I don't want to live in a world without lions, and without people who are lions.

Werner Herzog

The Time I Met Werner Herzog


I was thinking the other day that it would be a good time in Amelia’s life to show her either “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” or “Fitzcarraldo” and introduce her to Werner Herzog.

The man is one of my favorite filmmakers. His films often beat you over the head with imagery. When he’s paired with Kinski, it’s something to behold. I don’t think there was ever a director and actor together so capable of presenting controlled, manic obsession on screen.

It was a great delight when I got to meet with him in the early 2000s.

The Dryden Theatre, at the Eastman Museum in Rochester, frequently screens old films, perhaps part of its film preservation lab work. Sometimes they are profoundly challenging (an awkward screening of the pornagraphic French film “Baise Moi” comes to mind), other times, it gave rise to interesting expositions of local talent. A screening of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” accompanied by a local improvisational pianist was fascinating, if not a tad tedious towards the middle to end.  It was an inexpensive and cool way to spend an evening, especially when I was a born-again bachelor.

But it was a screening of Herzog’s “Stroszek” at the Dryden that the director himself came out to give a lecture about that drew me. The house was hardly packed that night. I am not, nor do I claim to be a student of film. I like what I like, and something about Herzog has always resonated with me.

Maybe it was a line from “Burden of Dreams,” a documentary about the making of “Fitzcarraldo” that captures what I like about Herzog.

“I don’t want to live in a world without lions, and without people who are lions.”

“I don’t want to live in a world without lions, and without people who are lions.”

Stroszek was an incredible film. Bruno S was a sublime talent. The movie captures, with Herzog’s outsider eye, a reality about the American Midwest that I feel went untapped until the Cohen Brothers made “Fargo.” The weird thing was the extended scene at the end, as Bruno S’ character commits suicide on a ski lift, with dancing chickens in some kind of bizarre roadside attraction.

Herzog then gave a talk about the film with those of us who lingered.  He spoke about working with both Bruno S and Kinski, and a variety of other things. He seemed to resent questions from effete hipster prototypes, especially people that pressed him for the metaphor behind the chicken scene.

“I just liked the chickens and wanted to put them in my film,” Herzog responded to any question curtly. He went on for almost 10 minutes about how literal he is, and why he likes powerful imagery because he likes powerful imagery, but sometimes, he filmed something, liked it, and felt like he should include it.

After, my date managed to squirrel us off to eat with him. He really relished the Rochester garbage plate. It was weird how much joy it brought him. “I really like this. This isn’t some artsy fartsy place.”

And from that, he went off on a tangent, quoting perhaps the only line worth listening to from “julien donkey-boy,” where he offers a paraphrased narrative of the end of “Dirty Harry.”

The real stuff.

It was an interesting dinner. He was happy to talk about his work. He didn’t really want to talk much about Kinski, which was fascinating to me. He was happy to talk about the making of “Fitzcarraldo.” He wasn’t patient with displays of pretentious questions, especially the type framed to expose the questioner’s insights into Herzog’s films.  He asked us what of his films he liked.  My date was one of those culturally illiterate glommers on; she knew Herzog was important, but she never saw any of his films until that evening.  It was mildly embarrassing for me.  I mentioned how much I liked “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” to try and rescue her from awkward, but everybody knows and likes that film, so it wasn’t much of a help.

At the end, he bid us farewell. It was a fascinating evening. The cool part was reading “Conquest of the Useless” a few years ago and finding some of the same insights about “Fitzcarraldo” he imparted over a garbage plate in Rochester.

Brian

Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

You may also like

Religious Freedom Day

Digital Time Capsules

LEAVE A COMMENT

About Brian

Brian Kresge

Brian Kresge

Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Maine with three ladies and a dog.

About Leah

Leah Kresge

Leah Kresge

Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine, special educator and former school board member, mother to Amelia and Nezzie.

follow me

POPULAR POSTS

An Ancient Call

January 13, 2017

Selichot

September 17, 2017

Digital Time Capsules

February 15, 2017

Flickr

Flickr Feed
Flickr Feed
Flickr Feed
Flickr Feed
Flickr Feed
Flickr Feed