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Help me dive in to Herzog.
February 10, 2012 7:59 PM   Subscribe

I would like to explore the films of Werner Herzog, whose work I have never seen but whose person I find immensely entertaining, in interviews and such. What are the first few films I should watch, and why?
posted by slappy_pinchbottom to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Incident at Loch Ness wasn't directed by Herzog, but he's in it, I find it hilarious. I assume you have heard the Science Friday podcast he did with Cormac McCarthy. Probably the best radio I have ever heard.
posted by sanka at 8:10 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite personally are some of his older ones like Aguirre Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. Then if you want, you can watch Burden of Dreams which is about Fitzcaraldo and you'll get more of a sense of the man. Newer movies like Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Encounters at the End of the World are good movies to see once you know more about him. Also don't miss My Best Fiend for more about the Kinski/Herzog relationship.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Fitzcarraldo and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I've heard that The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Grizzly Man are pretty good, but I haven't seen them yet.

I don't really have any reason why specifically, but they're good and pretty indicative of Herzog's other work. The setting and story for Fitzcarraldo is weird and yet it draws you in. Much like the setting of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, now that I think about it.

He's one of the few directors that does both dramatic and documentary films well, so I recommend trying out both.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:14 PM on February 10, 2012


There's a boxed set of his five films with Kinski. Watch those first.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:17 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe

Little Dieter Goes Flying.

I would go for Burden of Dreams as the intro.
posted by goalyeehah at 8:18 PM on February 10, 2012


Aguirre: a relatively straight and engaging narrative, loaded with the themes he returns to over and over again, particularly obsession verging on mania and nature and man's place in it (frequently in opposition to it). And it's got Kinski.

Heart of Glass: a more outre narrative, without being completely off the rails. More overtly dreamlike than Aguirre.

Stroszek: a heartbreaking narrative about being ground down by life. Fantastic and bitterly funny in places, with a unique performance by non-actor Bruno S.

Fata Morgana
: A documentary? about the Sahara desert. A great introduction to the unconventional approach he takes to the form.

I would not start with his remake of Nosferatu, Bad Lieutenant 2, Even Midgets Start Small, or The Enigma of Kasper Hauser. They're all good films, but I think they're more interesting when you've got a bit more Herzog in your brain (some my argue that's true of Heart of Glass as well, but I love it so much).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:21 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps because it's what I've seen most recently, but I loved Encounters at the End of the World, his documentary about Antarctica.
posted by rtha at 8:33 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


As others have said, I'd go with the five Kinski films plus Burden of Dreams. Eats His Shoe too - it's short. Then, ask yourself if you liked the ending of Stroszek. Yes? Now it is time for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. People seem divided on that one, but ohhh man. To me it's a blast.
posted by evisceratordeath at 8:33 PM on February 10, 2012


Oh wait, I mixed up Woyzeck and Stroszek. Stroszek too, then.
posted by evisceratordeath at 8:45 PM on February 10, 2012


Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, and Cobra Verde are all very good places to start. They all star Kinski, who is special on his own, but together with Herzog transcends into a fantastic kind of madness. These also fit together quite well because of similar themes of nature vs man and mania.

There are also his more recent films which have somewhat similar themes but are in a documentary style. Encounters at the End of the World, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and Grizzly Man are all fantastic films which I count as some of my favorite.

And then, after you have immersed yourself in the phantasmagorical that is Werner Herzog, you can fully appreciate the genius that is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
posted by ruhroh at 8:49 PM on February 10, 2012


A fun bonus: once you've watched all these Werner Herzog movies, go watch The Boondocks episode "It's a Black President, Huey Freeman!" (season 3, ep 1) - in which Herzog voices a parody of himself. It's fantastic.

To actually answer your question: I'm a fan of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which is up on Netflix streaming.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 9:04 PM on February 10, 2012


Oh, yeah. Definitely don't watch "Bad Lieutenant" until you seen some of his earlier acclaimed works. Otherwise, it might come off as pandering sleaze. Well, it is that, but Herzog is really giving it the treatment.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:05 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorites

fiction: Fitzcarraldo
documentary: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, though Little Dieter Needs to Fly is awesome
work about him: My Best Fiend, which repeats the best parts of Burden of Dreams, adds more, and usually has Eats His Shoe on the DVD

This AV Club Primer directly answers your question.
posted by gimletbiggles at 9:07 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm by no means a Herzog expert, but I thought Grizzly Man was just truly fantastic.
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:38 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


A little off-topic, but there's a free podcast interview with him on the always entertaining The Business.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:38 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grizzly Man. Yes.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:40 PM on February 10, 2012


I haven't seen the Kinski's, but I love Bad Lieutenant Port of Call:New Orleans and Grizzly Man was pretty good.
posted by rhizome at 10:20 PM on February 10, 2012


How I was introduced to Herzog, seriously. "And George is lured out of hiding by the hat, an alien trinket of unimaginable cultural significance..."
posted by citizenface at 10:23 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Aguirre Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. Pantheon movies, both of them.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:03 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Watch Stroszek (his most accessible older film) then Aguirre (another quite accessible older film). If you like those, seek out everything else by Herzog from the 70s.
posted by GlassHeart at 12:37 AM on February 11, 2012


Others have the films covered, but if you like Herzog interviews, you should also check out "Herzog on Herzog", a collection of interviews about his works that's brimming with Herzogian aphorisms.
posted by ecmendenhall at 3:13 AM on February 11, 2012


I remember "Nosferatu the Vampyre" as being very good and, in some strange way given that's it's about a supernatural being, more a "normal" narrative than Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo (although I like those films very much). Whether that makes it better or worse for an intro to his work I'm not sure but it's undoubtedly a very good film.

