herzog’s own appearance in the film as a stylized sportscaster can be viewed as an ironic performance and how the film, through its inclusion of poetic digressions and staged interviews, pushes the boundaries of documentary form, as taken up in Waller 1980. Watson 1986 discusses the film’s mythological dimensions. See also the discussions of the film in Ames 2012a, which understands the film in terms of the historical baroque.

  • Ames, Eric. Ferocious Reality: Documentary according to Werner Herzog. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012a.

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    Ames’s close reading of the film views Herzog’s role as sportscaster as a manner of 20th-century hagiography, whereby Walter Steiner is sanctified. In Ames’s reading, the sports spectacular becomes a baroque martyr-drama.

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  • Cook, Roger F. “The Ironic Ecstasy of Werner Herzog: Embodied Vision in The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 281–300. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    Cook studies the periodically ironic position taken up by Herzog’s sports documentary, especially in connection with his nontraditional depictions of flight. Cook is particularly interested in the dynamics of the camera’s movement, which attempts to evoke an embodied film reception, and he argues that Herzog’s intention is to create a filmic experience that enables the viewer to participate in the athlete’s ecstasy.

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  • Waller, Gregory A. “‘The Great Ecstasy of the Woodsculptor Steiner’: Herzog and the ‘Stylized’ Documentary.” Film Criticism 5.1 (Fall 1980): 26–35.

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    Waller identifies those tendencies that mark Herzog’s documentary as stylized. He pays special attention to Herzog’s hand-held camera style and his employment of slow-motion as well as to the fragmentary character of Steiner’s monologues.

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  • Watson, Scott B. “‘Harried by His Own Kind’: Herzog and the Darker Dimensions of Icarus.” Arete: The Journal of Sport Literature 3.2 (Spring 1986): 71–78.

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    Watson interprets Herzog’s film in light of the Greek mythological figure Icarus, who flew too close to the sun.

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The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

The 1974 film deals with a man who had been forcibly kept apart from society, not taught language, and who turned up in Nuremberg in 1828. Hauser’s story has a factual basis and has been widely treated in German literature and history. Herzog’s film features Bruno S., a unique actor, as the man celebrated for his late introduction to society. The film won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival. Most of the scholarship deals with the film’s treatment of the process of language acquisition, especially in Corrigan 1983 and Silverman 1981–1982, and the relationship between Herzog’s film and other Kaspar Hauser stories, as in Overbey 1974–1975.

  • Corrigan, Timothy. “The Original Tradition: Hypnotic Space in Herzog’s The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser.” In New German Film: The Displaced Image. By Timothy Corrigan, 127–144. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.

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    A remarkable close reading of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser seen in relation to the director’s oeuvre. The author examines closely the exchange between the visual and the verbal in the film as well as how Herzog is critical of our presuppositions regarding communication.

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  • Overbey, David L. “Every Man for Himself.” Sight and Sound 45.1 (Winter 1974–1975): 73–75.

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    Extended review of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser that puts the film in the context of literary work by Peter Handke while also reflecting on Herzog’s method.

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  • Silverman, Kaja. “Kaspar Hauser’s ‘Terrible Fall’ into Narrative.” New German Critique 24–25 (Fall/Winter 1981–1982): 73–93.

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    Silverman provides a Lacanian analysis of the film that examines Kaspar Hauser’s acquisition of language, especially in view of Lacan’s “mirror stage.”

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Heart of Glass

Heart of Glass (1976) is set in the glass-producing regions of Bavaria and Bohemia in the 18th century. It is loosely adapted from Herbert Achternbusch’s story “The Hour of Death” (1975). In a town in which the main commodity produced is ruby-colored glass, the man most responsible for its production dies, taking the glass formula with him. The town quickly descends into something akin to madness and despair, the inhabitants wondering what will become of them. The film won a German Film Award for cinematography in 1977. Greenberg 2012 provides a detailed and creative account of his time spent on Herzog’s set. Most of the scholarship about the film has dealt with the unusual conditions of its production, specifically that Herzog claims to have hypnotized most of his actors on the set, as discussed in Rentschler 1986, and on the film’s critique of industrial modes of production, as in Heringman 2012. McCormick and Aufderheide 1978 presents twin, positive and negative, assessments of the film’s politics.

  • Greenberg, Alan. Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of Heart of Glass. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2012.

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    This is a republication of Greenberg’s earlier book Heart of Glass (Munich, 1976) with some alterations. The author was present at the shooting of the film and his creatively composed reflections—some of which provide insight into Herzog’s method—are integrated with the film’s original narrative screenplay.

