Werner Herzog Offers 24 Pieces of Filmmaking and Life Advice

Image by Erinc Salor via Wikimedia Commons

There are few filmmakers alive today who have the mystique of Werner Herzog. His feature films and his documentaries are brilliant and messy, depicting both the ecstasies and the agonies of life in a chaotic and fundamentally hostile universe. And his movies seem very much to reflect his personality – uncompromising, enigmatic and quite possibly crazy. How else can you explain his willingness to risk life and limb to shoot in such forbidding places as the Amazonian rain forest or Antarctica?

In perhaps his greatest film, Fitzcarraldo -- which is about a dreamer who hatches a scheme to drag a riverboat over a mountain -- Herzog decides, for the purposes of realism, to actually drag a boat over a mountain. No special effects. No studios. In the middle of the Peruvian jungle.

WERNER HERZOG TEACHES FILMMAKING. LEARN MORE.

The production, perhaps the most miserable in the history of film, is the subject of the documentary The Burden of Dreams. After six punishing months, a weary-looking Herzog described his surroundings:

I see it more full of obscenity. It's just - Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and... growing and... just rotting away. Of course, there's a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they - they sing. They just screech in pain. […] But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment.

His worldview brims with a heroic pessimism that is pulled straight out of the German Romantic poets. Nature is not some harmonious anthropomorphized playground. It is instead nothing but “chaos, hostility and murder.” For those sick of the cynical dishonesty of Hollywood’s current crop of Award-ready fare (hello, The Imitation Game), Herzog comes as a bracing tonic. An icon of what independent cinema should be rather than what it has largely become.

Below is Herzog’s list of advice for filmmakers, found on the back of his latest book Werner Herzog – A Guide for the Perplexed. (Hat tip goes to Jason Kottke for bringing it to our attention.) Some maxims are pretty specific to the world of moviemaking – “That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.” Other points are just plain good lessons for life -- “Always take the initiative,” “Learn to live with your mistakes.” Read along and you can almost hear Herzog’s malevolent Teutonic lilt.

1. Always take the initiative.
2. There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need.
3. Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
4. Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
5. Learn to live with your mistakes.
6. Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
7. That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
8. There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
9. Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
10. Thwart institutional cowardice.
11. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
12. Take your fate into your own hands.
13. Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
14. Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.
15. Walk straight ahead, never detour.
16. Manoeuvre and mislead, but always deliver.
17. Don't be fearful of rejection.
18. Develop your own voice.
19. Day one is the point of no return.
20. A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.
21. Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.
22. Guerrilla tactics are best.
23. Take revenge if need be.
24. Get used to the bear behind you.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in January 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Chill Out to 70 Hours of Oceanscape Nature Videos Filmed by BBC Earth

Those who harbor a deep-seated fear of the water may want to look for other methods of stress relief than BBC Earth’s relaxing 10-hour video loops, but everyone else is encouraged to take a dip in these stunning natural worlds, presented without commentary or background music.

All seven 10-hour playlists are salt-water based: coral reefscoastlinesdeep oceanopen ocean, frozen seasocean surfaces, and sea forests.

As in most compelling nature documentaries, non-human creatures loom large, but unlike such BBC Earth offerings as Creepiest Insect Moments or Ants Attack Termite Mounds, there’s a benign, live-and-let-live vibe to the proceedings.




Unsurprisingly, the photography is breathtaking, and the uses of these marathon-length portraits are manifold: meditation tool, sleep aid, child soother, social media decompressor, travelogue, and—less calmingly—call to action.

Science tells us that many of these life forms, and the ocean in which they dwell, are in serious danger, thanks to decades of human disregard for the environment. This is an opportunity to immerse ourselves in what we stand to lose while it’s still possible to do something about it.

If that thought seems too depressing, there’s also strong scientific evidence that nature documentaries such as these promote increased feelings of wellbeing

What are you waiting for?

Click here to travel the oceans with polar bears, jellyfish, dolphins, seahorses, brightly colored tropical fish and other creatures of the deep, compliments of BBC’s Earth’s Oceanscapes playlists.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Yo-Yo Ma Performs the First Classical Piece He Ever Learned: Take a 12-Minute Mental Health Break and Watch His Moving “Tiny Desk” Concert

For those who feel their enjoyment of J.S. Bach’s gorgeous Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G major has been undercut rather than enhanced by its frequent TV and film appearancesYo-Yo Ma’s 2018 NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert is a tonic.

As he explains above, the prelude was the first piece he learned as a beginning four-year-old cellist, adding one measure per day, an incremental approach he recommends.

He and the 300-some-year-old composition have done well by each other throughout a relationship spanning nearly six decades.




His first recording of the Suites, in 1983, resulted in his first Grammy.

