Werner Herzog Discovers the Ecstasy of Skateboarding: “That’s Kind of My People”

If Wern­er Her­zog has ever stood atop a skate­board, cin­e­ma seems not to have record­ed it. But when asked by online skate­board­ing mag­a­zine Jenkem to dis­cuss the sport and/or lifestyle, he did so with char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly lit­tle reser­va­tion. “I’m not famil­iar with the scene of skate­board­ing,” he admits in the video inter­view above. “At the same time, I had the feel­ing, yes, that’s kind of my peo­ple.” Fans will make the con­nec­tion between skate­board­ing videos and the Bavar­i­an film­mak­er’s ear­ly doc­u­men­tary The Great Ecsta­sy of Wood­carv­er Stein­er, on cham­pi­on ski jumper Wal­ter Stein­er, even before a clip of it appears.

In fact Her­zog him­self, as revealed in the auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal short Por­trait Wern­er Her­zog, only turned film­mak­er after shelv­ing his own dreams of ski-jump­ing. The expe­ri­ence must have taught him vis­cer­al­ly, through those parts of the body that don’t for­get, what it means to make count­less attempts result­ing in count­less fail­ures — with a bet­ter fail­ure here and there, and at some dis­tant, ecsta­t­ic moment, per­haps a suc­cess.

Viewed at great enough length, the kind of skate­board­er who attempts a trick on video dozens, even hun­dreds of times, before land­ing it could well be a char­ac­ter from one of Her­zog’s own films, espe­cial­ly his doc­u­men­taries about men unable to stop putting them­selves in har­m’s way in the name of their fix­a­tions.

“So many fail­ures,” mar­vels Her­zog as he watch­es one such video. “That’s aston­ish­ing.” It cer­tain­ly “does­n’t do good to his pelvis, nor to his elbows,” Her­zog adds, but such is the price of ecsta­sy. For him, the obscu­ri­ty of the vast major­i­ty of skate­board­ers only com­pounds the sacred­ness of their prac­tice. This as opposed to the David Blaines of the world, whose phys­i­cal feats “are meant only for his own pub­lic­i­ty, and for shin­ing out in the media. Skate­board kids are not out for the media. They do it for the joy of it, and for the fun of it.” If Her­zog were to pay cin­e­mat­ic trib­ute to these kids, sure­ly he would make sim­i­lar obser­va­tions though voiceover nar­ra­tion. As for his instinct of how to fill out the rest of the sound­track, “What comes to mind first and fore­most would be Russ­ian Ortho­dox church choirs.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wern­er Her­zog Offers 24 Pieces of Film­mak­ing and Life Advice

Tony Hawk & Archi­tec­tur­al His­to­ri­an Iain Bor­den Tell the Sto­ry of How Skate­board­ing Found a New Use for Cities & Archi­tec­ture

“Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Bet­ter”: How Samuel Beck­ett Cre­at­ed the Unlike­ly Mantra That Inspires Entre­pre­neurs Today

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

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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