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  • Heringman, Noah. “Herzog’s Heart of Glass and the Sublime of Raw Materials.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 256–280. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    An examination of Heart of Glass that takes the “technological sublime” as the starting point for a richly contextualized exploration of the film’s aesthetic perspective on the art of glassmaking. Heringman looks into the history of glass production as well as the film’s relation to 18th-century painting, including work by Joseph Wright of Derby.

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  • McCormick, Ruth, and Pat Aufderheide. “Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass: Pro & Con.” Cineaste 8.4 (1978): 32–34.

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    Two paired reviews of Heart of Glass, both of which are extremely thoughtful and embedded in the history of ideas. McCormick argues that Herzog has a deep understanding of the human condition, but Aufderheide, on the other hand, sees the film as hopeless and defeatist.

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  • Rentschler, Eric. “The Politics of Vision: Herzog’s Heart of Glass.” In The Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History. Edited by Timothy Corrigan, 159–182. New York: Methuen, 1986.

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    Rentschler assumes a critical position on Heart of Glass, arguing that, in its production and execution, the film conforms to some of the characteristics of reactionary modernism. He is critical of viewers who extol the film’s mesmerizing beauty without taking into account the specific 20th-century history in which the film and its production deliberately inscribe themselves.

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Stroszek

Bruno Stroszek, the title character of Herzog’s film, was portrayed by the actor Bruno S., and his real life identity was incorporated into the film in an almost unadulterated form. Bruno, who leaves his apartment in Berlin with the prostitute Eva (played by Eva Mattes), makes it all the way to Wisconsin, where the second half of the film takes place. The film has a catastrophic climax, and the visionary final images include a chicken “dancing” to music on a hotplate. The film received high praise, and Schneider 1977 calls it the most beautiful film that the author had seen in years. Its visionary qualities are explored in Sinka 1988, and its depiction of American culture, alongside several other German films, is explored in Rentschler 1984. Hüser 2012 analyzes the chicken image as the film’s central symbol.

  • Hüser, Rembert. “Herzog’s Chickenshit.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 445–465. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    Hüser views Herzog’s Stroszek as a type of art installation concerned with early film, and he places particular emphasis on the work’s chicken imagery. He examines the image of the dancing chicken as key to an understanding of the film’s perspective on both cinema and the United States.

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  • Rentschler, Eric. “How American Is It? The US as Image and Imaginary in German Film.” German Quarterly 57.4 (1984): 603–620.

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    This article examines the representation of America in German film, and it looks at Stroszek alongside Wim Wenders’s Alice in the Cities (1973). Rentschler argues that Herzog sees the United States as a cage that fetters our existence. As it is portrayed in the film, according to Rentschler, the United States is an expression of a sinisterly designed universe.

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  • Schneider, Peter. “Die Ballade vom armen Bruno S.” Der Spiegel 24 (6 June 1977): 195–197.

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    A review of the film by one of Germany’s foremost fiction writers. He praises Stroszek as a ballad with Chaplinesque humor and notes its extraordinary realism, particularly the degree to which the film seems unstaged.

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  • Sinka, Margit M. “The Viewer as Reader: Herzog’s Stroszek in Film and Prose.” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 7.3 (1988): 27–41.

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    Sinka’s essay studies the distinctions between the film and the screenplay of Stroszek, examining the important differences between the visual and the written in Herzog. Sinka is particularly interested in whether it is possible for Herzog to translate between the media.

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Nosferatu—The Vampyre

Herzog’s vampire film is based largely on F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), which is an adaptation—with many alterations—of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897). Herzog’s version features Klaus Kinski as the vampire, and the French actress Isabelle Adjani as the female protagonist Lucy Harker. According to Herzog, the film constitutes an attempt to close a gap with earlier German cinema, specifically expressionist film from the Weimar Republic, by going back to Murnau’s work. Casper and Linville 1991 examines the film’s links with German romanticism, as does Prawer 2013. Akin to Prawer 2013, Calhoon 2012 explores the film’s interconnection with other arts, particularly with painting because it had so influenced Murnau’s original. Some references to the German painter Caspar David Friedrich are explicit in the film. Mayne 1986 offers an analysis based in gender studies.

  • Calhoon, Kenneth S. “Werner Herzog’s View of Delft: Or, Nosferatu and the Still Life.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 101–126. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

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    An insightful analysis of the roots of the studied image compositions in Nosferatu, one that goes back farther than romanticism. Calhoon’s careful reading finds forerunners in the northern Renaissance (Albrecht Dürer) and in the baroque (Vermeer).

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  • Casper, Kent, and Susan Linville. “Romantic Inversions in Herzog’s Nosferatu.” The German Quarterly 64.1 (Winter 1991): 17–24.

