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Filmmaker Werner Herzog
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Werner Herzog: King of the Jungle
In Werner Herzog's films, man and nature vie for supremacy. And the contest is always one-sided.  
Text by Ryan Bradley   Photograph by Corbis

Photo: Christian Bale and Werner Herzog
Actor Christian Bale and Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog interview, continued.

Go back to page 1 of the interview >>

You never shoot on a soundstage. Why?
When it comes to doing Rescue Dawn you can't do it on a soundstage. You can't go into the botanic garden in San Diego and start shooting there. You have to have a real jungle and a real challenge. The studio system would do it that way but even children would be able to tell nowadays that there's something fake. I want the audience to trust their eyes again.

The production of your films is often described as a great struggle. Do you feel like the greater the struggle during filming, the better the film?
Only if it shows on screen. The only thing that counts is what is there for the audiences on screen. Otherwise it is one of these myths that surrounds me that I am looking for extra struggle.

There's quite a bit of legend and lore that surrounds you. Do you have any favorite myths you'd like to dispel?
Somebody told me, recently, "Rescue Dawn was difficult, and one of the crew members that didn't like the jungle came to Los Angeles and shot you in the foot." I was actually shot by an unknown [person] during an interview, but it was kind of hilarious—it only hurt me very slightly. It was insignificant.

Many of your films pit man against nature, is this a personal fascination of yours?
Not really against nature. In Rescue Dawn you see very well that Dieter and his comrade have to adapt to the jungle. They have to understand it. They have to survive. So you're not going against the jungle, you have to understand the jungle as a force you have to take advantage of.

Where haven't you traveled yet that you'd like to?
There are places I've dreamt of for a long time—the Aleutian Islands, for example. They are very stormy, very primordial I think. I'd like to go the Ruwenzori Mountains on the border of Uganda and the Congo. It's a mysterious and beautiful place, like some Jurassic time. It's as if dinosaurs were lurking around. All of these are places with great vision in it—not that I want to go there as an explorer. I'd like to film there.

What's the difference?
Well everything is explored anyway. For me it is to describe landscapes that are, in a way, landscapes of the human heart. I always depicted the jungle as a landscape of the human mind. The Ruwenzori Mountains really fascinate me because they represent a dark, strange side of something that is within human beings as well. In that way I would be an explorer.

What is your opinion of tourism?
There is a dictum, one of the Herztogian dictums that I said once: tourism is sin, and travel on foot, virtue. It is as simple as that.

What is it about travel on foot specifically?
When you are traveling on foot you're not a tourist anymore. Mass tourism has left cultural destruction in its wake on a massive scale. But traveling on foot is always much more essential. You are unprotected. You see things that you would never ever see by traveling otherwise. We are made biologically as creatures who travel on foot and we have completely abandoned that, which is not very healthy.

What do you always take with you, when you travel on foot?
Binoculars. A small set of binoculars, that's first and foremost. A good pocketknife. I always have a very good solid knife with me, which, if you know how to handle it, does a lot of repairs and helps a lot with everything. In the jungle I would have a machete like the native people. Otherwise, I'm pretty much barefoot in the jungle. After two or three months in the jungle you start forgetting about your boots. If you sink into a swamp up to your hips and you pull out your leg, the shoe is left in the mud and you'll never find it. You learn to go without shoes.

You toy with the notion of truth—your documentaries often have staged scenes and your dramas are often shot like documentaries.
The borderline is blurred. Facts are not that interesting, and you get not beyond the surface of things. I'm into something much deeper. An ecstasy. And ecstasy of truth: something that illuminates you. And sometimes it is possible in cinema and quite often in great poetry or music, and that is what I am after.

Are you able to point to moments of this in your films?
There are moments that have this strange sort of deep insight, and the audience knows it and the audience extends it when they come back again and again for these moments. That is what makes it worthwhile to keep on working.

Can you give an example in Rescue Dawn?
No. It's too fresh.

Go back to page 1 of the interview >>

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