Directed by: Thomas von Steinacker | 90 minutes | documentaries | With: Werner Herzog, Guillermo de Oliveira, Lena Herzog, Nicole Kidman, Thomas Mauch, Joshua Oppenheimer, Robert Pattinson, Volker Schlöndorff, Patti Smith, Carl Weathers, Wim Wenders, Peter Zeitlinger, Chloe Zhao
Despite the visual and thematic interface, the work of filmmaker Werner Herzog (Germany; 1942) is very multifaceted. From Documentary to Series. From books to movies. And from directing to acting. Herzog never allowed himself to be confined to any one medium or discipline. With cult classics such as ‘Fitzcaraldo’ (1982) and, an homage to Murnau’s classic, ‘Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht’ (1979), he made a name for himself at home and especially abroad. He also spread his charm in Hollywood. With blockbuster films like ‘Rescue Dawn’ (2006) and ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans’ (2009), Herzog once again showed his sense of diversity.
Nevertheless, there are some similarities in their work. Thematically, Herzog’s films revolve around lonely people, devoid of false emotion, who are placed in extreme situations against the rest of the world. They are romantic outsiders, alienated from everything, one with the outside world. Mediocrity is the curse of the post-war bourgeoisie. The primitiveness of nature strikes a balance between beauty and horror as Lady Justice acts as a physical executioner. Stripping the image of any political subjectivity or connotations, it is given free rein in a visually provocative way. What is inexplicable takes shape. A mysterious and timeless infinity in which man is just a dot on the horizon.
The subtitle “Based on a true story” appears at the beginning of the documentary ‘Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer’. An extremely dangerous message, because then a purely human story is regularly central. Although Herzog himself was sometimes inspired by reality, it was mainly for him the starting point of placing man in his environment. character as a set in his own film. Herzog used the same method in his documentaries. For example, the critically acclaimed ‘Grizzly Man’ (2005) shows how a bear admirer is killed by a grizzly bear during an observation. In the end, man is nothing more than a passive object that evokes the horror of the animal world.
The question is how ‘Werner Herzog; Radical Dreamer is related to this. The beginning is promising. While Herzog talks about how the landscape turns into a butterfly paradise for him during long car journeys, the image shows us a Los Angeles in which the man is merely a passerby. The angular, almost expressionist structures are mere additions to the endless blue sea of sky. The cars willingly let themselves be carried by the wind. Man, as Herzog then recognises, is insignificant. He tries to find his place in it. as a soldier. A good soldier of cinema. They are images and comments that fit perfectly with his work.
But then, out of nowhere, the documentary devolves into a collection of talking heads who reveal their relationship with the director. Family member, producer, actor. They all have memories. Separate archive footage and film fragments provide a sense of interpretation, but they only enhance the atmosphere due to a lack of context. This is a respectful attitude, but especially towards the person of Herzog. As a result, his work and its interpretation are discussed only superficially. As a result, ‘Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer’ brings to the fore little more than what is already known about the eighty-year-old filmmaker. For example, the irregular production of ‘Fitzcarraldo’ was widely discussed in the making of the first documentary ‘Burden of Dreams’.
The most interesting moments are the ones in which the charismatic Herzog talks about his charms, because there we viewers enter his fantasy world together. As interesting and candid as the documentary is in some scenes, down the line the honorable but somewhat flattened look feels like a missed opportunity. In fact the best way to get to know Werner Herzog better is to watch his films yourself. Because, according to his own subjectivity, man is ultimately best understood through the world around him.
Cinema Release: June 8, 2023