Portrait Werner Herzog: The Director’s Autobiographical Short Film from 1986

The past decade has seen film­mak­er Wern­er Her­zog rise up on a new, seem­ing­ly sud­den burst of inter­na­tion­al fame. Cinephiles have paid great respect to his work, or at least felt great admi­ra­tion toward his work’s audac­i­ty, since the sev­en­ties. But Her­zog him­self has been at his craft since the six­ties, and you can see pho­to­graph­ic evi­dence of it in the auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal doc­u­men­tary above, Por­trait Wern­er Her­zog. In it, he reveals that he turned to film­mak­ing after a friend’s seri­ous injury con­vinced him to aban­don his pre­vi­ous dream of becom­ing a cham­pi­on ski jumper. But Her­zog’s fans know he did­n’t stop feel­ing the vis­cer­al impact of the sport, since he went on to make 1974’s The Great Ecsta­sy of Wood­carv­er Stein­er, per­haps the defin­i­tive visu­al study of that par­tic­u­lar thrill. We hear him say this over clips from that film, as we hear him recount oth­er for­ma­tive moments over images from oth­er Her­zog favorites, includ­ing Fata Mor­ganaHeart of Glass, and Fitz­car­ral­do.

A 1986 Ger­man pro­duc­tion direct­ed by Her­zog him­self, Por­trait Wern­er Her­zog shows him at a time and from a cul­tur­al angle that count­less more recent inter­views and pro­files don’t. We see his footage of Munich’s elab­o­rate­ly bois­ter­ous Okto­ber­fest; we see him in the green Bavar­i­an val­ley of his youth. “I’m the kind of per­son who trav­els on foot,” he explains, “even for long dis­tances.” This leads to the sto­ry of his walk from Munich to Paris to vis­it the ail­ing film crit­ic Lotte Eis­ner (whom Her­zog calls “the con­scious­ness of the new Ger­man cin­e­ma”), which became his book Of Walk­ing In Ice. He speaks of hyp­no­tiz­ing an entire cast for Heart of Glass, of fight­ing the aggres­sive­ly film­mak­ing-unfriend­ly Peru­vian jun­gle to shoot Fitz­car­ral­do, and of plan­ning a nev­er-real­ized Himalayan film star­ring fre­quent (and fre­quent­ly volatile) col­lab­o­ra­tor Klaus Kin­s­ki. “Here we can tru­ly see how hard it is to make a film,” so Her­zog sums up his strug­gle, “but this is my life, and I don’t want to live it in any oth­er way.” In that respect, noth­ing has changed in 25 years.

Por­trait Wern­er Her­zog will be added to our list of 500 Free Movies.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Evening with Wern­er Her­zog

Errol Mor­ris and Wern­er Her­zog in Con­ver­sa­tion

Wern­er Her­zog Los­es a Bet to Errol Mor­ris, and Eats His Shoe (Lit­er­al­ly)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.