Roughly since the 2005 release of his widely seen documentary Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog has come into great demand. He does so not just as a filmmaker (though he has dozens and dozens of movies of many kinds to his name), or as a writer (though several volumes of his diaries and one long-form interview have appeared as books). Many of Herzog’s newest fans, lured into the fold by the distinctive voiceover narration he records for his documentaries, simply want to hear him talk. Having grown up in Bavaria, honed his craft in German-language projects through the seventies, and more recently put down roots in Los Angeles, Herzog communicates in a manner somehow more basic and more intellectual, more and less articulate, than any other public personality alive. In one characteristic line from Grizzly Man, he compares his view of nature to his hapless subject, the late bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell: “What haunts me is that, in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.”
If you’ve never seen the movie, imagine those sentences spoken with a Teutonically inflected deliberateness and the non-native English speaker’s slight hesitancy about word choice. Then imagine it ultimately arriving at the kind of grasp of and reverence for the meaning of those words you tend to have to spend a lot of time staring into the abyss to achieve. Given his interest in the affectless savagery of the world around us, it comes as no surprise that Herzog counts himself as a fan of the novelist Cormac McCarthy. Pulled from an episode of NPR’s Science Friday, the above clip features Herzog reading, and thrilling to, a passage from McCarthy’s 1992 novel, All the Pretty Horses. “It cannot get any better,” he adds, “and for decades we have not had this language in American literature.” Criminally, he didn’t direct the adaptation of All the Pretty Horses, nor has he directed any other. But until the inevitable day that he does, perhaps he could just record McCarthy’s audiobooks?
Werner Herzog Reads “Go the F**k to Sleep” in NYC (NSFW)
Contemporary American Literature: An Open Yale Course
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.
As a fan on both McCarthy and Herzog, I found this clip both interesting and profoundly fortuitous. Thank you.