Currently, he’s wrapping up the Bach Project, playing the Suites in 36 iconic locations around the world, believing that Bach has a unique ability to unite humans and inspire collaboration, especially in “a time when our civic conversation is so often focused on division.”

The legendary cellist’s unassuming, friendly demeanor is also a unifier, well suited to the informality of the Tiny Desk Concerts.

(Producer Tom Huizenga—a non-cellist—recounts how Ma passed him his bow, along with a 1712 Stradivarius, encouraging him to “play something.”)

Music is a clearly a major part of Ma’s DNA, and also the way in which he experiences the circle of life. He introduces the Sarabande as the heart of the suite, telling how he played it at two friends’ weddings and then again at their memorial services, illustrating the ways in which music is a cumulative emotional proposition.

As he told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly immediately following his performance:

You try and transcend technique to get to what you think is there. Instead of saying, "Here are these notes and this is difficult and I'm going to try and nail it," you try to express it.

With the sand quickly slipping through the hourglass of his 12-minute performance, he treats his audience to Bach’s tiny, populist Gigue.

Set List:

J.S. Bach: "Prelude (from Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello)"

J.S. Bach: "Sarabande (from Suite No. 6 for Solo Cello)"

J.S. Bach: "Gigue (from Suite No. 3 for Solo Cello)"

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Yo-Yo Ma & The Goat Rodeo Sessions

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Free: Download the Sublime Sights & Sounds of Yellowstone National Park

Moments before writing these words I was feeling a little stressed—a not uncommon experience for most everyone these days. Then I watched the 25-second video of a bighorn sheep, above, and something happened. Not an epiphany or moment of Zen. Just a momentary suspension of human woe as the animal silently munched, a creature so unlike myself and yet so motivated by the same basic needs.

How much better to observe the sheep firsthand, in its home at Yellowstone National Park? But perhaps we can, through our computers, touch into a little of the remedy Oliver Sacks suggested for our modern traumas. Nature gives us “sense of deep time,” the neurologist wrote, which “brings a deep peace with it, a detachment from the timescale, the urgencies of daily life… a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.”




Research has found that watching nature documentaries can bring on real contentment, confirming what millions of National Geographic devotees already know. Now, at the National Park Service’s site, you can immerse yourself in virtual visits with not only our silent bighorn sheep friend, but the song of a mountain bluebird, or choruses of howling wolves. The audio library contains dozens more such melodious and haunting sounds from Yellowstone’s biophony.

The video library is replete with not only short clips of animals doing what animals do, but also video tours like that above, in which we learn how park rangers capture and handle bison in their conservation efforts at the park. Then there are stunning landscape videos like that below of Lower Falls viewed from Lookout Point in the spring of 2017, with soothing natural white noise from the rushing water and blowing wind.

All of this content is available for download and free for anyone to use. Remix the sounds of falling snow, geysers, and mountain lions; make as many nature gifs as you desire. As you do, bear in mind that while humans might greatly benefit—both psychologically and culturally—from the digital preservation of the natural world, the true purpose may be to help us understand why we need to step back and preserve the real thing.

Just above see a (nondownloadable) video from Yellowstone on the importance of listening to and conserving the land’s natural soundscapes—a feature of the world that best thrives in the near absence of human involvement.

Enter the sound library here, and the video library here.

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Patti Smith Sings “People Have the Power” with a Choir of 250 Fellow Singers

…people have the power

To redeem the work of fools

—Patti Smith

As protest songs go, "People Have the Power" by Godmother of Punk Patti Smith and her late husband Fred Sonic Smith is a true upper.

The goal was to recapture some of the energy they’d felt as youth activists, coming together to protest the Vietnam War. As Patti declared in an NME Song Stories segment:

… what we wanted to do was remind the listener of their individual power but also of the collective power of the people, how we can do anything. That’s why at the end it goes, "I believe everything we dream can come to pass, through our union we can turn the world around, we can turn the earth’s revolution." We wrote it consciously together to inspire people, to inspire people to come together.

Sadly, Fred Smith, who died in 1994, never saw it performed live. But his widow has carried it around the world, and witnessed its joyful transformative power.

Witness the glowing faces of 250 volunteer singers who gathered in New York City’s Public Theater lobby to perform the song as part of the Onassis Festival 2019: Democracy Is Coming last spring.




The event was staged by Choir! Choir! Choir!, a Canadian organization whose commitment to community building vis-à-vis weekly drop-in singing sessions at a Toronto tavern has grown to include some starry names and world-renowned venues, raising major charitable funds along the way.

As per Choir! Choir! Choir!’s operating instructions, there were no auditions. The singers didn’t need to know how to read music, or even sing particularly well, as participant Elyse Orecchio described in a blog post:

The man behind me exuberantly delivered his off-pitch notes loudly into my ear. But to whine about that sort of thing goes against the spirit of the night. This was a democracy: the people’s chorus.