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    The authors place Nosferatu in the context of German romantic literature, specifically stories by Tieck, Eichendorff, and von Arnim, arguing that Herzog’s relationship to the tradition is not straightforward and that he deliberately undercuts elements of the romantic quest narrative.

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  • Mayne, Judith. “Herzog, Murnau, and the Vampire.” In The Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History. Edited by Timothy Corrigan, 119–132. New York: Methuen, 1986.

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    A reading of Herzog’s film in terms of how the narrative relates to the characters’ gendered identities. Mayne notes that Herzog subverts many of the suppositions of Bram Stoker’s novel, drawing as he does from Murnau, who reads it “against the grain.” The interpretation draws on Lotte Eisner’s knowledge of Murnau and on Luce Irigaray.

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  • Prawer, S. S. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. London: BFI, 2013

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    Originally published in 2004. Part of the British Film Institute’s Modern Classics series. A short monograph devoted entirely to the film. Prawer is expert at teasing out connections with earlier works, both art historical and literary, including those by Stoker, Murnau, Henry Fuseli, and many others.

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Woyzeck

The 1979 film is based on Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, an unfinished 19th-century stage play about a soldier who goes mad with jealousy. The soldier in the play is poor and Büchner also deals with issues of wealth, poverty, and exploitation. The film won the best supporting actress award for its female lead, Eva Mattes, at Cannes, and Herzog was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Scholarship, including Rokem 2002 and Stiles 1996, has in general looked at the film’s relationship to Büchner’s original work.

  • Rokem, Freddie. “Witnessing Woyzeck: Theatricality and the Empowerment of the Spectator.” SubStance 31.2–3 (2002): 167–183.

    DOI: 10.1353/sub.2002.0038Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A reading of how imagery from productions of Woyzeck engage the spectator. The author takes a comparative approach to Büchner’s version, Herzog’s work, and a 1991 production staged in Tel Aviv by the director Rina Yerushalmi.

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  • Stiles, Victoria M. “Woyzeck in Focus: Werner Herzog and His Critics.” Literature/Film Quarterly 24.3 (1996): 226–233.

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    A defense of Herzog’s film against criticism that the film is unimaginative, that is, that it simply adapted Büchner’s play for the screen. Stiles demonstrates how it is connected to Büchner while also constituting a transformation and reorganization of the original work.

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Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo (1982) is one of Herzog’s best-known films, in part because of its powerful use of opera and, in part, because of the controversy that surrounded its production. Those interested in the controversy surrounding the making of the film should examine the journalistic account in Conta 1979 and the summary of events in Blank and Bogan 1984, a book-length account. The film’s premise draws upon a historical figure, a rubber baron, who, in Herzog’s film, tries to bring opera to the Amazon, with the ultimate goal of building an opera house in Iquitos. Caltvedt 1988 provides valuable historical details about the basis for Herzog’s story. The film won the best director prize for Werner Herzog at Cannes in 1982 as well as a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign film. Its production history was not only controversial, but also storied insofar as a first version of the film was started and then halted, one that featured Jason Robards Jr. and Mick Jagger in leading roles. Scholarship has centered not only on music in the film, as in Leppert 2007, Rogers 2004, and Friedberg and Hall 2007 (all cited under Music in Herzog’s Films), but also on the colonialist depiction of the forest and its native Peruvians, as in Koepnick 1993 and Franco 1993. Kaiser 1993 embeds the film in the German literary tradition, looking specifically at Faust, and Klawans 1999 examines Herzog as an oversized image of an auteur, one whose project went out of control.

  • Blank, Les, and James Bogan, eds. Burden of Dreams: Screenplay, Journals, Reviews, Photographs. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1984.

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    An invaluable collection of documents about the making of Fitzcarraldo. It includes the screenplay of Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982), excerpts from journals by Herzog, Blank, and Maureen Gosling as well as a number of reviews of Blank’s film.

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  • Caltvedt, Lester. “Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and the Rubber Era.” Film & History 18.4 (December 1988): 74–84.

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    Examines the historical basis for Fitzcarraldo with research into rubber exploration at the turn of the 20th century, the figure of Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald, and the extent to which Herzog takes liberties with historical facts.

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  • Conta, Manfred von. “Die Herzog-Horror-Picture-Show.” Stern 49 (29 November 1979): 100–113.

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    A mainstream journalist’s portrait of the difficulties Herzog was encountering while attempting to make Fitzcarraldo. The difficulties seemed at that point, in 1979, insurmountable, and Conta portrays Herzog as a director who has gotten in over his head.

