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Werner Herzog

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Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog, 2009
Born Werner Herzog Stipetić
(1942-09-05) 5 September 1942
Munich, Germany
Occupation Director, producer, screenwriter, actor, narrator
Years active 1962–present
  • Martje Grohmann (m. 1967–87)
  • Christine Maria Ebenberger (m. 1987–94)
  • Lena Herzog (m. 1999)
Werner Herzog's voice
Recorded August 2008 from the BBC Radio 4 programme Start the Week


Werner Herzog Stipetić (German: ; born 5 September 1942), known as Werner Herzog, is a German film director, producer, screenwriter, author, actor and opera director.

Herzog is considered one of the greatest figures of the New German Cinema, along with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Margarethe von Trotta, Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Schröter, and Wim Wenders. Herzog's films often feature heroes with impossible dreams,[1] people with unique talents in obscure fields, or individuals who are in conflict with nature.[2] French filmmaker François Truffaut once called Herzog "the most important film director alive."[3] American film critic Roger Ebert said that Herzog "has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular."[4]

Early life

Herzog was born Werner Herzog Stipetić to a German father, Dietrich Herzog, and a Croatian mother,[5] Elizabeth Stipetić, in Munich. His family moved to the remote Bavarian village of Sachrang (in the Chiemgau Alps), after the house next to theirs was destroyed during a bombing raid at the close of World War II.[6] When Herzog was 12, he and his family moved back to Munich. His father had abandoned the family early in his youth. Werner later adopted his father's surname Herzog (German for "duke"), which he thought sounded more impressive for a filmmaker.[5]

The same year, Herzog was told to sing in front of his class at school, and he adamantly refused. He was almost expelled. Until he was age eighteen, Herzog listened to no music, sang no songs, and studied no instruments. He later said that he would easily give ten years from his life to be able to play an instrument. At fourteen, he was inspired by an encyclopedia entry about filmmaking, which he says provided him with "everything I needed to get myself started" as a filmmaker—that, and the 35 mm camera he stole from the Munich Film School.[7] In the commentary for Aguirre, the Wrath of God, he says, "I don't consider it theft—it was just a necessity—I had some sort of natural right for a camera, a tool to work with." He won a scholarship to Duquesne University and lasted but three days, but lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania creating documentaries for NASA with WQED. Eventually, he chose to study at the University of Munich.[8] While in his teens, Herzog traveled to various exotic places.

In the early 1960s, Herzog worked nightshifts as a welder in a steel factory to help fund his first films. Before leaving school, he bought a house in the UK, in what was likely the Moss Side area of Manchester. There he learned to speak English.[9] In 1966 he worked briefly in television under the auspices of NASA.[10]

In 1971, while Herzog was location scouting for Aguirre, the Wrath of God in Peru, he narrowly avoided taking LANSA Flight 508. Herzog's reservation was canceled due to a last-minute change in itinerary. The plane was later struck by lightning and disintegrated, but one survivor lived after a free fall. Long haunted by the event, nearly 30 years later he made a documentary film Wings of Hope (2000) about it, which explored the story of the sole survivor Juliane Koepcke.


Werner Herzog's star in Boulevard der Stars in Berlin.

Besides using professional actors—German, American and otherwise—Herzog is known for using people from the locality in which he is shooting. Especially in his documentaries, he uses locals to benefit what he calls "ecstatic truth." He uses footage of the non-actors both playing roles and being themselves.

Herzog and his films have been nominated for and won many awards. His first major award was the Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Jury for his first feature film Signs of Life[11] (Nosferatu the Vampyre was also nominated for Golden Bear in 1979). Most notably, Herzog won the best director award for Fitzcarraldo at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. In 1975, his movie The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser won The Special Jury Prize (also known as the 'Silver Palm') at the Cannes Festival. Other films directed by Herzog nominated for Golden Palm are: Woyzeck and Where the Green Ants Dream.