Director Sarah Hughes had been having “one of those theater nerd Saturdays,” and was grabbing a post-Public-matinee salad prior to an evening show uptown, when she bumped into friends who asked if she wanted to sing with Patti Smith and a community choir:

I'm working on playwright Chana Porter and composer Deepali Gupta’s Dearly Beloved, a meditation on productive despair for community choir, and have been having beautiful, enlightening experiences making music with large groups of non-singers, so I was curious about what this might be like. 

And it was lovely. Just singing at all is always very great, even though I am not "good at it.” Singing along with all the other people in the room felt especially good. 

The Choir! Choir! Choir! leaders were generous, had a sense of humor, and weren't afraid to tell us when we sounded terrible, which was refreshing. 

We learned our parts and then I ate my salad standing in the Public lobby while we waited for Patti. She took a longer time to arrive than they'd planned for, I think, but it was because she was at a climate crisis rally so we weren't mad. And she was just very fully herself. 

I'm not like a die-hard Patti Smith fan, but I sort of fell in love with her after reading her beautiful recounting of messing up while singing "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" at Dylan's Nobel Prize ceremony. This experience made me appreciate her even more—her humanity, her vulnerability, the strangeness of being famous or recognized or heroic to many many people. And she really did lead us, in this very special, simple, real way. It reminded me of how little we really need in the way of money or production values or even talent for a performance or public event to feel worth our time.

The film reflects that sense of the extraordinary co-existing gloriously with the ordinary:

An unimpressed little girl eats a peach.

Two young staffers in Public Theater t-shirts seem both sheepish and thrilled when the film crew zeroes in on them singing along.

Guitarist and Choir! Choir! Choir! co-founder Daveed Goldman nearly bonks Patti in the head with the neck of his instrument.

Also? That’s the Police’s Stewart Copeland playing the frying pan.

Next up on Choir! Choir! Choir!’s agenda is an October 13th concert at California’s Boarder Field State Park, with some 300 people on the Tijuana side and 500 on the San Diego side raising their voices together on Lennon and McCartney’s "With a Little Help from My Friends." More information on that, and other stops on their fall tour, here.

Sign up to be notified next time Choir! Choir! Choir! is looking for singers in your area here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

19th-Century Skeleton Alarm Clock Reminded People Daily of the Shortness of Life: An Introduction to the Memento Mori

Victorian culture can seem grim and even ghoulish to us youth-obsessed, death-denying 21st century moderns. The tradition of death photography, for example, both fascinates and repels us, especially portraiture of deceased children. But the practice “became increasingly popular,” notes the BBC, as “Victorian nurseries were plagued by measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever, rubella—all of which could be,” and too often were, “fatal.”

Adults did not fare much better when it came to the epidemic spread of killer diseases. Surrounded inescapably by death, Victorians coped by investing their world with totemic symbols, cultural artifacts known as memento mori, meaning “remember, you must die.” Tuberculosis, cholera, influenza… at any moment, one might take ill and waste away, and there would likely be little medical science could do about it.




Perhaps the best approach, then, was an acceptance of death while in the bloom of health, in order to not waste the moment and to learn to pay attention to what mattered while one could. Memento mori drawings, paintings, jewelry, photographs, and trinkets have populated European cultural history for centuries; death as an ever-present companion, not to be hidden away and feared but solemnly, respectfully given its due.

Or maybe not so respectfully, as the case may be. Some of these novelties, like the skeleton alarm clock at the top, look more like they belong at the bottom of a fish tank than a proper parlor mantle. “Presumably when the alarm went off,” writes Allison Meier at Hyperallergic, “the skeleton would shake its bones.” Wake up, life is short, you could die at any time. “Part of the collections of Science Museum, London, it’s believed to be of English origin and date between 1840 and 1900.”

The Tim Burton-esque tchotchke appeared in a 2014 British Library exhibit called Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, with many other such objects of varying degrees of artistry: “200 objects from a span of 250 years, all centered on the Gothic tradition in art, literature, music, fashion, and most recently film.” Memento mori artifacts offer visceral reminders that real, daily confrontations with disease and death were “at the base of much of Gothic literature and art.”

Where we now tend to read the Gothic as primarily reflective of social, cultural, and religious anxieties, the prevalence of memento mori in European homes both low and high (such as Mary Queen of Scots' skull watch, in an 1896 illustration above) shows us just how much the gloomy strain of thinking that became the modern horror genre derives from a desire to confront mortality head on, so to speak, and finding that looking death in the face brings on ancient uncanny dread as much as healthy gallows humor and stoic, stiff-upper-lip reckoning with the ultimate fact of life.

via Lindsey Fitzharris

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Bicycles Can Revolutionize Our Lives: Case Studies from the United States, Netherlands, China & Britain

A two- (and three- and one-) wheeled revolution is upon us. Dubbed “micro-mobility” by start-up marketers and influencers, the trend incorporates all sorts of personal means of transport. While the buzz may hover around electric scooters and skateboards, the faithful bicycle still leads the pack, as it has for over a hundred years. And advocates—who bike as their primary means of exercise, commuting, and running daily errands—are challenging the orthodoxies of car culture.

