Werner Herzog is not a household name. Rather, he is an art household name. His name is one that rings out to those devoted to his works as well as the critics who have spent their careers playing catch-up with a man clearly unconcerned with the rules of cinema. And how can they? An artist such as himself who believes he is an original creator, the first one “there”, of his own trade can hardly be criticized successfully. In his interview with UC Santa Barbara, Herzog opens up about the many personal and philosophical beliefs relative to his work in cinema. It is an intriguing introduction to those who are unfamiliar with his personality, with his background and with understanding the kind of man that he is.
Patience is rewarded here, so stick out the two consistent hours of discussion between Herzog, and the spritely, intelligent host, Pico Iyer. Their talk runs the conversational gamut between real life stories, retellings of youth, artistic interpretations and what you would hope to find in a fruitful interview. However, the spotlight is on Werner Herzog, an artist who presents otherworldly personalities and perspective-busting images in his works. Personal expectations of the auteur are understandably set at a peculiar bar as to what kind of being he is. For those alien to the man himself but familiar with his reputation, Werner Herzog is a virtually unclassifiable man by the end of the interview.
He did not make a telephone call until he was seventeen years old. He had not seen a film until he was eleven. In his mid teens, he built custom, filmic tools with his own hands to capture his ideas. Quite literally, he can be known as an inventor of cinema. He can blush and admit to being shot by a sniper (and living, as well as continuing the interview in which he was wounded, mind you) but when he is asked to recall his happiest memories, he hardheartedly turns inwards. He is an unironic personality capable of great, accessible, and infectious energy while speaking at length of philosophical depth. He is a thinker who inspires those listening to think as well. As his work abandons conventional purpose, Herzog’s words are of unconventional wisdom that speaks not to the why but to the what.
At his most playful, Herzog admits that the Hollywood filmmakers and usual household names of celebrity fame are insane. Unfathomable figures in his eyes, his viewpoint seems completely obvious when given a second’s thought whether you agree with him or not. He is not, for a minute, a spiteful man, which makes his remarks all the less alarming and all the more provocative. There is not even a moment of “and at the end of the day, Werner Herzog is just a filmmaker”. The thought of finding closure and an encompassing definition of Herzog does not come, and it is a beautiful thing because of it.
This specific interview is highly recommended for fans, moderately recommended for outsiders and hardly a wasted learning experience for those disinterested. If you come not for his films and his praise, stay for Werner Herzog’s thinking. As he closes his own discussion on the topic of happiness, “I do not care that much whether I am happy or unhappy, but… I believe the pursuit of happiness is a goal in life. A legitimate, clear goal in life. Strangely enough, I do not have goals in life.” The finishing touches of his words are equally arresting as they are affecting, but only to those who tune in to discover them as the unique intimacy of this talk brings listeners a step closer to knowing the being of Werner Herzog just a little bit more.