It's probably worth saying that, apparently, Herzog meant it as a tribute to a version of the dracula story made in Germany in 1922 and as such, I suppose, it's not quite "herzog in the raw". Having said that it's well worth seeing.
posted by southof40 at 3:39 AM on February 11, 2012


Watch Fitzcarraldo back to back with Burden of Dreams, which is about the making of Fitzcarraldo and incredible in it's own right. Little Dieter Needs to Fly is one of my for-all-time top movies--powerful and heartbreaking.
posted by Elsie at 4:01 AM on February 11, 2012


I couldn't find the Werner Herzog/Cormac McCarthy episode at the Science Friday site, but was able to download it (and read a transcript) at the NPR site.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 5:05 AM on February 11, 2012


Start with his docs, not his narratives. Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Grizzly Man. Les Blank's Burden of Dreams (for the speech about the jungle) then use that to transition into Fitzcarraldo.

White Diamond is really nice too.

Don't just dive right into Lessons of Darkness.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:16 AM on February 11, 2012


PS as you watch his "docs" remember the air quotes. Herzog's docs are slightly fictionalized and his fiction tends to be documentary (ie actually dragging a boat up a GD mountain). It's part of what makes him so great and unique. He doesn't really constrain himself, just makes the movie he feels reveals most about the human condition.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:23 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fitzcarraldo. If you make it through that film, you can watch any of his stuff. It is an epic trial of will to endure.

Personally I like Even Dwarfs Started Small because it is so brutal and surreal and depraved. It is a very Lynchian film.
posted by JJ86 at 7:10 AM on February 11, 2012


I agree with many of the recommendations here, and the suggestion to remember the air quotes, but I also wanted to mention "Plastic Bag", which is not directed by Herzog, but in which he plays the protagonist. It's a short film (about 20 minutes), and you can see it in its entirety here.
posted by Flunkie at 7:56 AM on February 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


My personal favorite, like a lot of people here is Aguirre: Wrath fo God, but in order to understand his humor off the bat (once you get to know him you realize that the famous jungle obscenity monologue is Herzog being funny), I'd start with My Best Fiend. My favorite part is herzog describing how he was actually in his car with a can of gasoline, going to kill Kinski and burn down his house, but he remembered that he was afraid of Kinski's dog, so he turned around. For all I know the story could be true, but it's a perfect example of the kind of dark absurdist humor that he loves.

Also, understanding the total madness of Kinski makes his acting that much more amazing when you see in his eyes that he really thinks he's a conquistador at that moment.
posted by cmoj at 9:19 AM on February 11, 2012


I think the best Herzog films are the ones where you get to hear from Herzog himself. The contact that you have with his human-ness (emotional, brave, unashamed) when watching the documentaries does something to enlarge your own spirit. This film, Wodaabe, is really good. Someone above mentioned Grizzly Man and I heartily agree with that. I would like to see Bells From The Deep; it sounds pretty incredible (lost Russian city frozen under ice).
Film Forum did a great Herzog retrospective a few years ago. Here is a link to a sort of review of that retrospective. It summarizes some of the less known documentaries.
posted by Ventre Mou at 9:24 AM on February 11, 2012


Cave of Forgotten Dreams is much, MUCH more moving when seen in 3-D. I'd defer watching it until you can see it in a 3-D theater.

Where the Green Ants Dream hasn't been mentioned upthread -- it's one of my favorites.
posted by anadem at 9:42 AM on February 11, 2012


You must watch him
posted by humboldt32 at 10:07 AM on February 11, 2012


bah, get shot.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:08 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite personally are some of his older ones like Aguirre Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. Then if you want, you can watch Burden of Dreams which is about Fitzcaraldo and you'll get more of a sense of the man.

This would be my advice to the OP, too.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:34 AM on February 11, 2012


Aguirre is absolutely essential.
posted by Decani at 11:39 AM on February 11, 2012


If you are interested in Classical Music, then there is his murder-mystery version of Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices.
posted by ovvl at 12:14 PM on February 11, 2012


Don't just dive right into Lessons of Darkness.

Lessons of Darkness is good if you really like helicopter footage of oil field wildfires set to the music of Mahler. Then go for it.
posted by ovvl at 12:18 PM on February 11, 2012


Thanks everybody! My cinematic self-education course in Herzog is now mapped out.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 12:34 PM on February 11, 2012


Nosferatu is not just an homage to the earlier film, it is at times a shot-for-shot remake. The original is intensely terrifying. Herzog's remake is wholly worthwhile but definitely best understood in the context of the rest of his work.

Bizarrely, the Willem DaFoe film Shadow of the Vampire is also inspired by the earlier, silent, film, but in my opinion would not have been made but for the Herzog reshoot.
posted by mwhybark at 1:07 AM on February 13, 2012


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