His films were nominated at many other important festivals around the world: César Awards (Aguirre, the Wrath of God), Emmy Awards (Little Dieter Needs to Fly), European Film Awards (My Best Fiend) and Venice Film Festival (Scream of Stone and The Wild Blue Yonder).

In 1987, Herzog and his half-brother Lucki Stipetić won the Bavarian Film Award for Best Producing for the film Cobra Verde.[12] In 2002 he won the Dragon of Dragons Honorary Award during Kraków Film Festival in Kraków.

Herzog was honored at the 49th San Francisco International Film Festival, receiving the 2006 Film Society Directing Award.[13] Four of his films have been shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival: Wodaabe - Herdsmen of the Sun in 1990, Bells from the Deep in 1993, Lessons of Darkness in 1993, and The Wild Blue Yonder in 2006. Herzog's April 2007 appearance at the Ebertfest in Champaign, Illinois earned him the Golden Thumb Award, and an engraved glockenspiel given to him by a young film maker inspired by his films. Grizzly Man, directed by Herzog, won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Encounters at the End of the World won the award for Best Documentary at the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature, Herzog's first nomination.

Herzog in Brussels, 2007

Herzog once promised to eat his shoe if Errol Morris completed the movie project on pet cemeteries that he had been working on, in order to challenge and motivate Morris, whom Herzog perceived as incapable of following up on the projects he conceived. In 1978, when the film Gates of Heaven premiered, Werner Herzog cooked and publicly ate his shoe, an event later incorporated into a short documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe by Les Blank. At the event, Herzog suggested that he hoped the act would serve to encourage anyone having difficulty bringing a project to fruition.

In 2009, Herzog became the only filmmaker in recent history to enter two films in competition in the same year at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was entered into the festival's official competition schedule, and his My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? entered the competition as a "surprise film".[14] Herzog also provided the narration for the short film Plastic Bag directed by Ramin Bahrani which was the opening night film in the Corto Cortissimo section of the festival.[15]

Herzog is also a jury member for the digital studio Filmaka, a platform for undiscovered filmmakers to show their work to industry professionals.[16]

Werner Herzog talks with an audience member at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.

Herzog was the president of the jury at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival.[17][18][19] He was the chief guest of the 15th International Film Festival of Kerala in December 2010.

Herzog also lent his voice to the animated television program The Boondocks in the third season premiere episode "It's a Black President, Huey Freeman" in which he played himself filming a documentary about the series' cast of characters and their actions during the 2008 election of Barack Obama. He also played Walter Hotenhoffer (formerly known as Augustus Gloop) in the Simpsons episode The Scorpion's Tale which aired in March 2011.

Herzog completed a documentary called Chauvet Cave in France. Although generally skeptical of 3-D film as a format,[20] Herzog premiered the film at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival in 3-D and had its European premiere at the 2011 Berlinale.

Also in 2010, Herzog's documentary Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, which portrays the life of fur trappers from the Siberian part of the Taiga, had its premiere at the 2010 Telluride Film Festival.

In 2012, it was announced that Herzog would be directing a film adaptation of the 2003 novel Vernon God Little.[21]

In 2011 Herzog competed with Ridley Scott for making a film based around the life of explorer Gertrude Bell.[22] In 2012, it was confirmed that Herzog would start production on his long-in-development project in March 2013 in Morocco with Naomi Watts to play Gertrude Bell along with Robert Pattinson to play T. E. Lawrence and Jude Law to play Henry Cadogan.[23] Herzog also gained attention in 2013 when he released a short Public Service Announcement-style documentary, It Can Wait, demonstrating the danger of texting while driving and financed by AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

In 2012, Herzog lent his voice to the animated series Metalocalypse as the high holy priest of the Church of the Black Klok, Ishnifus Meaddle.