As an avid cyclist myself, who bikes as often as I can for groceries and other errands, I will admit to a strong bias in their favor. But even I’ve been challenged and surprised by what I've learned from biking advocates like Liz Canning, producer and narrator of a new documentary film, Motherload, a portrait of the many people who have chosen to use cargo bikes instead of cars for nearly everything.




The film is remarkable for the ordinariness of its subjects. As one cargo cyclist, Brent Patterson of Buffalo, New York, says, “I’m not an athlete. I’m not superhuman. I’m just a completely normal person like you.” The Patterson family “sold its car,” notes Outside magazine, “and travels by cargo bike year-round, even in snowstorms.” Another cargo cyclist in the film, Emily Finch, “carts all six of her kiddos around on two wheels.” We see cargo cyclists around the world, using bikes as emergency transport haulers and daily grocery-getters.

Most of the Americans profiled live in bike-friendly communities like Marin County, California or Portland, Oregon. But others, like the Pattersons, do not, “and not all are as comfortably off as Canning,” who retired as a commercial filmmaker to raise her kids in bike-friendly Fairfax, CA. “Some had to sell their car or take out a no-interest loan in order to afford a cargo bike.” No one seems to have regretted the decision.

Readers who hail from, or have lived in, places in the world where bike-reliance is the norm may scoff at the presumed novelty of the idea in Canning’s film. But at one time, even the Netherlands—home of the ubiquitous Bakfiets—was almost as car-centric as most of the U.S., as American Dan Kois writes in a New Yorker essay about how he learned to become bike commuter in the Netherlands.

I had assumed that Dutch people’s adeptness at biking was the result of generations of incessant cycling. In fact, after the Second World War, the Netherlands had, like the U.S., become dominated by cars. Cycling paths were overtaken by roads, and neighborhoods in Amsterdam were razed to make room for highways. Between 1950 and 1970, the number of cars in the country exploded from about a hundred thousand to nearly two and a half million. During that same period, bike use plummeted; in Amsterdam, the percentage of trips made by bike fell from eighty to twenty.

That all changed when young activists and parents, especially mothers—like the biking mothers in Motherload—began protesting high numbers of traffic deaths. They took to the streets on their bikes, blocking traffic, running for office, and pressuring city officials to make infrastructure and public space safe and accommodating for bikes. Now, there are more bikes than people in the Netherlands, and cars co-exist on roads full of cyclists of all ages and classes, on their way to work, school, and everywhere else.

Dutch drivers “look out for cyclists,” writes Kois. “After all, nearly all of those drivers are cyclists themselves,” using the car for a brief, necessary outing before they get back on their bikes for most everything else. Next to Kois’ first-person account of his few-months-long sojourn through Delft, we have the global testimony of the Bicycle Architecture Biennale, a “showcase of cutting edge and high profile building designs that are facilitating bicycle travel and transforming communities around the world.” The exhibits, writes Karen Wong at David Byrne's Reasons to Be Cheerful, "point the way to a two-wheeled utopia."

BYCS, the group responsible for this well-curated exhibition, come from Amsterdam. The projects they feature, however, are in London and Chongmin and Chengdu, China. The cargo cyclists in Motherload, and the ferocious activism of cyclists in places like New York City, despite tremendous "bikelash," may show Americans they don't need to look abroad to see how bikes could slowly displace cars as Americans' vehicles of choice in some parts of the country. But learning from how other places have reimagined their infrastructure could prove necessary for lasting change.

Many Americans cannot imagine life without their cars, even if they also have garages full of bikes. Some lash out at cyclists as a threat to their way of life. The country is enormous (though we do most driving locally); cars serve as modes of transport—for human, plant, animal, and everything else—and also as escape pods and status symbols. Canning’s film shows us ordinary American men and women getting the gumption to trade some comfort and security for lives of minor adventure and ecological simplicity. (And a good many of them still have cars if they need them.)

We also see, in exhibitions like that previewed in the video above how design principles and policy can help make such choices easier and safer for everyone to make. Canning pointedly frames her argument in Motherload around cycling's radical history. "100 years before the bicycle saved me," she says in the film's official trailer at the top, "it liberated the poor, empowered the suffragettes, and transformed society faster than any invention in human history. It could happen again."

via Outside

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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