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  • Franco, Jean. “High-Tech Primitivism: The Representation of Tribal Societies in Feature Films.” In Mediating Two Worlds: Cinematic Encounters in the Americas. Edited by John King, Ana M. López, and Manuel Alvarado, 81–94. London: BFI, 1993.

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    Franco describes how tribal cultures in the Brazilian rain forest are generally idealized as a model for survival. Looking at Fitzcarraldo alongside other films, including Roland Joffé’s The Mission (1986) and John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest (1985), Franco argues that this idealization tends to conceal critical political and economic factors.

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  • Kaiser, Gerhard. Fitzcarraldo Faust: Werner Herzogs Film als postmoderne Variation eines Leitthemas der Moderne. Munich: CF von Siemens, 1993.

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    Short but intelligent monograph by an erudite scholar about connections between Fitzcarraldo and J. W. von Goethe’s Faust. It looks at the extent to which the film draws on motifs from the age of Goethe and that of the Enlightenment. It includes an introduction by the well-regarded German scholar Gerhard Neumann.

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  • Klawans, Stuart. “In the Jungle of Cinema.” Chapter in Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order. By Stuart Klawans, 137–167. London: Cassell, 1999.

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    An insightful analysis of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo project viewed in relation to other overextended auteurs, particularly Francis Ford Coppola, who had similar troubles on the set of Apocalypse Now (1979), as well as in connection with German artists, particularly Richard Wagner and Joseph Beuys.

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  • Koepnick, Lutz P. “Colonial Forestry: Sylvan Politics in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo.” New German Critique 60 (1993): 133–159.

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    An investigation of Herzog’s images of the forest, conducted with reference to contemporary cartographic ideas, Robert Pogue Harrison’s research on forests, and Mary Louise Pratt’s research into the colonial gaze.

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The Dark Glow of the Mountains

This 1984 documentary features conversations with the mountain climber Reinhold Messner while he undertakes an expedition into the Himalayan Mountains in China and Pakistan. The film is notable for its cinematography, some of which was shot by members of the expedition, and Cook 2012 explores those formal aspects. It is also noteworthy for its interviews with Messner, who talks about painful memories, including the loss of his brother; some of these are discussed in Watson 1992.

  • Cook, Roger. “Spatial Orientation and Embodied Transcendence in Werner Herzog’s Mountain Climbing Films.” In Heights of Reflection: Mountains in the German Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Twenty-first Century. Edited by Sean Ireton and Caroline Schaumann, 302–319. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012.

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    A study of how Herzog’s mountain images exert a physical effect on the viewer, aiding in the simulation of physical circumstances. Cook places emphasis on cognitive mapping and proprioceptive spatial orientation as a means of understanding the cinematography in Dark Glow of the Mountains.

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  • Watson, Scott B. “Herzog’s Healing Images: Mountain Climbing and Mankind’s Degeneration.” Aethlon 10.1 (Fall 1992): 169–181.

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    A study of The Dark Glow of the Mountains based on an analysis of the difference between the mountain climber’s desire for harmony and the inhospitality of the natural environment, which the author identifies as a recurring motif in Herzog’s films.

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Little Dieter Needs to Fly

Herzog’s documentary deals with Dieter Dengler, who grew up in Germany’s Black Forest during the Second World War. Dengler later served as a fighter pilot, flying for the United States in the Vietnam War. On his very first mission he was shot down and ended up in a POW camp in Laos. Herzog allows Dengler to tell his own incredible story of escape and survival. The looming shadow of German history and the specter of the Allied air war are examined in Gerhardt 2006, while Peucker 2012 and Ames 2012a look specifically at how the film constitutes an innovative documentary owing to its unorthodox use of reenactments.

  • Ames, Eric. Ferocious Reality: Documentary according to Werner Herzog. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012a.

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    Ames examines the concept of traumatic repetition in Little Dieter, paying special attention to reenactment as a means of encouraging the spectator to participate in witnessing trauma. Ames’s attention to reenactment opens up a perspective on Herzog’s particular, stylized approach to documentaries.

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  • Gerhardt, Christina. “The Allied Bombing Campaign of Germany in Herzog’s Little Dieter Needs to Fly.” In Bombs Away: Representing the Air War over Europe and Japan. Edited by Wilfried Wilms and William Rasch, 345–354. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006.

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    Gerhardt takes Dengler’s background into account and she examines Little Dieter in light of the Allied bombing campaign. The essay looks at the film alongside several other postwar German narratives.