On October 21, 2013, it was announced that Herzog had secured Nicole Kidman to replace Watts for the role of Gertrude Bell in his film Queen of the Desert, with Damian Lewis playing Lt. Col. Charles Doughty-Wylie. Production was slated to begin in December 2013.[24]

Film theory

Herzog's films have received considerable critical acclaim and achieved popularity on the art house circuit. They have also been the subject of controversy in regard to their themes and messages, especially the circumstances surrounding their creation. A notable example is Fitzcarraldo, in which the obsessiveness of the central character was reflected by the director during the making of the film. Burden of Dreams, a documentary filmed during the making of Fitzcarraldo, explored Herzog's efforts to make the film in harsh conditions.

His treatment of subjects has been characterized as Wagnerian in its scope, and Fitzcarraldo and his later film Invincible (2001) are directly inspired by opera, or operatic themes. He is proud of never using storyboards and often improvising large parts of the script. He explains this technique in the commentary track to Aguirre, the Wrath of God.


Herzog preferred to develop a team to work with, both of actors and technical people. He gathered a group who appeared in numerous films.


Actors / actresses in a leading role
Actors in a supporting role



Thomas Mauch worked with Herzog on ten films: starting with Signs of Life and Last Words and ending with Fitzcarraldo. He helped to create hallucinogenic atmosphere in Aguirre and realistic style of Stroszek. Mauch won Film Award in Gold and National Society of Film Critics Awards for Aguirre. He was Herzog's first choice to be cinematographer during Cobra Verde. After excessive verbal abuse from Klaus Kinski, Mauch walked out of the project. That was Mauch and Herzog's final collaboration.

Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein worked with Herzog on seventeen films. Reitwein was Thomas Mauch's assistant camera during Even Dwarfs Started Small. His first independent work for Herzog was Precautions Against Fanatics in 1969. He helped to create poetical atmosphere of Fata Morgana, Heart of Glass, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Nosferatu. He won the Film Award in Gold for Heart of Glass and Where the Green Ants Dream at the German Film Awards. He last collaborated with Herzog during Pilgrimage in 2001.

Peter Zeitlinger collaborated with Herzog on thirteen films, from Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices (1995) to the television documentary Death Row (2011), including Rescue Dawn and Grizzly Man. He was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Bad Lieutenant. Port of Call: New Orleans in 2009.


Walter Saxer produced sixteen of Herzog's films, including Nosferatu and The White Diamond. He worked as Sound Department during seven of Herzog's films, including The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner and Echoes from a Somber Empire. He co-wrote Scream of Stone which Herzog directed. Saxer appeared as himself in Herzog's My Best Fiend and in Les Blank's Burden of Dreams, in which he was also subjected to the verbal abuse of Kinski.

Lucki Stipetić is Herzog's half-brother, and he produced several Herzog films, including Aguirre and Invincible. He is a head of Werner Herzog Productions. He won the Bavarian Film Award in 1988 for Cobra Verde and International Documentary Association Award for Little Dieter Needs to Fly in 1998. He was also nominated for an Emmy Award in 1998.

André Singer worked either as an executive producer or producer on eight of Herzog’s documentaries, starting with “Lessons of Darkness” in 1991, “The Wild Blue Yonder.” He won the International Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival, 2006. He worked on the recent “La Boheme, short” (2009), and “Into the Abyss”/”Death Row”, 2011.


Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus worked with Herzog on twenty films, from Signs of Life and Last Words (both from 1968) to Where the Green Ants Dream (1984). She won Film Award in Gold during German Film Awards for The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser in 1975.

Joe Bini has collaborated with Herzog on nineteen films, from Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) to Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2009). He was nominated by American Cinema Editors for Best Edited Documentary Film for Grizzly Man in 2005.

Costumes designers

Ann Poppel collaborated with Herzog on four films, including Nosferatu the Vampyre and Scream of Stone. Gisela Storch worked with Herzog on six films: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Heart of Glass, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde. She was nominated for a Saturn Award for Nosferatu the Vampyre in 1979.


