In This Article Werner Herzog

  • Introduction
  • Monographs
  • Edited Collections
  • Published Screenplays
  • Diaries and Memoirs
  • Shorter Writings
  • Book-Length Interviews
  • Shorter Interviews
  • General Interest Profiles of Herzog
  • Scholarly Profiles of Herzog
  • Herzog as a Documentarian
  • Music in Herzog’s Films
  • Themes of Natural History and Apocalypse

Cinema and Media Studies Werner Herzog
by
Brad Prager
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • 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-length fiction 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 2012 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 narrative 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. Johnson 2016 is interested in the themes Herzog’s work shares with German romantic writing and thought. Recent scholarship on Herzog has had to contend with the large number of statements Herzog makes about his own practices, and it typically constructs 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, 2012.

    DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816677634.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    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.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

  • Johnson, Laurie Ruth. Forgotten Dreams: Revisiting Romanticism in the Cinema of Werner Herzog. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2016.

    E-mail Citation »

    An examination of the legacy of German romanticism and idealism in Herzog’s films, with an emphasis on Goethe, Hegel and the painter Caspar David Friedrich. Provides a comprehensive approach to the narrative features and the documentaries and is thoughtful in accounting for the interplay between mythologization and documentary reality.

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

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

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

    E-mail Citation »

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

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

    E-mail Citation »

    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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