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- You are all wrong.
- Responding to booing crowds at the Berlin Film Festival, who disapproved of his Lessons of Darkness (1992)
- 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.
- Promoting the English-language release of Heart of Glass in the New York Times, 11 September 1977
- Often misquoted as: "Academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion. Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates"
- 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 am so used to plunging into the unknown that any other surroundings and form of existence strike me as exotic and unsuitable for human beings.
- 31 May 1981 diary entry (pg. 248 of Herzog's book Conquest of the Useless)
- I believe the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder.
- "Grizzly Man" (2006)
- James Joyce is a cul-de-sac. [Ulysses is] … an example how literature branched out and went into, lost itself in nowhere, no man's land.
- Conversation with Paul Holdengräber, in “Was the 20th Century a Mistake?”, The Richard B. Saloman Distinguished Lectures & LIVE from the NYPL, Celeste Bartos Forum, New York (2007)
- Together, I said, we shall boil fire and stop fish.
- There are dignified stupidities, and there are heroic stupidities, and there is such a thing as stupid stupidities, and that would be a stupid stupidity not to have a camera on board.
- "The White Diamond" (2004)
- I'm completely aware and utterly aware that Russia [the Soviet Union] lost 25 million people for winning the war, and I know that Russian troops whether ones who liberated concentration camps, Auschwitz and others, and I'm aware that there's an incredible sacrifice on the side of Russia and I do believe that it's ignored because of course of political interests. It's very much the question what other facts, maybe 600 or so thousand American soldiers lost their lives in the Second World War, 25-26 million Russian those effects, that cannot be ignored, and today it's not that really important what really happend, it's more than question who owns the narrative, who owns the narrative, and occupying the narrative has created some sort of lopsided ideologies in lopsided information, that we see every day.
- From an interview (2020)
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 Welles or look at even people like Truffaut. They have become clowns.
Burden of Dreams (1982)
- Of course we are challenging nature itself and it hits back, it just hits back that's all and that's "grandiose" about it and we have to accept that it's much stronger than we are.
- Kinski always says it's full of erotic elements I don't see it so much erotic I see it more full of obscenity. It's just, and nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotical here I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course there is a lot of misery but it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery I don't think they sing they just screech in pain.
- It's an unfinished country, it's still prehistorical. The only thing that is lacking is the dinosaurs here. It's like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever goes too deep into this has his share of that curse, so we are cursed with what we are doing here. It's a land that God, if he exist, has created in anger. It's the only land where creation is unfinished yet.
- Taking a close look at what is around us, there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle, we in comparison to that enormous articulation, we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban novel, a cheap novel. And we have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication, overwhelming growth, and overwhelming lack of order. Even the stars up here in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it, I love it very much, but I love it against my better judgment.
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.
- Said while making Fitzcarraldo
- 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
- I am fascinated by the idea that our civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates.
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.
- Incredible. I didn't know how to calm him down, and then I had an inspiration. I went to my hut, where, for months I had hidden a piece of chocolate. We would almost have killed one another for something like that. I went back to him, going right into his face and ate the chocolate. All of a sudden he was quiet. This was utterly beyond him.
Quotes about Herzog
- Werner, nobody will read this book if I don't write bad stuff about you. If I wrote that we get along well together, nobody would buy it. The scum only wants to hear about the dirt, all the time.
- 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 balloons would still dangle from his mouth like gases emitted by internal decay.
- Klaus Kinski, in Kinski Uncut : The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski (1996), p. 213
- 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, in Kinski Uncut : The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski (1996), p. 220-21
- Herzog is a miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, cowardly creep. His so-called "talent" consists of nothing but tormenting helpless creatures and, if necessary, torturing them to death or simply murdering them. He doesn't care about anyone or anything except his career as a so-called filmmaker. Driven by a pathological addiction to sensationalism, he creates the most sensless difficulties and dangers, risking other people's safety and even their lives — just so he can eventually say that he, Herzog, has beaten seemingly unbeatable odds. For his movies he hires retards and amateurs whom he can push around (and alledgedly hypnotize!), and he pays them starvation wages or zilch. He also uses freaks and cripples of every conceivable size and shape, merely to look interesting. He doesn't have the foggiest inkling of how to make movies. He doesn't even try to direct the actors anymore. Long ago, when I ordered him to keep his trap shut, he gave up asking me whether I'm willing to carry out his stupid and boring ideas.
- Klaus Kinski, in Kinski Uncut : The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski (1996), p. 222
- [Kinski and Herzog] were both ridiculous, flaming egomaniacs of only slightly different stripes — Kinski’s ugliness was flailing, external; a flash fire that burned itself, and himself, out. Herzog’s rage was of the passive-aggressive, festering sort, and therefore more dangerous... Herzog was an inverted sociopath; Kinski threw loud vocal fits, repressing nothing. Who was more sick? Werner Herzog was the visual version of Kinski’s extremity. Kinski exploited hearts; Herzog exploited landscapes and native peoples.
- Cintra Wilson, in "Devoured by Demons", Slate (22 April 2004)
- Official site
- Herzog at the Internet Movie Database
- Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972) at the Internet Movie Database
- Video clips from Burden of Dreams (1982) at the University of Berkeley, California (Realplayer format)
- Ruthless Reviews on Lessons of Darkness (1992)
- Interview on directing and editing Grizzly Man