German Krautrock band Lotte Eisner reads parts of the Popol Vuh.

Since 2001, for orchestral scores Herzog mostly chooses Klaus Badelt. The first of so far four collaborations, "Invincible" (2001) was actually one of Badelt's first film scores. Badelt also wrote the scores to "Rescue Dawn" (2006), "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga" (2010), and is currently working on Herzog's upcoming feature "Queen of the Desert" (2015).

Herzog has invited Henning von Gierke collaborated with Herzog on seven films and several operas. He was Production Designer during The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Nosferatu the Vampyre and Fitzcarraldo. As a Set Decorator he worked on Heart of Glass and Woyzeck, as Stage Designer on operas: Lohengrin and Giovanna d'Arco, and as Costume Designer on film - The Transformation of the World Into Music. Gierke shot additional still photographs on Stroszek 's set. He appeared twice in Herzog's film The Transformation of the World Into Music as himself and in Herzog's TV realisation of the opera Giovanna d'Arco. Von Gierke won Film Award in Gold for The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser during German Film Awards and Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement for Nosferatu, at the 29th Berlin International Film Festival.[25]

Personal life

Herzog has been married three times and has three children, one from an outside relationship. In 1967, he married Martje Grohmann, with whom he had a son Rudolph Amos Achmed, born in 1973. He has become a film producer and director, and has written several non-fiction books. In 1987, Herzog was divorced from Grohmann.

In 1980, Herzog had a daughter Hanna Mattes (now a photographer and an artist), born to his companion Eva Mattes.

After his divorce, in 1987 he married Christine Maria Ebenberger. Their son, Simon Herzog, was born in 1989. He attended Columbia University.[26] Herzog and Ebenberger divorced in 1994.

In 1995, Herzog moved to the United States. In 1999 he married photographer Lena Pisetski, now Lena Herzog.


Fiction feature films

Fiction short films

Documentary feature films

Documentary short films


Films written, not directed, by Herzog:

Herzog has written all his films, except these which he co-wrote:

  • Scream of Stone (1991)
  • Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
  • My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009)

Herzog has also co-written:


Stage works



  • Floresta Amazonica (A Midsummer Night's Dream) (1992, Teatro Joao Caetano)
  • Varété (1993, Hebbel Theatre)
  • Specialitaeten (1993, Etablissement Ronacher)




  • Of Walking in Ice (Free Association, New York, 2007, ISBN 978-0-9796121-0-7)
  • Fitzcarraldo: The Original Story (Fjord Pr, January 1983, ISBN 978-0-940242-04-3)
  • Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo (Eroberung des Nutzlosen) (German: 2004; English: Ecco, 2009, ISBN 978-0061575532)


  • Paul Cronin. Herzog on Herzog (London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 2002, ISBN 0-571-20708-1) (extracts)[28]
  • Lena Herzog. Pilgrims: Becoming the Path Itself (Periplus Publishing London Ltd., ISBN 1-902699-43-2)


  • Cobra Verde (Jade-Flammarion 2001, ISBN 2-08-203009-1)
  • Wo Die Grünen Ameisen Träumen (Hanser 1984, ISBN 3-446-14106-5)
  • Nosferatu (Ulbulibri, 1984)
  • Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu, Stroszek (Mazarine 1982)
  • Screenplays: Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Every Man For Himself and God Against All & Land of Silence and Darkness (translated by Alan Greenberg & Martje Herzog; Tanam, New York, ISBN 0-934378-03-7)
  • Drehbücher III: Stroszek, Nosferatu (Hanser 1979)
  • Drehbücher II: Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes: Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle, Land des Schweigens und der Dunkelheit (Hanser 1977)
  • Drehbücher I: Lebenszeichen, Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen, Fata Morgana (Hanser 1977)


  • Alan Greenberg & Herbert Achternbusch. Heart of Glass. 1976.


  1. ^ "40 Great Actor & Director Partnerships: Klaus Kinski & Werner Herzog". Empire Magazine. Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Werner Herzog and his film language". Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  3. ^ Cronin, Paul; Werner Herzog (2002). Herzog on Herzog. London: Faber and Faber Limited. pp. vii–viii.  
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (2006). Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226182002
  5. ^ a b Laster, Paul (July 25, 2011). "Werner Herzog Comes Out of the Cave". New York Observer. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  6. ^ "'"Werner Herzog on the Story Behind 'Rescue Dawn.  
  7. ^ Bissell, Tom. "The Secret Mainstream: Contemplating the mirages of Werner Herzog," Harper's, December 2006
  8. ^ [1]"German Film-Maker Recalls Pittsburgh Break"
  9. ^ Cronin, Paul; Werner Herzog (2002). Herzog on Herzog. London: Faber and Faber Limited. pp. 1–2.  
  10. ^ Corrigan, Timothy. "Producing Herzog: from a body of images" in The films of Werner Herzog. Edited by Timothy Corrigan. New York: Methuen, 1986, pp. 3–19.
  11. ^ "Berlinale 1968: Prize Winners". Retrieved March 3, 2010. 
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ "Film Society Directing Award". Archived from the original on May 27, 2008. Retrieved April 8, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Filmmaker Herzog is up against himself in Venice | Film". Reuters. September 5, 2009. Retrieved October 25, 2009. 
  15. ^ "66th Venice Film Festival Corto Cortissimo". 
  16. ^ Filmaka Jury Member Werner Herzog,
  17. ^ "Werner Herzog to be President of the Jury of the 60th Berlinale". Retrieved December 22, 2009. 
  18. ^ "Werner Herzog to head Berlin film festival jury". Retrieved December 22, 2009. 
  19. ^ "Werner Herzog is to head the Berlin Film Festival jury". bbc news. November 20, 2009. Retrieved December 22, 2009. 
  20. ^ "Werner Herzog Interview | PLANET°". September 7, 2010. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Werner Herzog to adapt Vernon God Little into film". BBC News. October 22, 20123. Retrieved October 23, 2012. 
  22. ^ Dang, Simon. "Watch Out, Ridley: Werner Herzog's Gertrude Bell Film Starring Naomi Watts Hoping To Shoot In The Fall". IndieWire. Retrieved 25 November 2012. 
  23. ^ Chitwood, Adam. "Jude Law Joins Robert Pattinson and Naomi Watts in Werner Herzog’s QUEEN OF THE DESERT". Collider. Retrieved 25 November 2012. 
  24. ^ Fleming, Jr., Mike. "‘Homeland’s Damian Lewis To Star With Nicole Kidman In ‘Queen Of The Desert’". Deadline. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
  25. ^ "Berlinale 1978: Prize Winners". Retrieved August 15, 2010. 
  26. ^ "Simon Herzog". 
  27. ^ "Bayreuth Festival web portal: Werner Herzog's biography". Retrieved 2014-08-09. 
  28. ^ "Herzog on Herzog". Retrieved October 25, 2009. 

Further reading

Primary literature
  • Werner Herzog: Guide for the Perplexed: Conversations with Paul Cronin, London: Faber & Faber, 2014.
Secondary literature
  • Eric Ames: Ferocious Reality. Documentary according to Werner Herzog, Minn. [etc.]: University of Minnesota Press, 2012
  • Emmanuel Carrère: Werner Herzog. Ediling, Paris 1982, ISBN 2-85601-017-2
  • Moritz Holfelder: Werner Herzog. Die Biografie", Munich: LangenMüller, 2012, ISBN 978-3-7844-3303-5.
  • Brad Prager (ed.): A companion to Werner Herzog, Chichester [u. a.]: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012, ISBN 978-1-405-19440-2.

External links

  • Official website
  • Werner Herzog at the Internet Movie Database
  • Encounters with Herzog - a film competition. Judged by Herzog on the independent filmmakers networking community Shooting People.

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