Werner Herzog

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Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog (born 5 September 1942) German screenwriter, film director, actor and opera director; born Werner Stipetic


  • That man is a head taller than me. That may change.
  • You are all wrong.
    • Responding to booing crowds at the Berlin Film Festival, who disapproved of his Lessons of Darkness (1992).
  • Well they are very frightening for me because their stupidity is so flat. You look into the eyes of a chicken and you lose yourself in a completely flat, frightening stupidity. They are like a great metaphor for me... I kind of love chicken, but they frighten me more than any other animal.
    • About chickens, on the Signs of Life (1968) DVD audio commentary (2005).
  • I believe the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder.
    • "Grizzly Man" (2006)

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980)

  • If you switch on television it's just ridiculous and its destructive. It kills us. And talk shows will kill us. They kill our language. So we have to declare holy war against what we see every single day on television. Commercials and – I think there should be real war against commercials, real war against talk shows, real war against "Bonanza" and "Rawhide", or all these things.
  • If you want to do a film, steal a camera, steal raw stock, sneak into a lab and do it!
  • As you see [filmmaking] makes me into a clown. And that happens to everyone — just look at Orson Wells or look at even people like Truffaut. They have become clowns.

Minnesota declaration (1999)

"Minnesota declaration: truth and fact in documentary cinema", Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (30 April 1999)

  • By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.
  • Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.
  • Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.
  • There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.
  • Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures amid ancient ruins of facts.
  • Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.
  • Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: "You can´t legislate stupidity."
  • We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile.
  • Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution some species—including man—crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.

Herzog on Herzog (2002)

  • I shouldn't make movies anymore. I should go to a lunatic asylum.
  • If I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams and I don't want to live like that: I live my life or I end my life with this project.
    • Said while making Fitzcarraldo
  • It is my duty because this might be the inner chronicle of what we are, and we have to articulate ourselves. Otherwise we would be cows in the field.
  • I like to direct landscapes just as I like to direct actors and animals.
  • The kinds of landscape I try to find in my films...exist only in our dreams. For me a true landscape is not just a representation of a desert or a forest. It shows an inner state of mind, literally inner landscapes, and it is the human soul that is visible through the landscapes presented in my films.
  • Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs.
  • Film is not analysis, it is the agitation of mind; cinema comes from the country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism.
  • Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film.
  • Coincidences always happen if you keep your mind open, while storyboards remain the instruments of cowards who do not trust in their own imagination and who are slaves of a matrix... If you get used to planning your shots based solely on aesthetics, you are never that far from kitsch.
  • Your film is like your children. You might want a child with certain qualities, but you are never going to get the exact specification right. The film has a privilege to live its own life and develop its own character. To suppress this is dangerous. It is an approach that works the other way too: sometimes the footage has amazing qualities that you did not expect.
  • We comprehend... that nuclear power is a real danger for mankind, that over-crowding of the planet is the greatest danger of all. We have understood that the destruction of the environment is another enormous danger. But I truly believe that the lack of adequate imagery is a danger of the same magnitude. It is as serious a defect as being without memory. What have we done to our images? What have we done to our embarrassed landscapes? I have said this before and will repeat it again as long as I am able to talk: if we do not develop adequate images we will die out like dinosaurs.
  • You can fight a rumour only with an even wilder rumour.
  • I am not an artist and never have been. Rather I am like a craftsman and feel very close to the mediaeval artisans who produced their work anonymously and who, along with their apprentices, had a true feeling for the physical materials they were working with.
  • I have never been one of those who cares about happiness. Happiness is a strange notion. I am just not made for it. It has never been a goal of mine; I do not think in those terms.
  • I am someone who takes everything very literally. I simply do not understand irony, a defect I have had ever since I was able to think independently.
  • May I propose a Herzog dictum? those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it.
  • It is my firm belief, and I say this as a dictum, that all these tools now at our disposal, these things part of of this explosive evolution of means of communication, mean we are now heading for an era of solitude. Along with this rapid growth of forms of communication at our disposal— be it fax, phone, email, internet or whatever— human solitude will increase in direct proportion.
  • To me, adventure is a concept that applies only to those men and women of earlier historical times, like the mediaeval knights who travelled into the unknown. The concept has degenerated constantly since then... I absolutely loathe adventurers, and I particularly hate this old pseudo-adventurism where the mountain climb becomes about confronting the extremes of humanity.
  • If you truly love film, I think the healthiest thing to do is not read books on the subject. I prefer the glossy film magazines with their big colour photos and gossip columns, or the National Enquirer. Such vulgarity is healthy and safe.

On Klaus Kinski

  • People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other's murder.
  • Often he was a joy, and you know, he was one of the few people I ever learned anything from.


