A new book of interviews with the director will remind lapsed fans why they fell in love with himby Francine Prose / August 21, 2014 / Leave a comment
Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed—Conversations with Paul Cronin (Faber, £30)
In 1978, my husband and I named our older son Bruno—partly after the great Polish writer Bruno Schulz and partly after Bruno S, the actor who played the title role in Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974). At that time, we and our friends—writers, painters, and filmmakers—saw Herzog as a sort of god. We not only wanted to watch his films, we wanted to be him—or more precisely, to become the sort of artist he was. A visionary, a poet, a fanatic.
We all knew the stories about Herzog that had already become mythic. When an actor was seriously injured during the making of Even Dwarves Started Small (1970), the director vowed that, if the filming continued without any further harm coming to his cast or crew, he would throw himself into a nearby cactus grove; he made good on his vow and ended up bristling painfully with cactus spines. When he heard that his idol and mentor, Lotte Eisner, had suffered a stroke, he walked from Munich to Paris to see her, because he believed that making a pilgrimage on foot was the only way to prevent her from dying; she lived another nine years. He once promised that he would eat his shoe if the director Errol Morris managed to complete the documentary on which he was working. Morris finished the film, and, as promised, Herzog consumed his shoe onstage in Berkeley, California; the event became the subject of a film entitled Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980).
How thrilling it all seemed—the vows, the dedication, the sheer intensity—and how much we admired the extent to which that intensity infused his films such as Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), in which Klaus Kinski played an increasingly mad conquistador travelling through the jungle in search of the lost city of gold, and Fitzcarraldo (1982), in which Kinski played yet another monomaniac, this one determined to transport an opera house to the heart of the Amazon. Equally strange and stylised were his documentaries such as Land of Silence and Darkness (1971), a tender…