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Werner Herzog looks back in ‘Every Man for Himself and God Against All’ : NPR

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Werner Herzog describes his dramatic narration in movies as a “stylized voice.” At house together with his spouse, he says, “I’m a mild-mannered, fluffy husband.”

Lena Herzog


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Lena Herzog

Werner Herzog describes his dramatic narration in movies as a “stylized voice.” At house together with his spouse, he says, “I’m a mild-mannered, fluffy husband.”

Lena Herzog

German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s earliest memory is of war. He was 2 and a half in April 1945, and his mother woke him up in the middle of the night, wrapped him in blankets and rushed outside to watch the Allied airstrikes against the German city of Rosenheim, which was 40 miles away.

“The entire sky [was] pulsing slowly, red and orange,” Herzog says. “I knew all of a sudden there is something out there. There’s a world out there. There is war out there. There’s a conflagration out there, and I became curious.”

Herzog has traveled the world for decades, making movies about intense personalities and extreme conditions. His 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, which was shot in the Amazon jungle, tells the story of an European opera lover in Peru who tries to bring a steamship over a mountain. His 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man, followed a man who lived in Alaska among grizzly bears — until he was eaten by one.

Sometimes work has put Herzog in direct danger. He filmed the 2016 documentary Into the Inferno at the edge of an active volcano, where, he says, “blobs of lava came down on us, raining down — some of them very large, the size of a car, the size of a truck.”

Every Man for Himself and God Against All
Every Man for Himself and God Against All

Despite the hazards, Herzog insists that he knows his own boundaries — and respects them.

“I’m a filmmaker, and I want to come back with a film and I want to come back alive because I want to edit the film and I want to show it to audiences,” he says. But, he adds, “I think to look deep into our human nature, to look deep into the darkest recesses of our soul, the hidden things deep in our soul, you have to put human beings at some sort of an edge.”

Now in his 80s, Herzog reflects on his unusual life and the curiosity that has fueled his career in the new memoir, Every Man for Himself and God Against All. Just don’t read it expecting a deep confessional: “I’m not into that business,” he says. “I never liked too deep introspection.”

Interview highlights

On what he realized after he stabbed his brother in the arm and leg over a pet hamster when they were kids

I knew that something like that cannot happen again. … That shaped my character. And from one moment to the next, I knew you have to control what is wild in you. You have to be disciplined. And until today, 90% of what you see when you meet me is discipline. People think I’m the wild guy out there. No, I’m a disciplined professional.

On the mysterious clashes between brothers

We grew up with our mother, who raised us. We were three brothers and one mother. We lived in one single room in a sort of a boarding house. Of course, we had clashes like brothers would have. And until today, it’s mysterious, foreign to us. Not long ago, a few years ago, I visited my older brother in Spain … and we were at a fish restaurant and I studied the menu and he put his arm around my shoulder and all of a sudden I feel some stinging thing in my back and I smell smoke. And I realize he has set my shirt on fire with his cigarette lighter. And we laughed so hard and everybody around the table was appalled. But sometimes that’s how brothers function and I love him dearly. And we do mischievous things to each other. It does happen. And it’s not that serious. Somebody gave me his T-shirt and we cooled my back with a few glasses of Prosecco, and that was that.

On parodies of the sinister tone of his narration

I narrated my own writings, my own commentaries, and I had found my voice. But it’s a stylized voice. When I’m talking to you, I’m talking like me in commentaries, there’s a certain stylization, a certain performance in it, a certain hypnotic voice in it. … It has caught on. Audiences love it, so I do it for them as well. … But it’s all performance. Don’t ever believe I’m like that as a private person. … [My wife] will testify that I am a mild-mannered, fluffy husband.

On why psychoanalysis will not be his “factor”

It isn’t wholesome for those who circle an excessive amount of round your individual navel. And it isn’t good to recall all of the trauma of your childhood. It is good to neglect them. It is good to bury them. Not in all instances, however typically. So psychoanalysis is doing that. I don’t deny that it’s good and needed in a only a few instances. Sure, I admit it, however it’s not my factor. However I hold telling males … “Moderately lifeless than going to a psychiatrist.” However on the identical time, “Moderately lifeless than ever sporting a toupee.” My hair is thinning and it is simply accepted as it’s. … Girls would instantly agree with me. You can’t dwell with a person who begins to put on a toupee and thinks he is good-looking now and rejuvenated.

I do know who I’m and I do know the place I come from. And I do know the place I am heading in direction of. No worry and no regrets. Positive, I’ve made large errors, and I am, in a means, a results of my very own defeats. So be it. They shaped me. They made me suppose past what I usually thought earlier than.

On feeling like he is the one “sane” individual in Hollywood

I would not have made some 80 movies with out having my wits collectively and my sanity and my professionalism. … If you take a look at the craze of Hollywood and all these crimson carpet occasions within the statements on the crimson carpet … it is all performative, borderline madness in a means, saccharine, pink form of vanilla-ice-cream feelings. I’m the one one who’s sane. … Each single line in my memoirs exhibits you that I am completely sane in an ocean of craze.

On rising up in warfare and postwar time

We have been bombed out. There was a foot of glass shards and bricks and particles on my cradle after I was 14 days outdated. In fact, I grew up in postwar time – hunger, poverty. And since I had this expertise, for me, it is apparent that there should not be any warfare. I am in opposition to any warfare in any respect. And naturally, it’s horrible what we’re witnessing now [in the Middle East]. It’s horrible. And it should not be. And I hope it’s going to come to a fast finish.

Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey tailored it for the net.

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