It seems that many people resort to the absurdly dramatic when speaking about Werner Herzog.
Pico Iyer, a slight man who wrote some books or something (Who cares?! We came here to see THE Werner Herzog, okay?!) proved himself to be the best wingman in the history of wingmen when he prepped the audience for Herzog’s appearance. According to Iyer, Herzog is a “poet with a camera,” “strange; funny; beautiful; a sage” who “moves toward the sublime.”
Here Iyer picks up his pace, channeling Paul Bettany’s portrayal of Chaucer in the Heath Ledger classic, “A Knight’s Tale.” (Haters gonna hate, but I will insist until my death that this movie is legitimately awesome.)
Please imagine the following being delivered in a medieval English accent: Once, he walked three weeks through a snowstorm to hand deliver a copy of his latest movie to Lotte Eisner. He was shot while speaking with the BBC and insisted on continuing the interview without medical attention in customary Herzog fashion. (In his own words, it was only a minor wound.) He is the center of global fascination. A rare human being, an independent-minded craftsman, an uncompromising man of vision, startlingly open, unspoiled and approachable. With no agents, no middle men.
And everything Iyer said was true.
Not since Comic-Con have there been this many sweaty-palmed adults full of pure adoration for a pop-culture icon. After taking my seat (and Twittering “Werner Herzog in Campbell Hall! Third row from the front, dead center. FUCK YEAH!), I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by the film & media studies faculty. Each with the biggest shit-eating grin plastered on their face. Herzog did not disappoint. With his German accent and deadpan delivery, Herzog captivated the audience with random musings about art, cinema and his life.
And there’s a lot to tell. Growing up in Bavaria and later in Munich, Herzog had no idea cinema existed until he was 11 years old. He convinced a production company to produce one of his films at the age of 17 without ever having met the producers in person. He made the first phone call of his life during this process to avoid revealing his age.
Once, while filming in South Africa, the elders of the tribe attempted to lynch the line producer. Sitting on a panel of documentarians at Amsterdam, he grabbed the mic and shouted “Happy New Years, losers!” when he disagreed with the discussion on the virtues of cinema-vérité. He completed the film “Grizzly Man” in nine days on a whim so that it could be entered in that year’s Sundance Festival.
Herzog peppers the conversation with self-congratulatory claims.
“There is no one nowadays that writes prose like me,” he said at one point. “It’s just really great stuff.”
Later, he enthused, “When you look at Hollywood it’s completely crazed, and I see myself as the only one who is clinically sane.”
And, as he later reported, “Fear is not in my dictionary anymore. I can’t relate to it. I don’t know what it is.”
He also boasted, “I watch only two to three films on average a year. We have maybe 4,000 film festivals per year worldwide, but we only have maybe three or four really good films. So that’s a fundamental problem.”
All of which sounds abhorrently masturbatory when written on the page; but his tone inserts a wink in every word, an adorably self-deprecating inflection that has the audience (including me) eating from the palm of his hands.
In the end, what you are left with is that Herzog loves filmmaking more than anybody you’ve ever met before. He describes ideas as a home invasion. He wakes up one morning and all of a sudden, his kitchen is full of burglars. To get rid of them, he channels them onto the screen in his films.
In order to create “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans,” (does anybody know the proper punctuation for this ungodly title?), he waived his right to a trailer, an assistant, a limousine and one of those canvas director’s chairs. He delivered the film a few days under schedule and $2.6 million under budget, an unheard-of phenomenon in Hollywood.
There are so many other ludicrous stories he shared (I took seven pages of single-spaced notes), and I am not doing justice to any of them. Herzog accepts how nonsensical the world is and strives to be crazier than life. All the film professors could not stop talking about his visit, ardently recounting the stories in class (poorly, which makes me feel a little better about this sub-par article).
If you are unfamiliar with Werner Herzog, you owe it to yourself to check out “Fitzcarraldo,” “Bad Lieutenant” and “Encounters at the End of the World.” For a peek into his personality, search YouTube for “Plastic Bag” and “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.” They might fill you with unbearable regret that you missed his visit, but at least you’ll have watched some great movies.