  • Actually, for some time now I have given some thought to opening a film school. But if I did start one up you would only be allowed to fill out an application form after you have walked alone on foot, let's say from Madrid to Kiev, a distance of about five thousand kilometres. While walking, write. Write about your experiences and give me your notebooks. I would be able to tell who had really walked the distance and who had not. While you are walking you would learn much more about filmmaking and what it truly involves than you ever would sitting in a classroom. During your voyage you will learn more about what your future holds than in five years at film school. Your experiences would be the very opposite of academic knowledge, for academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion.
  • Centuries from now our great-great-great-grandchildren will look back at us with amazement at how we could allow such a precious achievement of human culture as the telling of a story to be shattered into smithereens by commercials, the same amazement we feel today when we look at our ancestors for whom slavery, capital punishment, burning of witches, and the inquisition were acceptable everyday events.
  • Civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness.
  • Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.
  • For such an advanced civilization as ours to be without images that are adequate to it is as serious a defect as being without memory.
  • I cannot work fast enough. I cannot cope fast enough, really. And just releasing a film is hard.
  • I do not want to go into general rules of what a filmmaker should do and how he should approach his work... I am not Moses on the mountain who proclaims the rules of procedure and what is sin and what is virtue.
  • I don't spend sleepless nights over getting very bad reviews.
  • I have the impression that the images that surround us today are worn out, they are abused and useless and exhausted. They are limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution. When I look at the postcards in tourist shops and the images and advertisements that surround us in magazines, or I turn on the television, or if I walk into a travel agency and see those huge posters with that same tedious and rickety image of the Grand Canyon on them, I truly feel there is something dangerous emerging here. The biggest danger, in my opinion, is television because to a certain degree it ruins our vision and makes us very sad and lonesome. Our grandchildren will blame us for not having tossed hand-grenades into TV stations because of commercials. Television kills our imagination and what we end up with are worn out images because of the inability of too many people to seek out fresh ones.
  • I invite any sort of myths because I like the stooges and doppelgangers and doubles out there. I feel protected behind all these things. Let them blossom! I do not plant them, I do not throw out the seeds. I advise you to read Herzog on Herzog because there you see a few clarifications.
  • I know whenever it comes to be really dysfunctional and vile and base and hostile on screen— I'm good at that!
  • I make films to rid myself of pain, like ridding yourself of a nightmare.
  • I see planets that don't exist and landscapes that have only been dreamed.
  • I'm making films for an audience out there and a very tiny fraction of them are would-be filmmakers. But let's speak of them—the would-be filmmakers—the tiny fraction. I've witnessed many times when I've showed films and was present at a screening that exactly those people feel very much encouraged by what I'm doing.
  • I'm old-fashioned; I'm a man of celluloid. I think it still has a depth and a precision that you do not have in the digital domain, and the digital domain has some disadvantages. When you shoot something and record it with a digital camera, you have an instant access to it—you don't have to wait for the dailies.
  • If I had to climb into hell and wrestle the devil himself for one of my films, I would do it.
  • It is a place where nature is unfinished yet...a place where God, if he exists, has created in anger...Even the stars up in the sky look a mess.
    • Expressing anger at the Amazon rainforest for the difficulties involved in filming Fitzcarraldo.
  • Let's put it this way: art house theaters are vanishing. They have almost disappeared completely, and that means there's a shift in what audiences want to see. And they have to be aware of that and be realistic. It's as simple as that.
  • Strangely enough, I've always believed that my stories were mainstream stories; the films are narrated in a way that you never have a boring moment.
  • Stupidity is the devil. Look in the eye of a chicken and you'll know. It's the most horrifying, cannibalistic, and nightmarish creature in this world.
  • Technology has a great advantage in that we are capable of creating dinosaurs and show them on the screen even though they are extinct 65 million years. All of a sudden, we have a fantastic tool that is as good as dreams are.
  • There are certainly laws and elements that make a film more accessible to mainstream audiences. If you've got Tom Cruise as a strongman, I'm sure it would have larger audiences, but it wouldn't have the same substance.
  • Very often, footage that you have shot develops its own dynamic, its own life, that is totally unexpected, and moves away from your original intentions. And you have to acknowledge, yes, there is a child growing and developing and moving in a direction that isn't expected—accept it as it is and let it develop its own life.
  • We are surrounded by worn-out images, and we deserve new ones.
  • You should look straight at a film; that's the only way to see one. Film is not the art of scholars but of illiterates.

On Klaus Kinski

  • Actually his ideas about nature were rather insipid. Mosquitoes were not allowed in his jungle, nor was rain.
  • He was a pestilence every day... but who cares? I mean, what remains is the film. ... There has never been a man in cinema who had such a presence, such a ferocious intensity on the screen.
  • I needed Kinski for a few more shots, so I turned them down. I have always regretted that I lost that opportunity.
    • On declining an offer by local Indians to kill Kinski for him, during the making of Fitzcarraldo.
  • It was worthwhile for what you see on the screen. Who cares if every grey hair on my head I call 'Kinski'?
  • Kinski walked off, packed all his things and was absolutely serious about quitting and leaving at once— he'd already broken his contract 40 or 50 times. I went up to him and said, 'You can't do this.' I told him I had a rifle and that he'd only make it as far as the first bend before he had eight bullets in his head— the ninth one would be for me.
  • [Biophilia is] a very good term, and I would apply it rather to the tree huggers, which is one of the biggest embarrassments in our civilization. It's so deeply embarrassing that if I see a tree hugger, I just pray for the ground to open and a chasm to swallow me.

Quotes of others about Herzog

  • Herzog is a miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, cowardly creep...he should be thrown alive to the crocodiles! An anaconda should strangle him slowly! A poisonous spider should sting him and paralyze his lungs! The most venomous serpent should bite him and make his brain explode! No—panther claws should rip open his throat—that would be much too good for him! Huge red ants should piss into his lying eyes and gobble up his balls and his guts! He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It's no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts me. ~ Klaus Kinski
  • His speech is clumsy, with a toadlike indolence, long winded, pedantic, choppy. The words tumble from his mouth in sentence fragments, which he holds back as much as possible, as if they were earning interest. It takes forever and a day for him to push out a clump of hardened brain snot. Then he writhes in painful ecstasy, as if he had sugar on his rotten teeth. A very slow blab machine. An obsolete model with a non-working switch— it can't be turned off unless you cut off the electric power altogether. So I'd have to smash him in the kisser. No, I'd have to knock him unconscious. But even if he were unconscious he'd keep talking. Even if his vocal cords were sliced through, he'd keep talking like a ventriloquist. Even if his throat were cut and his head were chopped off, speech ballons would still dangle from his mouth like gases emitted by internal decay. ~ Klaus Kinski
  • Nobody is going to buy the book if I say nice things about you, Werner. ~ Klaus Kinski

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