There’s aren’t many directors who been shot at and lived to tell the tale but Werner Herzog’s brush with a crazed fan during a BBC interview in 2009 enhanced his credentials as a loopy genius unafraid of exploring and tackling the dark side of nature.
The Bard of Bavaria has also eaten his shoe when he lost a bet and pushed a 320-ton ship over a mountain for the purposes of his art. This is not a man who does things by halves – and it all might sound a little self-indulgent.
But nothing could be further from the truth. This is a deeply humane director whose hypnotic, enchanting films have, over the course of the last 45 years, given cinema a thrilling, intoxicating edge which still continues to this day.
His early classic, Aguirre, Wrath of God, with Klaus Kinski (pictured) has just been re-released and will hopefully attract a new wave of admirers because of its blend of the minimal and the majestic. The story is pretty straightforward – Spanish invaders search for gold in the Amazon – but the breathtaking imagery and Popol Vuh’s music isn’t. There’s a haunting, captivating feeling to the whole enterprise long after Kinski loses his marbles (which is quite early on),
But that’s one of the German director’s best-known films. So is The Enigma of Kasper Hauser and other little gems in his early phase like Stroszek and, a personal favourite Heart of Glass (even though many people think it’s impenetrable).
His American films like Rescue Dawn and Bad Lieutenant have been more solid than inspiring but it’s the sheer scale and range of his documentaries, like Grizzly Man, Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Death Row which mark him out as a great film-maker.
In Death Row, he talks directly to prisoners facing execution which may have seemed difficult material for such a visionary filmmaker. But he somehow manages to splice this narrative up with footage of the prisoner’s background to create a memorable piece of work.
And he does this all the time. Even in lesser works like Invincible, Cobra Verde and Nosferatu there is an image, line or sequence that will nag away at you until you’re forced to reassess it and watch the whole thing over again. Okay, maybe not Invincible – but even that has some memorable images.
So in our current gluttonous phase of superhero worship, it’s time to reassess and pay tribute to one of the great modern filmmakers who has enthralled us with his profound takes on humanity, philosophy and nature.
He’s the real man of steel because he has heart and courage to explore that deep feeling within all of us: vulnerability.