Werner Herzog, working hard and enjoying it at 77

Herzog’s early years read like a Bildungsroman, like something he had immortalised in one of his own films. Born in Nazi Germany in 1942, he was raised in splendid seclusion, in a Bavarian mountain village. He saw his first movie at 11, made his first telephone call at 17 and had founded his first production company before his 20th birthday, using a camera he had stolen from the Munich film school. His career and current status is a triumph of self-actualisation. And possibly self-mythologising, too, because the man is a canny circus barker, keen to ensure that we print the legend

His tales may be salted, but they are, by and large, true, just as the films themselves stir documentary realism in with wanton, stylised fabrication to the point where the usual genre labels no longer apply. In terms of subject matter, he has always been drawn to wild corners and dark pockets, be it the Chauvet caves of southern France, bear-infested west Alaska or the fevered psyches of his fictional anti-heroes. Every production is a quest. Every film is a quarry – something to be pursued with bows and arrows, or coaxed out of the forest and invited to eat from your hand. Herzog’s finest work (the ethnographic documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, say, or The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, his tale of a 19th-century German foundling) touches on the sublime. But even his misfires and experiments are never without interest.

It’s very strange, but I have never been my actual age. For a start, I grew up later than my peers. Physically, you know – my puberty was late. Then at age 19 I started making films, which is work you don’t normally do until you’re 35. All the years when you learn your craft, become an apprentice, train to become a clockmaker or doctor – I jumped them. And it’s odd because it means that I have never lived my proper age. That’s why I don’t have much contact with my peers.”

From an article by – At 77 and holed up in lock-down, the veteran director and latter day actor shows no signs of slowing down or accepting any limitations – by Xan Brooks

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