No other filmmaker in the world has his entire body of work can be represented by the two words “ecstatic truth”, and Werner Herzog stands distinct among filmmakers with his audacious, adventurous and sometimes insane quest to discover that truth hidden in nature. As he himself put it, most of his movies are rebellions against nature and its mighty grip on man’s will and the adjective Herzogian became a familiar word among film students and buffs around the world.

Polished his radical and rebellious spirits in the West Germany, a potboiler of politics, culture, art, student protests, and revolts, of the 60s, Herzog emerged as the flag bearer of a group of peer filmmakers including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Margarethe von Trotta, Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Schröter, and Wim Wenders. Together they gave form to a radical film movement which, later known as the New German Cinema. Influenced by the French New Wave to a great extent, the New German Cinema wave produced and promoted a number of low budgets, “small” movies targeted at the German art-house filmgoers.

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Herzog took a 90-degree turn from his peers and embraced the quest for truth in nature and history. Recurring themes like man versus nature, the obsession of the central character, insanity, and difference between truth and facts are the characteristics of Herzogian movies. In this question and answer session, Herzog reflects some of the most valuable points about the basic character of the documentary and his much talked about, spot improvising writing and editing methods.

When asked about his take on the documentary as a medium, Herzog replies that he never make documentaries with a journalistic approach. He says the challenge was to get rid of the journalistic narrative in documentaries and give them a mixed aura of poetry and illumination. In that sense, he calls his documentaries “feature films in disguise.

Herzog also emphasizes the importance of making real conversations with real people while making documentaries, rather than interview them with a pre-written catalog of questions. By this way, a filmmaker can understand the world deeper and Herzog assures young filmmakers the world will reveal itself at some point or other during the act of filmmaking.

While answering a question about his editing methods Herzog criticizes the young filmmakers, who shoot long hours of footage unnecessarily. Herzog calls his approach on the editing table “a kind of urgency”, as he is eager to discover the truth hidden in the visual he had canned. The poetic and mesmerizing commentaries in Herzog’s documentaries were written and recorded in his own voice during this editing process.

Like in his movies, Herzog explores life, with all its extremes, insanity, and excitement, in his documentaries. A documentary filmmaker’s knowledge will never complete without watching Herzogian documentaries and understanding his quest for ecstatic truth, challenging everything including nature on his way.    

Written By: Ragesh Dipu

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