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  • Peucker, Brigitte. “Herzog and Auteurism: Performing Authenticity.” In A Companion to Werner Herzog. Edited by Brad Prager, 35–57. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118274491Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Peucker’s examination of Little Dieter alongside Grizzly Man and Zak Penn’s Incident at Loch Ness (2004) emphasizes Herzog’s inscription of himself into his story of a fighter pilot. She is also particularly interested in how Herzog includes numerous hallmarks of authenticity in his film.

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Grizzly Man

Herzog’s widely hailed work about the naturalist Timothy Treadwell who devoted his attention to protecting bears on the Katmai Peninsula in Alaska. Many people were critical of Treadwell’s efforts. He captured much of his work on film, and that footage serves as the basis of Herzog’s documentary; a bear ate Treadwell, and Herzog produced the film posthumously. Grizzly Man is a consideration of Treadwell’s relationship to nature as well as the charismatic naturalist’s point of view as somewhat of an amateur filmmaker. It won the prize for Best Non-fiction Film from the New York Film Critics Circle in 2005 and the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered. Most of the scholarship on the film, especially Hediger 2012, Ladino 2009, and Sheehan 2008, treats it as representation of human-animal relations and contextualizes it relative to the emerging field of animal studies. Jeong and Andrew 2008 takes a more formalist approach, examining the role of animals vis-à-vis documentary form.

  • Hediger, Ryan. “Timothy Treadwell’s Grizzly Love as Freak Show: The Uses of Animals, Science, and Film.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 19.1 (Winter 2012): 82–100.

    DOI: 10.1093/isle/iss025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assessment of the fluidity of the categories “human” and “nonhuman” as depicted in Herzog’s Grizzly Man and in Judy Irving’s The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2005). Special attention is paid to recent work in primatology.

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  • Jeong, Seung-Hoon, and Dudley Andrew. “Grizzly Ghost: Herzog, Bazin and the Cinematic Animal.” Screen 49.1 (Spring 2008): 1–12.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/hjn001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An examination of Grizzly Man in terms of the question of “becoming animal” (Deleuze and Guattari), especially as related to cinema. Using Bazin as a starting point, Jeong and Andrew contrast Treadwell’s bear footage with Herzog’s controlled approach that frames it.

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  • Ladino, Jennifer K. “For the Love of Nature: Documenting Life, Death, and Animality in Grizzly Man and March of the Penguins.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 16.1 (Winter 2009): 53–90.

    DOI: 10.1093/isle/isp002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A view of anthropomorphic documentaries and the “speciesist” camera. Embeds Herzog’s film in the context of recent work in the area of animal studies.

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  • Sheehan, Paul. “Against the Image: Herzog and the Troubling Politics of the Screen Animal.” SubStance 37.3 (2008): 117–136.

    DOI: 10.1353/sub.0.0023Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sheehan begins with comments about Grizzly Man but then extends his reading into other depictions of animals in Herzog, including the animals that appear in Woyzeck and Nosferatu. The essay draws on the early history of animal depictions, including Thomas Edison’s Electrocuting an Elephant (1903).

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Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) is a documentary study of the images on the walls of the Chauvet cave in southern France, where the oldest human-painted images yet discovered are located. The film is notable for the connection it makes between the drawings and the genesis of cinema, specifically, the idea that we have a need to capture experience in images. Cook 2013 looks, in particular, at the connections the film makes with early cinema. Cave of Forgotten Dreams won the prize for best non-fiction film from the New York Film Critics Circle in 2011 along with eight other awards from critics and festivals. Scholarship on the film has generally shown interest in the foray into three dimensionality, as in Klinger 2012, and Koepnick 2013 takes a wider approach to the politics of vision in general relative to the film’s cave imagery.

  • Cook, Roger F. “Cinema Returns to the Source: Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams.” Film International 11.1 (2013): 24–41.

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    A study of Cave of Forgotten Dreams from the perspective of how the film treats cave paintings as protofilmic. The article pays particular attention to recent work in neuroscience and contemporary attempts to analyze the process of cinematic perception.

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  • Klinger, Barbara. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Meditations on 3D.” Film Quarterly 65.3 (Spring 2012): 38–43.

    DOI: 10.1525/FQ.2012.65.3.38Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The article views Cave of Forgotten Dreams as a reflexive examination of contemporary trends in 3D filmmaking. The article explores the film’s thoughtful use of 3D, especially in relation to contemporaneous blockbusters and IMAX films.

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  • Koepnick, Lutz. “Herzog’s Cave: On Cinema’s Unclaimed Pasts and Forgotten Futures.” The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 88.3 (2013): 271–285.

    DOI: 10.1080/00168890.2013.820632Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An insightful study of how Herzog’s presentation of the caves—his “cave cinema”—reframes the history of human expression, encouraging the viewer to reencounter the present via the past and thereby see it anew.

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