With his Death Row documentary showing on channel 4 and Enter The Abyss out now, I look back at some of the more bizarre chapters in the Oscar nominated director’s life.
Few people have the strength of vision to imagine great things. Even fewer people have the strength of will to achieve great things, especially when told that these things are impossible. Werner Herzog is one of these few people. When (at age 17) he was considered “too young” for funding, instead of giving up he stole a camera and started a production company himself. He has since made a film on every continent (often in arduous conditions) and has shot in some of the most extreme places on earth. His sense of adventure is remarkable.
As a director he says he hates to be associated with his own films, but it is impossible to separate them. He is not just an unconventional film maker but a unconventional person and his films are thrown together (often semi-improvised) from the chaos of his life. He has been called insane, had accusations of megalomania and is even said to be dangerous; but it is this maverick behavior that continues to fascinate and provoke.
With 25 films and 32 documentaries made it would be a thankless task to even try to scratch the surface in this article. The best way to introduce someone to Herzog’s work is to introduce them to Herzog himself, so here is a collection of some of his best stories:
The 11 weirdest facts about Werner Herzog…
1) Herzog offered to dig up the corpse of serial killer Ed Gein’s mother for the documentarian Errol Morris. Morris was, at the time, researching a serial killer epidemic in the town of Plainfield, Wisconsin, and wanted to know if the rumors that Gein had stolen his mothers corpse (as depicted in Psycho) were true. The project was cancelled after Morris “chickened out” and failed to show at the cemetery.
2) During the filming of his masterpiece Fitzcarraldo (1982) he dragged an entire 320 tonne steam boat over a mountain top in the Peruvian rainforest. Where as most film productions would have achieved the shot via special effects and miniatures, Herzog insisted on doing the shot for real after witnessing the prehistoric standing stones of Carnac, a engineering feat of the megalithic era. The whole project took over 3 years of pre-production, and 5 years to complete.
3) After loosing a bet that Erroll Morris would never complete a feature film, Herzog cooked and ate his own shoe allowing director Les Blank to film it for a documentary. The shoe was initially cooked in goose fat.
4) In order to get convincing performances, Herzog hypnotized the entire cast of Heart Off Glass (1976) and had them perform their lines whilst under hypnosis. The finished film is one of the most unique ever made.
5) Herzog planned to murder his friend and collaborator Klaus Kinski with a bomb after a particularly brutal falling out. He also toyed with his friend’s mortality during the filming of Fitzcarraldo after a group of Peruvian Indian extras offered to murder him as a favor to the director. Herzog had to declined the offer due to an unfinished shooting schedule.
6) Despite getting shot with an air rifle whilst shooting a BBC TV program Herzog refused to end the interview. The video of the incident is viewable here.
7) Herzog risked his life to film on the edge of a volcano that was about to erupt when making a documentary about the locals who refused to evacuate. There was no available escape route, and an eruption would have meant certain death. The documentary is now available on youtube.
8) After a series of dangerous onset incidents whilst making Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), Herzog made a promise to the actors that if they made it through the rest of filming without injury he would jump into a cactus and allow the actors to film him doing so. He later kept up his half of the bargain.
9) Herzog assisted in the surgery of a Native Indian extra on the set of Fitzcarraldo after the extra had hit by a rival tribes spear. The whole production had to then be moved for safety reasons after a border war broke out between Peru and Ecuador.
10) He forced actor Klaus Kinski to finish filming Aguirre Wrath Of God (1972) by threatening him with gun after the actor decided to leave the production. It has also been reported that he held him at gunpoint throughout the rest of filming, but Herzog denies these claims.
11) He released 11,000 rats in the German city of Delf whilst fliming Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979). Each of the 11,000 rats had been individually dyed grey for the scene, and were recaptured when filming ended.
Please feel free to leave any more interesting Herzog stories in the comments section below: