He has been following people, stories and landscapes of extremes for decades - and even at the age of 80, Werner Herzog does not stop. "I try to remain a good soldier. A good soldier of the cinema," says the director in the artist portrait "Werner Herzog - Radical Dreamer" by director Thomas von Steinaecker, which opens in cinemas on October 27th.
"My life has meaning when I tell a story that I know lies dormant deep within us," the filmmaker sums up in the documentary. And he proudly refers to his tireless work. He made three films in just one year, and the year before, when there was not much travel due to Covid, he made a feature film and wrote two books.
Herzog, who turns 80 this Monday (September 5th), is traveling to two film festivals around his birthday, as his spokesman told the German Press Agency. First in Telluride (US state of Colorado), then at the film festival in Toronto, Canada. There he presents his new documentary "Theater of Thought" about modern brain research.
Cult figure and border crosser
His memoirs "Everyone for himself and God against everyone", which was published at the end of August, are 352 pages long. His life story could fill volumes. It also provides plenty of material for the current exhibition in the Berlin Kinemathek with around 250 exhibits, including many archive images, but also video material and personal letters. According to the museum's website, Werner Herzog has a cult following and is also controversial.
In 2009, the American "Time" magazine chose Herzog as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. That same year, his Antarctic documentary Encounters at the End of the World was nominated for an Oscar. From Antarctica via a cave in southern France ("The Cave of Forgotten Dreams"), Herzog went to the death row of US prisons for the cinema documentary "Death in Texas" and the TV production "On Death Row", where inmates await their execution. "This is material of an intensity that I have never had in any film before," Herzog told dpa in 2012.
The documentary "Grizzly Man" led him to a bear researcher in Alaska, "In the Depths of the Inferno" brought him to the edge of volcanoes, in "Fireball: Visit from Far Away Worlds" he dealt with meteorites, in "Gorbachev - An Encounter " with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
But he also changes places - in front of the camera. Several times he had a voice guest role in the cult animated series "The Simpsons". In the "Star Wars" series "The Mandalorian" he played a villain in 2020. As a villain in the action film "Jack Reacher" he previously made life difficult for Tom Cruise.
Born Werner Stipetić in Munich in 1942 to a Croatian mother and a German father, the artist grew up in a mountain village on the Austrian border. The family had sought shelter there after bombing raids on Munich. The father disappeared shortly after his birth, says Herzog in the documentary "Radical Dreamer" - and when visiting the small village, he remembers the poor conditions, the constant hunger of the children, but also the boisterous games with the brothers, nature and the freedom to live by "your own rules".
He studied history and literature and taught himself how to make films. In 1961, when he was almost 20, he made his first short film. In "Herakles" he observed bodybuilders posing in front of the camera. Four years later - at the 1968 Berlinale - he won the Silver Bear for Best First Feature with "Lebenszeichen".
With colleagues like Wim Wenders, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff, Herzog shaped the New German Film. He was looking for strong personalities and extreme stories. In the 1970s and 1980s, he worked with Klaus Kinski, the eccentric star of joint films such as "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo", under the most difficult and dangerous conditions in the South American jungle. He also got the raving acting genius in front of the camera for "Nosferatu - Phantom of the Night" and "Woyzeck". In the documentary "My dearest enemy" he spoke about their love-hate relationship.
Lots of credit from Hollywood
"You can feel this wildness that very few directors can produce," actor Robert Pattinson attests to the filmmaker in the documentary "Radical Dreamer". Nicole Kidman says she was very excited to enter this "Werner world" and dare to do things. In Herzog's "Queen of the Desert", the Oscar winner embodies the British explorer Gertrude Bell, who explored remote desert regions of the Middle East at the beginning of the 20th century. "Twilight" star Pattinson stars alongside her.
Christian Bale, who made the war film "Rescue Dawn" (2006) with him, says some would see Werner Herzog as "crazy". But for him he is one of the kindest people he has ever met, emphasizes the star.
The California native has lived in Los Angeles with his third wife, the photographer Lena Herzog, since the 1990s. He likes to be in a place where you have the feeling that something is happening, says Herzog. "Here you don't just talk, you just do it."
The eternal globetrotter still has a very special travel destination in mind. "I would like to go into space," says the father of three in the documentary interview. "I'm in favor of exploring space cinematically". After all, he is very familiar with extreme worlds.
Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin Exhibition on Werner Herzog Database imdb on Herzog Time Magazine on Herzog 2009 Publisher on Herzog's memoirs Website Werner Herzog